Romney: Give Tax Breaks for Home Schooling
In South Carolina last week, White House hopeful Mitt Romney up the ante in the Republican war against public education. No doubt playing to the Palmetto State's crucial evangelical primary voters, Romney announced he favored tax breaks for parents who home school their children. For Romney, American parents should not only be encouraged to abandon the public schools; they should be rewarded for it.
At a gathering of 100 supporters at a children's museum, Romney signaled his willingness to undermine public education through the expansion of charter schools and voucher programs. The man who aspires to be the nation's second MBA president then offered to extend the taxpayer give-aways Republicans market as "school choice" to parents who opt to teach their children at home:
"I also believe parents who are teaching their kids at home, homeschoolers, deserve a break, and I've asked for a tax credit to help parents in their homes with the cost of being an at-home teacher."
Those costs would be non-trivial for American taxpayers. The National Center for Education Statistics at the U.S. Department of Education estimated that there were 1.1 million home-schooled children (or 1.7% of the school age population) in 2003, a dramatic jump from the 850,000 its surveys reported just four years earlier. The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), a Christian home schooling advocacy group, put the number as high as 2,100,000, with annual growths ranging from 7% to 15%. Brian Ray of the National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI), another non-profit organization, backing home-schooling, put a price tag on the effort:
"Families engaged in home-based education are not dependent on public, tax-funded resources for their children's education. The finances associated with their homeschooling likely represent over $16 billion that taxpayers do not have to spend since these children are not in public schools."
Apparently, that would change under President Mitt Romney.
Far more important, of course, than the cost of tax credits to home schooling parents is the start of an irreversible journey down the path of undermining American public education. "School choice" is a slippery slope that joins free-market conservatives (who worship at altar of competition and the market model) with social conservatives eager for public underwriting of parochial and private schools. That unholy alliance speaks in market metaphors, as parents-as-consumers purchase educational performance as a product for their children. (Unsurprisingly, the NCES survey showed that the public school "environment" and the desire to provide religious or moral instruction were the two primary parental motivations for home school their kids.) That there are other non-market considerations in educating our children, such as creating community, bridging races and classes, or inculcating American values, is irrelevant to the GOP and its amen corner: test scores are the only good in the market for education. (As it turns out, a 2006 study released without fanfare by the Bush Education Department showed public school students performed as well or better than their private school counterparts.)
Romney's home schooling proposal last week is filled with historical ironies as well. A turning point in the evolution of evangelical political power and the rise of the voucher and home school movement came in the 1970's, as the IRS sought to end the tax-exempt status of Bob Jones University and other segregated institutions. Fast forward to October 2007, when Mitt Romney received the endorsement of Robert Taylor, dean of Bob Jones University. Despite the 2000 assertion by Bob Jones III that Catholicism and Mormonism are "cults which call themselves Christian," Taylor proclaimed:
"The fact that I'm seen as a Religious Right person would hopefully get others to step out for him."
Giving them taxpayers' dollars to keep their children out of public schools couldn't hurt, either.