Eric Carter: Homeschoolers, close ranks!

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By ERIC CARTER

Frankly, I am surprised it took this long. On April 12, Superior Court Judge Adolf Zeman ruled that Alaska’s entire correspondence school program, currently educating over 24,000 children, is unconstitutional and must be thrown out entirely. The law, House Bill 278, was enacted in 2013. It took 10 years to mount an attack – a slow roll indeed.

I am not a legal expert and can’t predict how this plays out in the courts. That is for the highly competent lawyers and analysts who are surely pouring over this ruling right now and writing up their own articles. No, I must content myself with a plain, direct understanding of everyday human language. 

The ruling hinges on one line in the Alaska Constitution: Article VII, Section 1 of the Alaska State Constitution which states: “… No money shall be paid from public funds for the direct benefit of any religious or other private educational institution.”

It appears that this line was flagged in 2013 and 2014 as problematic for HB 278 and would need “fixing,” but it never was. To me, a lot of interpretations of the words “direct” and “benefit” should be discussed. For example, the direct beneficiary of these public funds could be interpreted as the child getting a quality education, but that’s just my take.

If one had a hostile view of school choice and homeschooling, one could conceivably interpret that sentence as Judge Zeman has interpreted it and throw out the whole system – an outcome even the plaintiffs appeared to recoil from.

But again, I am not a legal expert, and that side of the debate will be ‘front and center’ in the coming months or years.

What I am an expert on (expertise gained empirically, as my grandfather would chuckle) is the public debate that is about to erupt. You can’t throw 24,000 children’s educational foundation down the nearest drain without causing a ripple – the school choice debate is about to break wide open in Alaska. You are about to see editorials, opinions, articles, and the filth that is the comment section of any online platformed source. We will likely see some national coverage, with talking heads shouting from both sides of the aisle, who will all work themselves up, and … well, we know how it goes from there and it won’t be pretty.

This won’t just be a discussion about allotments. To fix this, if it is upheld on appeal, will likely require some sort of Alaska Constitutional remedy. Barring that, possibly legislative implementation language that supersedes judicial parsing of original intent would be in order. And that means that not only will allotments be on the table, but the entire school choice/homeschooling policy of Alaska. Everything is about to become fair game.

So, how should homeschool advocates approach this? I may not have the whole campaign plan, but I have a starting suggestion. Let’s refuse to answer the one question we love to talk about. The one question that drives the heart of every school choice/homeschooler out there. That one question that everybody around us is sick of hearing us rant about. The one question that will be used to separate, divide, and conquer us individually.

That one question: “Why do you homeschool?”

Don’t answer that question. Not in the comments section of social media, not to news reporters, not in articles, not in blogs.

Do. Not. Answer. That. Question!

Why? Because when we start answering why we homeschool, we are giving our opponents the key to dividing us. Maybe one parent lives off-grid and there is no public school available. Our opponents answer: “Fine, we can force students who live within X-distance from a school to attend. Now prove to us where you live and why you can’t get to a public school. If we agree on a plan, fill out this application in triplicate and we’ll proceed with losing your paperwork and … bureaucracy takes over!”

Maybe a parent is concerned with preserving their child’s cultural heritage? Their answer: “Great! We can give people with approved heritages permission to homeschool and the rest can enroll where we tell them to go.”

Maybe a parent has a moral, ethical, or philosophical reason. Their answer: “Sorry, doesn’t fly. But the rest have ‘our’ permission”.

When we start communicating our reasons, we are seeking justification–giving other people permission to agree or disagree with our reasons. And that agreement / disagreement will be used to split us, divide us, mold and shape us.

We have a right to homeschool, enshrined in the Alaskan constitution. Acknowledged in multiple U.S. Supreme Court cases (Meyer v. Nebraska and Farrington v. Tokushige, for example), we don’t need a ‘reason’ and we don’t need anybody to agree with our “reason.” Do not give your reasons, whatever they may be.

Agent Smith of the Matrix kept asking: “Neo, why do you persist?” Any answer would have been attacked, ridiculed, logic-ed away.

Why do I homeschool? Because I choose to. 

What do we discuss, if not our reasons for homeschooling? Answer: Focus the debate on allotments. 

The topic of allotments is the Achilles heel of our opponent’s attack. Alaska is so remote, so huge, so flung out, that we simply can’t build and staff enough schools to provide a ‘brick-and-mortar’ schoolhouse for every child. It simply cannot be done and to try is wasteful beyond reason.

Thus, some form of remote education MUST be provided for. Per-student allotments — about $3,000 per child per year –seems like a lot of money re-directed from the public education system until we consider how much a borough school district keeps per student.

Last I looked, the school system receives around $18,000 per child per year in Alaska. Subtract the $3,000 that goes to the allotment if that child is homeschooled, and the school system retains the remaining $15,000 and yet doesn’t incur the cost of educating that child. That $15,000 goes directly into the public school system with no additional student cost. One less student in the already overloaded classes. One less student taking up resources. 

We hear opponents of school choice argue that the fixed costs are being forfeited. This is a fallacy. The net gain to the school (the $15,000 not transferred as an allotment) far exceeds the per-student fixed cost. Read here for more on this here).

If a student is removed from the correspondence school system, dropped from the roll call and disappears back into private homeschool—which will happen—the entire $18,000 will be lost to a district. This is a likely outcome in Alaska where many of the homeschoolers actually can’t attend public schools, and the remaining likely won’t, regardless of the existence of an allotment.

The Bottom Line: Allotments retain and attract students into the school system, and they actually are a net financial gain for the public school system. Instead of resisting traditional schools, homeschool parents have a reason to engage.   These alone should be more than sufficient debate fodder for those who are unsure about the benefits of granting allotments.

Eric Carter has served for 23 years as a Navy submarine officer and is currently in the Reserves.  He has a masters of teaching degree from UAA, an engineering degree from Oregon State University and homeschools his 6 children.


27 COMMENTS

  1. This is an excellent article!

    With one exception: in your byline, you gave us your reason for homeschooling!

    Otherwise, excellent points all around.

  2. Get out of public education at all costs.
    The schools do not teach what is needed to be a good citizen and being able to survive.

  3. “Why do you homeschool?”

    “Don’t answer that question. Not in the comments section of social media, not to news reporters, not in articles, not in blogs.

    Do. Not. Answer. That. Question!”

    Then Carter answers the question.

    “… and homeschools his 6 children because of all the travel associated with being an active Navy reservist.”

      • Wayne. A large thrust of the author is that homeschoolers should not explain their reasons. And then he violates his assertion. The hypocrisy and intellectual bassackwardness is what’s curious and worth noting. I’m not interested in rhetoric or debate about which Christian scriptures will leak into homeschooling or charter schools.

  4. “Why do you homeschool?” It seems like such an innocuous question that many homeschoolers will be eager to answer. But you speak wisely that practically any answer given will be used against the homeschooling parent and system. I choose to. Full stop.

  5. Well. When the people Districts hired don’t know how to listen while lacking common sense it leaves parents no choice except leave. I ain’t wasting my time arguing with a fool. I hadn’t met a school employee who wasn’t one. All I can do with one is be pleasant and smile and let them go on their own way. But I ain’t falling off the cliff with no school employee.

  6. Districts do not get funding for your students when they are not enrolled and present on the count date.

    Those who use correspondence schools receive funding through their local district, but the district doesn’t get the balance of funding, they get a reduced amount for correspondence schools (~$6500) of which they have historically given some of that money for the education of the student. Charter correspondence schools also pay back a small percentage to districts for administrative costs (~4%).

    Let’s do everything to support school choice and make Alaska an educational voucher program state. Make sure the vouchers can be used for conventional private school or homeschool curriculum or activities and make the voucher at least 90% of the funding level for conventional public school. Call your legislators and let them know.

    • Don’t just call. Send a personal signed letter. Then they will realize just how important this is to us. We need to stand firm and stop being pushed around.

      Home schooled and proud of it.

  7. You can still choose to send you kids to a different school, or home school, but you just can’t pay for that with the public money. I don’t want my local tax dollars to be spent on whatever correspondence school you chose for your child. I would fine with you getting your tax dollars back that would have gone to education so that you can use that for your child’s education.

    • You can do that Mike, but still get taxed to pay for public schools – you pay for school twice. Fairness in who pays is the reason for justifying public subsidy of homeschool. Otherwise, we need a tax exemption to cover the cost of homeschool.

    • What rot. What you can’t choose is for your kids to be out of the grimy paws of the NEA / AEA and their fellow travelers. You can’t choose for them to bypass the mind crushing racial indoctrination of CRT or the sexualization of the LGBTQWTF ideology. And the public schools and Planned Parenthood will go behind your back with abortions and transitioning.

      Putting kids in the public schools is quickly becoming a form of child abuse. Scott Kendall, his NEA / AEA clients and the Alaska judiciary are making sure that child abuse is universal. You must be very proud. Cheers –

  8. He hits a key point: the definition of “direct benefit.” According to judge Zeman’s logic, those receiving SNAP, WIC, or similar public benefits should be prohibited from using them to buy Kosher or Halal foods; after all, such foods are purchased to enable adherence to religious principals. Of course, that would be seen as a profoundly perverse interpretation of the establishment clause in the 1st Amendment. However, Zeman’s recent edict is an equally perverse interpretation.

    Fact: the largest, most powerful union in America is the NEA…. an enemy in our midst. The 14th Amendment says, “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall.. ..deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” Parents and children are entitled to this freedom. The Alaska constitutional clause prohibiting vouchers contravenes the US constitution. We need a US Supreme Court decision to resolve this tyranny.

  9. I have a couple of thoughts:
    1) If the state reimbursed the parent, to some percentage, and the parent paid the vendor, would that then be an “indirect” benefit to a private or religious institution?
    2) When asked why we homeschooled our 5 children I always answered that it was because public schools were horrible with only 25% of kids reading at grade level and even less proficiency in mathematics. I don’t go to restaurants that serve bad food.

  10. Another thing if a State Constitution convention vote could been held this year, I bet the state’s homeschooling community would been more motivated for its passage.
    Then this will had been settled.

    • Don’t need a constitutional convention. It can be amended by legislation passed by 2/3 vote of each house and majority public vote. I would argue that it could also happen through the initiative/referendum process but I would bet money that it would be challenged in court.

  11. One factor is left out of this conversation. I believe that kids do not get a good education in part because the schools have lost the ability to discipline. Home schools do a much better job of that. If you can’t get the attention of the students, they will not learn.

    • Peggy. I spoke to a neighbor who homeschools. As far as discipline goes, she prefers just the tiniest amount of red pepper powder touched to her kid’s eye. The kid shrieks in pain and hopelessly tries to rinse it out. The kid stops his/her negative behavior though. Works every time.

  12. Without state funding for public education you cannot create more Democrats. “Education” is crucial to their plan. The war on parents (homeschoolers) who don’t want their children to become Democrats is increasing

  13. Why do you homeschool?

    Because Alaska government schools produce the worst outcomes in the country.

    • You are ok with using 18k of public funds but homeschooling is 3-6k.. hmm maybe you didn’t pass math.

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