For many, it’s time to go back to school shopping. Every time my family has gone to the store, school supply sales are staring us in the face. Of course, when you homeschool, the education never stops and materials are hardly limited to pencils and notebooks. Inevitably, my children always ask why these specific items are for sale.
I explain our education choice to my children in terms they can understand. We believe in liberty and freedom in all areas of our lives. Someone can choose where they live and their career path. I respect someone who chooses to be a welder in Antarctica. That is their choice to make, not mine. I should not, however, have to pay for someone’s special welding certificate or their move to Antarctica, just like they should not have to pay for my choices. Unfortunately, government regulation destroys this same freedom of choice for K-12 education.
Parents and guardians cannot choose where their children go to school or what they study without paying ridiculous sums of money. The public school system has legislated boundaries and mandatory curriculums. Furthermore, the government taxes property owners to fund the public school institution, which in 2019 was over 50% administrators – not teachers! Crumbling buildings? Terrible teachers? Unsafe conditions? None of that matters. The government says the school and education that they choose, not the family’s choice, is what’s best for the child.
Imagine paying property taxes (either directly or via rent) and having a child in a system that was bad for them with no way out. I found myself in this exact predicament when my daughter entered kindergarten. I will share the story of our path to school choice advocacy.
We taught our daughter to read and write, how to count, and other basic skills before sending her to school. After just a few short months, our daughter’s joy of learning was clearly gone. We soon learned the school had stuck our daughter in the back of the classroom to read to stuffed animals while the other children worked on skills she already knew. When we asked how long this would continue, we were told she already knew the entire Kindergarten curriculum and this could be expected to last throughout the year. When we asked for another approach, the school district highlighted that advanced work does not begin until third grade and assured us this level of engagement would be fine until then.
Then COVID came
We witnessed first hand the teacher telling our kindergartener that she “didn’t need to worry about raising her hand” or she could “just stay on mute” because she knew the answers. Our daughter asked us why she had to go to school if she wasn’t allowed to do anything. We didn’t have an answer.
We pulled her out and began our journey of homeschooling.
Homeschool was fantastic for our children. We were able to teach life skills like gardening, laundry, and cleaning throughout the day. These became the bedrock of our education with reading, writing, and math serving as tools we taught to augment. Unfortunately, we reached a point where working from home and homeschooling two children was becoming impossible. Many activities were during daily work meetings and conference calls. Our family met with our assigned public school and this time, a private school. We discussed enrolling both our children. We specifically asked about our daughter, her levels, and what the school’s approach would be.
Public school had one curriculum, unwelcome to changes or parental input. She would still be sat in the back, hand down, and encouraged to keep to herself while the other students learned. The private school immediately discussed alternate workbooks, exercises on the same topic but more complex themes and ideas, and an approach to bring her as an individual into the classroom community. We opted for private school.
Now, our children are thriving. They love going to school, come home excited, and have a level of critical thinking that challenges adults. We still have hands-on education focused on life skills that complements this. Meanwhile, public schools have cut things like telling time and counting money from the curriculum, are lowering standards to change the definition of success, and are shaming parents who try to push back against them. Ouch.
So back to my kids’ question – why aren’t other things for sale at a back to school sale?
Back to school shopping is meant to support a mandated type of education with no emphasis on life skills.
Right now, our family has the ability to send our children to private school and do additional activities at home because we are able to afford private school tuition and time off. Unfortunately, we are still forced to pay property taxes, including public school funding. We continue to fund the very school that asked our child to be quiet and sit in the back, even though our children don’t attend. We pay for the middle school and we pay for the high school where our children will never go. There are other families in public school that would love to choose another education path, but can’t afford the choice since their income is forced to go to the government school systems.
But wait! There’s a sale! It makes the idea of relying on public schools feel like a such a bargain instead of the scam that it is.
Financially, school choice means money taken for public schools is returned to parents and guardians so they have the freedom to choose what is best for their child with the funding. For example, our local public school district spends $14,906 per student. In comparison, our private school tuition is $7,260 per student. For two children, that would be over $14,000 returned to our family to do what we wish. This includes materials for projects or hands-on lessons.
Removing government restrictions on families allows for an educational free market. Parents and guardians can choose where to send their children and how to educate them. Schools must be responsive to them. How is our private school offering a better education for our children at half the cost of the public school? Why is there no accountability for the government run school system?
Allowing people to make the best decisions for themselves and their families is a cornerstone of liberty. School choice is just one piece of the liberty puzzle. It’s a choice that starts our youngest of citizens on the path to knowing their empowerment. You may not have children. You might work for a public school. I’m not asking you to boycott back to school shopping. I am asking you to support the restoration of freedom for parents and guardians to choose education in the free market. When you see children shoved in the back of the class or being told to mute themselves for not thinking like everyone else, I am asking you to think about the possibility that we shouldn’t be shopping for just supplies – we should be shopping for a different type of education.