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homeschooling

Meet the latest education scam

Free money! What could possibly go wrong?

BagOfMoney

An ambitious new player has emerged in the controversial effort to use taxpayer dollars to help Texas parents send their kids to private or religious schools.

Texans for Education Opportunity, which launched in May, supports all forms of “school choice,” including charters and traditional public schools, said Executive Director Randan Steinhauser, an Austin-based school choice activist and public relations consultant who co-founded the nonprofit advocacy organization.

But she said the group’s main goal is to get Texas lawmakers to create “education savings accounts” — a program under which the state would dole out taxpayer money directly to parents via debit card to cover approved education-related expenses, like private school tuition, tutors or homeschooling materials. About a half-dozen other Republican-dominated states, including Florida and Arizona, have already created such programs, although most of them target specific student populations, including disabled and low-income students. (Nevada is an exception, offering assistance to all students.)

Literature provided by Texans for Education Opportunity, which appears to be the first statewide organization focused solely on school choice, suggests the state offer up to $7,800 for any student pursuing an alternative schooling route. That is about 90 percent of what the state provides on average to traditional school districts per student for annual maintenance and operations, the pamphlet says.

The concept is similar to private school vouchers, in which taxpayer funds are awarded directly to schools, but it is larger in scope.

Monty Exter, a lobbyist for the Association of Texas Professional Educators, said education savings accounts are worse than vouchers because there is no good way to control how parents spend the money. The states that have implemented such programs have included no provisions that allow them to reclaim money if parents spend it on “a flatscreen TV or a bag of crack,” he said.

“Who’s to say that a laptop isn’t an educational expenditure, but who’s to say that it is? Who is going to police that?” he said. “Are we going to pay someone at the state level to monitor this program, and how much is that going to cost?”

Exter said that concern is separate from the larger one school and teacher groups have long expressed in opposing such programs — that they divert much-needed dollars away from struggling public schools.

Yeah, well, I’ll give you three guesses where the money for this might come from; there’s no mention of any vehicle to pay for this scheme in that intro email or their website. With a board of directors that includes Phil Gramm and a big donor to the Texas Public Policy Foundation, I’m pretty sure the creation of an extra source of tax revenue is not on the table. This is a scam, plain and simple, and the real question is who will be dumb enough to fall for it and/or dishonest enough to shill for it.

Do homeschoolers have to actually teach anything?

That’s a real question being asked of our State Supreme Court.

TX Supreme Court

In an empty office at the family’s El Paso motorcycle dealership, Laura McIntyre says her nine kids were learning.

McIntyre’s brother-in-law says they were singing and playing instruments. Learning was unnecessary, one of the children allegedly said, because “they were going to be raptured.”

The two will take their dispute to the Texas Supreme Court next week, in a case that involves family feuds, competing legal complaints, claims about the Second Coming, a 17-year-old who ran away from home so she could go to school and a fundamental question that could impact all 300,000 or so children home-schooled in Texas: Where is the line between parents’ right to oversee their children’s education and the state’s duty to make sure children are actually getting one?

[…]

An Texas state appeals court ruled in the school district’s favor, finding that parents “do not have an absolute constitutional right to home school,” and that there is nothing in state law that precludes an attendance officer like Mendoza from investigating whether home-schooled children are actually learning. Indeed, Chief Justice Ann Crawford McClure said, quoting a 1972 Supreme Court ruling, there is “no doubt as to the power of a state, having a high responsibility for education of its citizens, to impose reasonable regulations for the control and duration of basic education.”

The McIntyres appealed that ruling, and now the case will go before Texas’s all-Republican Supreme Court, the Associated Press reported.

According to the AP, all but one of the McIntyre children have grown up and are no longer being taught by their parents. But Laura McIntyre said she is “looking for a little clarification” as she continues to teach her youngest child.

The state supreme court’s ruling could have broad ramifications for the ever-growing ranks of home-schooled children in Texas. As it stands, the state already has some of country’s laxest laws on home schooling. (Though, in court filings, the McIntyres allege that the El Paso school district is biased against Christians and has engaged in a “startling assertion of sweeping governmental power” by investigating their curriculum, according to the AP.)

Here’s the AP report on the case, which was heard by the Supreme Court on Monday, with no indication how they might be leaning. No indication when we might get a ruling either, though if I had to guess I’d say 8 to 10 months from now. Seems to me the state’s interest in ensuring that its children all get at least some minimally-acceptable level of education is pretty clear, but there’s not much on the books to regulate homeschoolers, thanks in part to their strong lobby and the complete unwillingness of Republican legislators to cross them. So we’ll see.