Before supporting a home education tax credit, we homeschoolers need to fully understand the legislation and its potential to benefit or harm us. Will Shaw, a founder of The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers, often says, “A measure that sounds good in theory is not necessarily good in practice.” While the idea of a tax deduction for homeschool materials may be appealing, consider that any government plan comes with requirements and restrictions.
“Homeschool” tax credit legislation introduced here in Virginia–and in other states–has included government definitions of bona fide homeschooling expenses, through the bills’ clarification of what constitutes the physical elements of a valid home education program. When a law serves to define homeschooling, it creates a means to further regulate it, and those who define homeschooling have the power to control homeschooling. For that and other reasons, a child tax credit would serve home educators and other families better. This would not discriminate against any particular type of homeschooler, would not affect home education regulations, and would allow all parents the freedom to choose what expenditures will best meet their family’s needs.
Home education, as limited to the definition in various tax credit legislation, with its description of “academic instruction,” does not include participation in music or art programs, and physical education is completely excluded as are items that many parents feel are integral to their homeschooling program and philosophy. The description omits music lessons, museum memberships, travel expenses, tools, computers, programs and Internet access. The bills clearly defined specific qualifying items, while leaving the door open for bureaucrats to determine what comprise acceptable “other written materials,” and “educational supplies and materials.” Specific materials identified are “textbooks, workbooks, curricula used for academic instruction tutoring fees or a home school correspondence school.” These articles effectively define a certain type of homeschooling style–a structured, school-like approach–as the model for a qualifying method. The terminology limits who can take advantage of the tax credit, and rewards only those who fit the government’s narrow definition of homeschooling. Furthermore, legislation that offers tax breaks for only certain types of home educators can serve to divide the homeschooling community. We need to focus on measures that benefit homeschooling in general, rather than on one that would serve just those using a particular method.
The intent of tax credit legislation introduced to various jurisdictions was not to “result in any additional regulation.” In Virginia, this appeared to be protective, until one scrutinized the loophole framed by the wording, “except to the minimal extent necessary to provide for the prevention of fraud and the efficient administration of the credits.” The exception created substantial room for bureaucratic interpretation of what constitutes “necessary” requirements. Government officials don’t have an inkling about homeschooling, and are usually not looking out for our best interests. In regard to home education tax credits, the bureaucrat’s knee-jerk response is a call for greater “accountability.”
A common argument in favor of a tax credit is that homeschoolers should be relieved of “paying double” for education, because we shoulder the expense of materials while also paying taxes that support public schools. However, many people–single, married, or elderly–do not have children in schools, and still pay taxes that support public education. Like libraries, roads, and parks, schools are simply part of the public service infrastructure, serving many and paid for by all. Opting not to use them does not remove the obligation to finance public facilities.
Supporters of a home education tax credit may claim that no family would be required to take a tax credit, so it cannot harm objectors. However, such legislation is likely to attract increased monitoring, as illustrated in prior sessions of the Virginia General Assembly. During the 2000 and 2001 sessions, an amendment involving Standards of Learning (SOL) testing was attached as an apparent backlash against the promotion of a tax credit bill. The 2000 amendment would have affected all home-educated students, not just those of parents who filed for a tax credit.
The point was proven: an education tax credit beckons demands for increased “accountability.” It is imprudent for homeschoolers to grab at the tax credit carrot without examining the heavy stick poised to hit us with further regulation. Of course homeschooling families would like to have more money, but when regarding a home education tax credit we must ask, “at what cost to our freedom?”Originally published by The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers in 2001.
(C) 2001, 2011 by Shay Seaborne. All Rights Reserved.