Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Let's Get All Nit Picky

You know, I haven't gotten all indignant about something in at least a few hours so let's talk education. Our destination is an email I received from the local PTA regarding some bills in the Virginia House and Senate but first, we're going to get in my head, which can be a truly scary place.

Homeschooling Eion has been, for my educational mindset, nothing short of revolutionary. He was in a system that failed to recognize he was not learning to read. [He was, at the time we yanked him out, getting an A in reading.] When they did find out, they had no plan but to bludgeon him with more of the exact same techniques they were already using. There was no Plan B. There was no track for kids who were struggling. It was full steam ahead. After all, we can't have children learning at a different pace.

It was crushing his spirit and teaching him he was stupid.

Fast forward a few months and he is reading pretty well. He's no Morrigan, but who is? Better yet, he proudly describes himself as smart, something we never heard when he was at public school. While occasionally tough for me, the homeschooling experience has been so positive overall that I have already told Morrigan that if she hates middle school, she can stay home too, a decision that was surprising even for some of my close peeps. The way I look at it is middle school is a freaking self esteem grinder, chock full of kids at what is possibly their meanest age, ready to tear apart the weak, coinciding with one of the most emotionally tumultuous times in our children's young lives. Rite of passage? I think we'll just find our own path.

So for the remainder of the post, you'll have to keep in mind that I am coming from a mindset that is pro-homeschool and becoming exponentially more jaded towards the public school system. I'm a full disclosure kind of gal. Now about that email....

I received an email from the head of the Central Council PTA regarding three different bills. On one, we were in agreement. They wanted local school boards to control school start dates. Yours truly, always about decentralizing control and decision making in government. From there, we had no common ground.

The description and recommended action for the next bill was as follows:

HB 947 (Bell) - This bill passed the House and seeks to allow homeschool students to participate on public school athletic teams.  Opponents believe that athletic teams should be reserved for the public school athletes that are enrolled in their school. There are concerns that if public school teams are opened to non-public school students, will other clubs and academic classes be next?  The PTA has held a position against this bill since 1999.  [Highlighting mine.]

Good lord almighty! We wouldn't want homeschoolers, whose families are paying taxes that support the public school system and are causing no expense to said system to reap any benefits unless they are all in for public schools. We don't want another Tim Tebow on our hands. And if it starts with athletics, it is just a slippery slope! Next they will be in the art classes!

Ok, I am being reactionary. But realistically, why can't a kid like Eion, who oozes ADD from every pore, can't learn effectively and sit still in the traditional environment at this time, come in for art? Or music? If he becomes a problem, give him the boot. Tim and I have not seen a decrease in our taxes since the public school system no longer has to deal with our son. Why shouldn't we benefit in part, since in whole is not best for our son?

Why? Because if you are not fully invested, you are outside the machine. And if people on the inside had the chance to interact with more homeschool freaks, they might just find out that there is more than one way to reach an educational goal. [Not saying better, just different. I still have two daughters in the public schools.] But that, my friends, is dangerous and treasonous thinking.

It gets better with the next bill:

HB 321 (Massie) - This bill has reported out of committee but has not yet been taken up on the House floor. It allows a tax credit (public money) to corporations donating money to non-profits providing scholarships (private schooling) to lower income students.  The PTA has long opposed allowing public money which could be used to improve our public schools to fund private education for any student.

I am beside myself. 

First, let's look at the language here. A tax credit is being described as "public money." I beg to differ. A tax credit means an individual or corporate entity keeps more of its own money. We are starting from a point where all funds are assumed to be the property of the government - what they say you can keep is yours. The perspective should be that all you make is yours, from that, the government takes. 

But even if you disagree with me on that point, which you shouldn't, I'm right, let's look at the rest of the wording. They are opposed to corporations channeling money to non-profits that would provide scholarships to low income children. Not the wealthy, the poor. From this vantage, the only route for the disadvantaged is through the public, government run, schools. The PTA is saying here that they oppose private corporations funding scholarships for poor children.

Let that one sink in for a minute. 

And to go back to that whose-money-is-it-anyway topic, understand that the tax credits offered the corporations willing to donate money for privately funded education are not in any way linked to public school funding. It is not that there is a pie of funds designated for education and every dollar given as a tax credit will be stripped from the public school system. This bill in no way aims to reduce public school spending. The tax credits will have to be offset with spending reductions but they are not marked as education spending reductions.

What this is all about is not funding. Christ, try to let the meals tax in Roanoke expire and you will hear caterwauling the likes of which you have never heard, in spite of the fact that the school board has, right at this very minute, plans that would allow the tax to expire with no teacher cuts. People are loathe to cut education funding.

But what it does does do is something much more dangerous. It gives poor children the chance to see that there is something out there besides the public schools. Or better yet, that there are corporations who have generosity in their board rooms and want to assist those most at risk. That there is benevolence outside government. That there is another educational path. 

This is about control. 

It is about a monopoly of state run schools. And that was the, to steal from The Oprah, my Ah-Ha moment. What the PTA of Virginia, and I am sure nationally, is all about, is not necessarily the best education for children. They are about all kids being in the system. Sometimes, the best education is outside the public school system. And based on the PTA standpoints here, that is something to punish and repress.

So where does that leave me? I have made commitments to the PTA for this school year that I will, naturally, honor. After that? I'm done. I'll continue to volunteer to help at the school level, after all, Jump Rope For Heart wouldn't be the same without me taunting and challenging all the kids, but the time and money I put towards the PTA will be zero. 

And my point is? As always, let's look at what is being told to us with a critical eye. If that critical eye leads you in my direction? Welcome to the revolution. 


  1. Glad your son is doing better being homeschooled. :)

    People chatter on about the 'best interest of the child' but few seem to really mean it. I have always thought that homeschooled kids could be involved in public school sports. In AZ I believe they can also take electives.

    My daughter is at a public school and doing well but if she wasn't I can't imagine how things would be. Parents really need to be on top of things these days. :)

  2. I have to get nit picky with the Tebow bill. I think the argument that homeschoolers have the right to take classes in public schools because their parents pay taxes is flawed. True, we all pay taxes that fund our schools, but schools also receive funding through their enrollment numbers. The exact dollar figure is calculated by an index. The amount each pupil brings to his or her school is usually between $4,500 - $7,000. A homeschooled student is not counted as an enrolled student and therefore not bringing that funding to the school. To be nit picky, if a parent insisted his child attend an art class, that student might only be paying for about 1/4 of the art supplies he uses. Or 1/8 of a music stand. Or in Tebow's case, a helmet but not the pads, field usage and referee fees. I generally think of homeschooling parents as creative "think outside the box" kind of people. I know successful homeschoolers who organized group gym classes at the YMCA and art classes with local artists. I don't think the schools should be available on a drop-in basis.
    I understand your frustration with the other issues. It's good to hear that you will continue to volunteer at your children's school even when you quit the PTA. You have too much to offer not to!