Friday, February 22, 2008

Freedom From The Feds

I oppose a federal tax credit for homeschoolers. There. I said it.

This issue is a pretty hot topic among homeschoolers and proponents of both sides of the debate have good points. I have thought long and hard about this issue for quite a while now. My stance may surprise some of you who are familiar with my views on taxes.

Do I oppose the government(s) in our country taking about 35-40% of my money and spending it however they please? Yes.

Do I do what I can to make our annual tax bills the least amount of money possible? Double yes.

Do I take deductions and tax credits when possible in order to lower my tax bills? You betcha.

Do I hate that my government uses some of my money to finance our schools, and doesn't even ask me for permission to use it in that manner? Of course.

Wouldn't I love to keep just a leeetle bit more of my own money to offset the expenses that we undertake in order to home educate our children? Yes. Yes I would.

So why do I oppose a tax credit?

The short answer is that the cost would be too high.

Now you may be wondering: Errr? So I will 'splain.

Right now, we homeschoolers, ALL of us throughout the nation, enjoy a very, very rare thing: freedom from the federal government in this area of our lives. Most of us have hurdles that we must jump through in order to make our state education officials happy--paperwork, reporting, testing, etc. But we are FREE from the Feds.

Free. No hoops, no hurdles. It's only a sliver, but it's there.

Nobody at the Department of Education requires us to submit a form to them at the beginning of each school year, notifying them of our intent to homeschool our own kids.

The DOE does not require homeschooling parents to be college-educated or hold a teaching certificate.

No certified DOE person needs to look at our yearly portfolio, pronouncing judgment on our abilities to and methods by which we educate our children according to our values.

The DOE does not even have an accurate count of how many homeschoolers there are in the nation.

We are outside their purview, outside their reach, outside of their ideas of how we should best educate the little human beings who we chose to bring into the world, who we support financially, emotionally, physically, and intellectually.

Free. We are free.

ANY involvement by the federal government in the area of homeschooling necessarily undermines our freedom--even so-called "good" involvement in the form of financial incentives. Imagine for a moment what you might have to do in order to claim the theoretical Homeschool Tax Credit. Here's an exercise to help you do just that.

  • First, go to the Hope Tax Credit Section of the IRS Publications.
  • Read it through, substituting the word "Homeschool" for "Hope."
  • Realize that every. single. sentence in that section is a condition or limitation on you--a hurdle you must jump through.
  • Recall that when the Hope Tax Credit idea was first floated, it was suggested that this would be a simple, one-line process.
  • Wonder if "Sports, Games, and Hobbies" will be covered (unlike for Hope). Even though you may consider your child's lemonade stand a valuable educational experience, the government might not.
  • Imagine how the IRS might define "Eligible Student" and how they will verify a taxpayer's claims to have an eligible student in the absence of a formal school bureaucracy.
  • Understand that WE will not be defining the word "homeschooling" or eligibility requirements. The federal government will be doing that for us, most likely with the assistance of the DOE, since they "help" the IRS with the other education-related credits and deductions.
  • Realize that for any kind of tax credit or deduction that you currently take--the mortgage interest tax deduction, for instance--you must provide proof of your eligibility for that tax deduction or credit through a statement from your mortgage company, or zillions of receipts.
It's not just the paperwork--it's the fact that we must then be accountable to some agency in the federal government in order to get that money back. The IRS and the Department of Education work together on the Hope tax credit and the Lifetime Learning tax credit, with the DOE helping to define terms for the IRS.* The IRS already uses DOE-related standards to determine eligibility for education-related claims.**

Consider one of the peculiar complications of a potential Homeschool Tax Credit: the definition of eligibility. Would it be enough to say that you are satisfying the requirements of your state? Currently, if the IRS has a question about someone's Hope credit, they can refer to the institution where the learning took place, because all schools are required to send that information to the IRS as well as send a statement to the student, just like your mortgage deduction.

This would be tricky in a Homeschool Tax Credit scenario, because unlike the current education tax credits where the student and the school are separate entities, the school essentially corroborating the parents' claim, the homeschooling parent is both the "institution" reporting the eligibility and the recipient of the credit. That's the kind of conflict of interest which would require lots and lots of paperwork, I think.

Sure--you'd have your receipts--but would the IRS accept your word that you have an eligible student? Would they require extra reporting by your state? It seems a reasonable conclusion. How would that work in states without reporting requirements? Who would pay for the additional administrative costs of the state reassuring the IRS or the DOE that you are actually in compliance with your state laws and therefore have an eligible student? I'm sure you can figure out the answer to that last question. :o)

Once the Feds get involved, there will necessarily be more reporting requirements, at the very least to our states, so that our ducks will be lined up just so and we can keep more of our money. Once the Feds get involved at any level, in any aspect of homeschooling, defining eligibility and limits and constraints and what happens to those who don't follow the rules, we will lose something that we may never be able to regain: the homeschooling freedom we currently enjoy from the Feds.

This is one small but very important area in which We The Parents are not beholden to the federal government. A very precious, unique opportunity. We are free. We owe the Feds nothing.

If we advocate for tax credits--beneficial as that money would be, as much of a right to that money as we have--we will essentially be inviting the federal government to notice us. To define us. To monitor us. To calculate us. To nickel and dime us. To determine us. This is an invitation that we cannot rescind. It's a way into our lives--a door, if you will. And once it is opened, it will never be closed--not by us and certainly not by them. It will only open wider and wider and our freedom will shrink ever smaller. And we will have invited this.

Yes, I want my money, but not at that price. To paraphrase Ben Franklin, we homeschooling parents have freedom from the federal government--if we can keep it.

Freedom, in a political context, means freedom from government coercion . . . It means freedom from the coercive power of the state—and nothing else.

--Ayn Rand, "Conservatism: An Obituary," Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, p. 192.

*For example, on the Hope tax credit page, you will find these words (emphasis mine): "The standard for what is half of the normal full-time work load is determined by each eligible educational institution.
However, the standard may not be lower than any of those established by the Department of Education under the Higher Education Act of 1965."

**One IRS requirement for taking either the Hope or Lifetime Learning credits is that the learning institution must be "eligible to participate in
a student aid program administered by the Department of Education. It includes virtually all accredited public, nonprofit, and proprietary (privately owned profit-making) postsecondary institutions."


Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

I thought this through last fall, with all the fuss about Huckabee on homeschool lists and blogs, and I am in complete agreement with you.

Better that they get to keep some of my money than that they get to dictate to me what it means to educate my kids.

I want to fly far, far under the Fed radar!

Tammy Takahashi said...


That's all I have to add. :)

~cactus mouse~ said...

Yes, yes, yes!!!! Thank you!

John Drake said...

Yep, I agree completely. That is the exact same reason why I oppose vouchers for private schools. People are deluding themselves if they believe its free money. Its not. The gov-ment ALWAYS has strings attached.

Sandra Foyt said...

You've convinced me!

Rational Jenn said...

John and Sandra, thanks for stopping by! I think that politicians who advocate a HS tax credit are often well-intentioned. But you know where good intentions often lead . . . !

Jules said...

Amen!! What a great post! Thank you for explaining it so well...

Renae said...

Your thoughts resonate many of my own. My vote cannot be bought with the promise of money for my homeschool. There would be too many strings attached.

Dana said...

Agree wholeheartedly.

I was a little frustrated with the fact that a few of our presidential candidates talked about homeschooling tax credits.

In a way, it was nice to be a group large enough to be officially pandered to. But that wore off quick enough. I'd just assume pay my two cents for the education of other people's children so that I can educate my own as I see fit.

Rational Jenn said...

Jules, Renae, & Dana, thanks so much for your remarks. I do appreciate it. I was also disappointed to see some political candidates talking about tax credits. It seems as if the only ones who spoke favorably about homeschooling offered tax credits. Perhaps I'm too cynical about politicians, but it seems to be a bit of blatant carrot-dangling in order to get votes. Why not just say, "I support your right to educate your kids as you see fit and pledge to keep the federal government out of your way." It's as if they think we NEED to have them proffer money (our money, yes) in order for us to believe that they really do support them. And the irony is, the money-waving makes me NOT support them!

piscesgrrl said...

Thanks for this thorough explanation, the best i've read yet. I'm going to share it!

ute said...

You are so very right. Thank you for writing this here.
I'll add you to my blogroll, if you don't mind. :)

Rational Jenn said...

Ute, thanks for stopping by! I'm glad what I wrote resonated with you.

And thanks for adding me to your blogroll. I'll be checking out your blog, too!