Do not kid yourself. This is a terrible idea.
Even though Besty DeVos's confirmation as Education Secretary benefits my Christian middle-class family, it hurts children in poverty who attend public school. And that deeply disturbs me.
My issue isn't directly against Betsy DeVos.
I just have a problem with anyone who holds the power and desire to defund public education by close to $9 billion from the Department of Education with a private or homeschool education agenda that benefits organizations outside the public ed domain with public tax dollars.
Huffington Post reported that "the proposed budget adds money to school choice options, including $250 million for a 'new private school choice program.' This would likely be a voucher program ― providing public money for kids to attend private schools ― although the exact plan is still nebulous. The budget also adds $168 million for charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately operated."
With the school voucher debate going around where educational dollars 'follow the child,' any person can choose their educational program of choice. It doesn't matter if you are homeschooling, paying for private Christian education, or staying in public education.
I've already had an experience of how this could work.
The other day, I was driving my homeschooled children from sports camp and passed a school with a banner that said, "FREE PRIVATE CHRISTIAN SCHOOL."
But let's be real here, I thought. There is no such thing as a free school for anyone, anywhere. That money is coming from somewhere, and from someone.
I decided to make a call and find out more.
The admissions person informed me that this was an entirely new school, but the qualifications for teachers were different. The school was not required to have certified teachers, but that teachers had three years of teaching experience.
What's worse is that these schools will also be able to tap into public education dollars by providing on-campus virtual education, which is the same public school option offered to homeschooling families.
This again, removes funding from public education and puts it into for-profit and non-profit organizations that does not benefit poor children of the state. It hurts them.
It was also explained to me that my family of three would qualify for a school voucher that covers all their tuition expense as long as we made less than $4,500 a month, and for each additional family member that lives in the home, an additional $500 dollars could be added to what was allowed to make before having to contribute to tuition expenses.
That seemed crazy to me.
That amount is almost more than what a public student receives each year for their own school expenses taught by certified teachers.
I did some additional research on school vouchers and education funding online and found out that there were also dollars available for homeschooled parents.
The problem is that this creates a perfect situation where the haves can have more, and those who don't have things like transportation, parental involvement, and food at home, won't be able to take advantage of this program. It takes money to make money, and it also takes money to get a quality education.
For families who can afford the luxury of transferring one expense to another, this is golden.
Parents who have been funding their children's private education can now afford new luxury items like organic food without having to squeeze in a meatless Monday or Taco Tuesday in the mix.
It's selfish to say, "Why not? We pay a lot of money in taxes and don't use public education. Why shouldn't it follow our own children?"
But, it's wrong and selfish and hurtful to children who go to bed hungry, whose parents are working two jobs and still can't afford to keep the lights on when they need it more.
It's wrong to abandon those who need to have their laundry washed in public school because they can't afford to use the laundry mat down the street.
It's wrong because it fails to address the problems of poverty facing public schools everywhere where school isn't just an educational institution, it's the place where children are given hope for the future.
As a former public school teacher, and a parent of former public school children, I have personally witnessed the starvation problem that affects the 14.9+ million public school children in poverty that attend Title 1 Public schools.
I used to have lunch with my son and when he opened his lunch box, the children around him that received free lunch would literally hoard whatever he didn't want.
As a teacher, we are reminded of the Backpack Program where backpacks are filled with food for the weekend and set by student desks so that they can have food to eat while not in school.
My mother worked as a public school nurse and she took socks to give to children in school. They didn't have socks. It was not something the family could afford.
We now have National Laundry Days in some public schools to make sure that kids have clean clothes, too.
Some of these children literally have not eaten at anything fancier than a McDonald's or a bag of chips on Thanksgiving Day.
We face a national problem where food and clothing are in part funded by educational dollars.
With children in poverty who attend public school going to bed hungry, we don't need a voucher system. We need reform.
Knowing this reality makes me acutely aware that homeschooling my children is a lifestyle privilege that places me in a unique category of wealth that many other children and their respective families do not have — and school vouchers robs children in poverty attention, time and resources that they desperately need and do not have the tax dollars to replace for their own benefit.