Most everyone loves a tax credit when it benefits them, but maybe not so much when it benefits others. A recent opinion piece in the New York Times promotes the idea of a federal tax credit for parents of homeschoolers, as well as for those with children in public or private school. “No Extra Rules Required,” it asserts, claiming that “the income tax credit for education can work in much the same way as energy efficiency credits do.” But one need just skim the dialog and comments in the Times’ “Room for Debate” feature to see that, with a tax credit for homeschooling, it is not that simple.
The concept of homeschool tax credits evokes an emotional reaction, because homeschoolers have been painted as fringe extremists for decades--often times by those who claim to speak for us. The moment a tax credit idea is put forth, people react by bringing up accountability issues, as did another opinion piece answering the question, “Do Home Schoolers Deserve a Tax Break?” Chester E. Finn Jr., senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, answered, “Yes, but tests are necessary.”
A third respondent to the question is Susan B. Neuman, noted as a professor in educational studies at the University of Michigan who was also an assistant secretary of education in the George W. Bush administration. With high-level government experience, Ms. Neuman reminds us that “you don’t get something for nothing. The government will exact its price...[throw away] all the freedoms that home schooling presumably provides...forget your curriculum — do it the government way.”
What do homeschoolers themselves say? In her editorial about federal tax credits, attorney Deborah G. Stevenson, Executive Director of National Home Education Legal Defense says the legislation would “grant new powers to the federal government it never had before - to define the term ‘homeschool’, to regulate it.”
In the January 2011 issue of Home Education Magazine, longtime political analysts and homeschooling parents Larry and Susan Kaseman caution readers against thinking that we will be immune to new accountability requirements if we simply don’t grab the tax credit carrot. In their article, “Beware of Privatization of Education: It Reduces Our Homeschooling Freedoms,” the Kasemans state that, “homeschoolers can’t assume that as long as they as individuals refuse to accept government money or favors, they won’t be required to comply with state regulations written for homeschoolers who do accept them. ”
The pro tax credit opinion in the Times states that, under the suggested “model legislation,” the I.R.S. “could conduct an audit, and the parent or parent’s tax preparer could retain all the necessary documentation relating to the child’s education and the qualifying educational expense to show to the I.R.S. if necessary.” As if this would be acceptable.
Nearly a decade ago, in my article for The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers, “Home Education Tax Credit? No, Thanks!,” I explained that such homeschool tax credit legislation would leave “the door open for bureaucrats to determine” what comprises acceptable materials. As I said then, “government officials don't have an inkling about homeschooling, and are usually not looking out for our best interests. In regard to home education, the bureaucrat's favorite buzzword seems to be ‘accountability.’”
Time and again, in various states around the country, we have seen that, when it comes to homeschool tax credit legislation, extra rules are always required. With new federal “model" homeschool tax credit legislation already proposed, homeschoolers must be extremely vigilant in opposing this well intentioned threat to our homeschool freedoms.
Copyright © 2011 Shay Seaborne. All rights reserved.