March 1, 2013

After a bill he sponsored went through significant changes, Sen. Tom Apodaca said he felt "like the parent that sends a kid to college and they come home at Thanksgiving and you don't recognize them. ...My God, what have you done to my child?"

One could wonder if the drafters of the North Carolina Constitution would feel the same way about the current General Assembly's plan to dismantle public education. It is clear that those who developed the state's constitution wanted free public education to be one of the bedrocks of the future of this state. Article I, Section 15 of the North Carolina Constitution states, "The people have a right to the privilege of education, and it is the duty of the State to guard and maintain that right." Article IX says in Section 2, "The General Assembly shall provide by taxation and otherwise for a general and uniform system of free public schools, which shall be maintained at least nine months in every year, and wherein equal opportunities shall be provided for all students."

It is these clauses that make a recent bill so puzzling. House Bill 144 would provide tax credits for families who home school their children. Clearly, homeschools do not fit into the definition of a "general and uniform system of free public schools." To highlight the fact that home schools are not public schools, they are regulated by the Department of Administration Division of Non Public Education.

The bill would allow $1,250 in tax credits per semester for a family that home schools. While such measures are often couched as expanding choice for parents, the reality is that they are just one more method of bleeding the public schools of much-needed funding. The only choice here is the General Assembly's decision to shirk its responsibility to fund through "taxation or otherwise" a uniform system of public schools.

Not only are home schools not public, they are not highly regulated. While there are several steps parents who home school have to take, they are not subject to the same oversight as traditional public schools.

They are also not held accountable to the same standards as public schools. In fact, the bill does not require anything from the homeschooling parent nor does it state that the money has to be specifically spent on education-related items. It also does not prohibit against using the tax credits for parents who home school for religious reasons. That may create a situation where the government is funding religious study – likely a violation of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.

No matter how often proponents of this bill say it is about choice, one need only look at the amount of money the tax credits provide to see it is only the illusion of choice. Several members of the legislature claim that they want to provide "choice" for low-income parents. Low-income families cannot use this tax credit because it does not provide enough funding to make it a viable option for their children. Parents who already have the resources to home school are those who can take advantage of the tax credit.  The only option for low-income parents is to continue to attend traditional public schools, which will be down several million dollars if this bill goes through. There are about 80,000 students who are home schooled in the state. If each receives a tax credit of $2,500, the state would lose about $200 million.

The drafters of the North Carolina Constitution were clear: the General Assembly is mandated to create a uniform system of public schools through taxation or otherwise. House Bill 144 turns that mandate on its head and would take funding away from public schools by providing taxpayer money to non-public schools with little accountability.

The people who wrote Article I, Section 15 and Article IX of the North Carolina Constitution could read House Bill 144 and wonder, "My God, what are you doing to our children?"


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