Parents back inclusion of homeschooling in school choice bill

In the ongoing debate over allowing public education funding to follow students to any provider, including homeschooling or private schools, some homeschoolers have argued, which led lawmakers to recently remove these parents from the bill.

But other parents say that the legislation, Senate Bill 1647would greatly benefit from their families’ efforts to homeschool after bad experiences at local public schools.

“I would say the majority of us would definitely be helped by that kind of money,” said Robin Castro, whose daughter once attended Moore Public Schools. “I mean, we can definitely do things with this money that we can’t otherwise do on our own.”

“It was going to be a really good bill for us,” said Brent Beachly, a father of four whose children previously attended Inola Public Schools. “We go to the biggest church in Inola, the Inola Baptist Church, and probably three-quarters of the families are homeschooling their kids. And we brainstormed. “Hey, if this passes, our church could have a school, basically, with as many kids as we have, and that would be very, very good.”

He said that several church families use the Classic conversations home school program and that families had discussed how they could use AEOs to cover associated costs.

“I was 100% behind (SB 1647) when it came out and thought it was going to be really good,” Beachly said.

SB 1647, by Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Greg Treat, would create the Oklahoma Empowerment Account (OEA) program. Under the program, most students eligible to enroll in a public school would be eligible for an AEO, which could be used to pay for a range of educational services, including private school tuition. As originally introduced, the bill included homeschooling families.

The money deposited into the account comes from the per-student allocation of state funding already spent on a child’s education. Base funding provided will be $3,619 per child, although some students will receive more depending on various factors.

Some opponents have argued that the funding provided through an AEO is insufficient to meet a child’s educational needs. Castro disagrees.

“It pays for the full tuition for the classic conversations, plus the book and a few extras like science experiment kits,” Castro said.

“We go to the biggest church in Inola and probably three-quarters of the families are homeschooling their kids. And we brainstormed. “Hey, if this passes, our church could have a school, basically, with as many kids as we have, and that would be very, very good. —Brent Beachly

Over the past year, Castro and her husband have lost their jobs, although her husband has since found a new job. Castro lost her job two weeks before giving birth, and since then she has been home with the newborn and her eldest daughter.

This made it difficult to cover homeschooling costs for her daughter, Castro said.

“That money is, at least for me, it’s like, ‘Fuck, I can do things without asking my parents for help,'” Castro said. “Because I have amazing and supportive parents who have helped us with the expenses to be able to homeschool our daughter, because they know the story and agree that it is in her best interests to be educated home like this.”

SB 1647 does not change the Oklahoma Constitution’s protection for homeschooling, and it includes several provisions that restrict the regulation of homeschooling or private schools.

The proposed law states, “Nothing in this law shall limit the independence or autonomy of an educational service provider or make the actions of an educational service provider the actions of the state government. Educational service providers should be given maximum freedom to meet the educational needs of autonomous students without government control. »

It also states that an educational service provider – a category that includes both private schools and homeschoolers – shall “not be required to change its belief, practices, admissions policy or program to accept payments as directed by parents from an Oklahoma Empowerment Account”. And the legislation states that nothing in the law “shall be construed to extend the regulatory authority of the state” or “impose additional regulation of providers of education services” beyond that necessary for implementation. of the Oklahoma Empowerment Account program.

These protections have not stopped some homeschooling entities from opposing SB 1647.

The Constitutional Home Educators Alliance recently signed a letter declaring participation in any government program that provides parents with funds to educate a child “implies the waiver of ultimate parental authority to oversee it”. The letter said programs like those provided by SB 1647, which would allow parents to use a student’s per-pupil allocation for homeschooling or private schooling, will result in “the elimination of choice meaningful” for families. The letter asserted that programs such as SB 1647’s Oklahoma Empowerment Account would make it harder “for families to choose private education.”

These arguments make no sense to Castro and Beachly.

“It’s more of an opt-in than an opt-out, first of all, so if you don’t want to, you don’t have to,” Castro said. “Secondly, there are a lot of protections against the government caring about homeschooling people just because of this money being put in the bill, so I don’t understand why you would argue against it. You don’t have nothing to do with it, and there are built-in protections, so why wouldn’t you want to let people choose for themselves That’s the whole point of homeschooling is being able to choose yourself what suits your family. So why would you kill that?

“On a voluntary program where they can always have things the way they want, why are they even trying to attack this because it won’t affect them at all?” Beachly said. “I don’t understand the logic.”

They note that the needs of many families are very real. The Castro and Beachly families faced significant challenges when their children were in a traditional public school.

“You have nothing to do with it, and there are built-in protections, so why wouldn’t you want to let people decide for themselves?” —Robin Castro

Castro’s daughter has medical issues, including prolonged asthma-like symptoms that cannot be resolved with traditional treatments – and a drug that helped the child produced significant side effects.

Two years ago, the girl’s symptoms were so severe that Castro was called to pick her up from school almost every day for treatment. At one point, Castro said staff at the Moore School accused her daughter of faking the severity of her symptoms to get out of school.

Castro also questioned the quality of education in the district after his daughter’s grades remained unchanged despite missing a lot of class time.

“I would say probably 75% of the time she missed her afternoons, and she always got A’s,” Castro said. “She still managed to get A’s in all her classes. So, it’s clear that she wasn’t learning anything new or challenging.

The following year, her daughter stopped turning in her homework, and school officials did not notify the family until the first report card was issued. When Castro met with school officials, she said they only complained that her daughter had a bad attitude and offered no suggestions on how to fix any fundamental underlying problem.

Castro said his daughter is being evaluated for attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism. The child also suffered from anxiety, depression and insomnia, making homeschooling the best option for her, Castro said.

Beachly faced similar issues when one of her sons started showing signs of high-functioning autism.

The school did not hold an Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting with the Beachly family until November, and nothing was finalized until March. He said there were many bureaucratic delays along the way. When his wife attended an IEP meeting alone, Beachly said school officials “really, really bullied her” and she “left crying.”

At one point, school officials attempted to challenge their son’s diagnosis, citing a test performed by the school’s psychometrician.

“Two doctors said he had autism,” Beachly said. “The school wasn’t even going to accept his autism diagnosis from a doctor.”

The family faced similar challenges when another son suffered a brain injury in a “freak” accident and then faced physical rehabilitation and migraines, Beachly said.

Castro and Beachly ultimately opted to pull their children out of local public school, moving first to online public charter schools and then increasing classes through the home-schooling program.

Opponents of SB 1647 argued that allowing homeschooled families to receive OAS funds would drain funds from other students. But the children of Castro and Beachly previously attended public schools whose taxpayers covered the full cost, which on average $10,087 per student for the 2020-2021 school year.

Both families are baffled that opponents argue that it is okay for taxpayers to spend more than $10,000 to educate their children in one setting, but not spend less money educating the same children in one. another frame.

“If we’re willing to pay that much money for a child to receive a public education, regardless of income, wouldn’t it honestly be fairer for this bill to do the same thing?” Castro asked. “Honestly, you get a lot more bang for your buck homeschooling than public schooling. Public school is less effective and less individualizable for a pupil who does not belong to this “average” group.

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