Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Education Bills in the Georgia State Legislature

There are a couple of bills in the Georgia legislature that caught my attention and because I just know you're dying to know what I think about them, I'll tell you!

The two I'm going to address now are Senate Bills 55 and 34. These two bills are related. They seek to allow students living in a school district who are not enrolled in the school to join extracurricular activities at public schools.

SB 34 is specific to charter and virtual schooled students, and I really don't have much of an opinion about that. On one hand, students enrolled in GA charter and virtual schools are considered government schooled students and as such, somebody (school districts? charter schools? dunno) gets money because they count. If they count, then probably they ought to be able to play sports at government schools. On the other hand, if more kids playing extracurricular activities means property taxes will rise and/or a SPLOST will be more likely to carry, then nope! I don't really know the particulars about how charters and virtuals work, and as I'm morally opposed to the government running schools in any way shape or form (my money or not), I believe this entire issue isn't something that should be before the legislature in the first place.

SB 55 is pretty much the same thing--and my layman's reading of the bill reveals that it's limited to public schooled students:

27 (1) 'Nonenrolled public school student' means a public school student in grades 
28 kindergarten through 12 who resides within the attendance zone of a school but who is 
29 not enrolled in such school.

Okay, my kids are not public school students who are not enrolled in their local school. They are home study students in compliance with the home study laws of Georgia. And there's nothing else in the bill about private schooled or home study students. So when I saw this bill I didn't think twice about it.

Until I saw two blog posts on the AJC education blog called Get Schooled. Maureen Downey, the author of the blog, talked to some of the people involved in this legislation and it is somewhat alarming:

But when I called Senate sponsor Renee Unterman’s office for clarification of what seems duplicate intent to me, I was told the bill applies to “any student residing that district.” I asked if that meant homeschooled or private school students, and Unterman’s aide said that it did. That doesn’t sound right to me based on the language of the bill, so I asked the aide to doublecheck and get back to me. When I get the clarification, I will post. 
From "Second bill opens public school clubs, teams to outside students" (my emphasis)

Later she asked one of the sponsors of the bill who confirmed that his intention at least is to open up this legislation for private and home study students:

Were the bills designed to let any children, whether enrolled in private, charter, magnet or homeschooled, to join after-school clubs and teams at the local public school?
As far as SB 55,  Sen. Shafer said that he signed on because the bill “would allow home and private school kids to participate in public school extracurricular activities. Extracurricular activities are subsidized by the taxpayers in that they make use of school buildings, practice fields, stadiums, etc.  Obviously, if there are dues or fees associated with the extracurricular activities, the home or private school child should have to pay them the same as a public school student.
“Coaches are sometimes paid extra, but you are right that many school teachers volunteer their time to sponsor or advise clubs.  I am not sure why the volunteer teachers would not welcome other students from the community the school was set up to serve.  I am convinced that the students from various educational backgrounds benefit from the interaction with each other, and I am little surprised you do not see that as a major benefit.  It may even be an evangelical opportunity to bring the home and private school children back into the public schools.”
From "Value in non students joining public school teams, clubs?" (italics in original, bold is my emphasis)

Not being a legislator or legal mind of any sort, I don't quite see how you get from "public school student not enrolled" to "home and private schools." I guess I don't really care, though. It's enough for me to know that at least one of the sponsors of this bill is thinking about us.

Which brings me to my point: I will absolutely and always oppose any bill that is designed to create opportunities for homeschooled students in the public schools. Why? The short answer is because I don't trust them for a second.

Any mingling of homeschooled kids and government schools will necessarily bring them under the purview of the government. Once in the system, the government will want to keep them in the system. Even Shafer above admits this when he says:

"It may even be an evangelical opportunity to bring the home and private school children back into the public schools.”

He thinks that the government schools want us back. Maybe they do.

Part of the reason I homeschool is so that my kids are OUT of the government school system. Even the minimal reporting we must do in Georgia is bad enough, but beyond saying that we're homeschooling and completing "attendance" reports, we are not subject to the school district rules or textbooks or curriculum or calendar or other nonsensical things.

Ah, but we're taxpayers, right? Shouldn't we try to at least get something for our money? I hear this a lot, too. Even my new friend Senator Shafer mentions it:

"Extracurricular activities are subsidized by the taxpayers in that they make use of school buildings, practice fields, stadiums, etc."

I think that viewing the taxpayer-government school relationship as a normal free business relationship is a huge mistake, and obfuscates the fact that this money is forcibly taken from us and redistributed according to the desires of others (government officials).

When you enter into a free business transaction, you are exchanging money for the product or service. You do get something for your money, and you have every right to expect it. If you don't like the quality or type of product/service, you get to choose another business to work with. You even get to take legal action against a business if you don't get the something for your money.

The government doesn't work that way. If there were no government schools, you would be free to pay for whatever school you liked--and if the school didn't deliver on its service obligations, you could pull your kids out and go to another school. Parents of kids in government school don't get to do that. There's no free transaction here--your money is taken and your kids go where the government officials tell them.

There's no exchange of services for money, for if there were, what service did I get in exchange for the money taken from me way back in the days before I had kids? I got no service at all, nor did I have the right to demand anything in return. Neither do any of my childless neighbors. Just because I went and had three kids doesn't now give me the right to demand anything of the government--and even if I did, I sincerely doubt it could provide the level of service I'd want, so I still wouldn't be getting enough in exchange for my money.

The point is this--as taxpayers we have no choice or say in this at all. If we pretend that we do by buying into this idea of "well, we might as well get something for our money" then we are only helping the government school officials. Let's not make their jobs any easier. Let's not help them pretend that they are providing us with a service in the same way the dry cleaner or the auto mechanic does. Let's not give them any sanction whatsoever.

Sadly, opposing these bills on moral grounds will probably do nothing to convince our legislators of their (perhaps well-intended) errors. Luckily, with counties and the state facing falling property tax "revenues" (I use that term loosely) due to the housing bust, overcrowding of classrooms, testing scandals, etc. there is one compelling argument that the legislators will listen to: supposedly there is not enough money already for the kids in government schools--why add in more kids? (I intend to make a moral case for opposing the bill, but I will certainly mention the budget crunch, too.)

The other good thing is that government school parents are probably not going to be thrilled about this either, so I think the bill will be fought from both sides.

If you live in Georgia, please take a couple of minutes to let your state representatives (especially your senator) know what you think about these bills. If you're not in Georgia, why not take a few minutes to see what YOUR state legislators are up to?


Thomas Hochmann said...

Great post, Jenn! I was quite pleased at your point regarding the "sanction of the victim" -- it is a very insidious trend to have government forcefully take money, turn around to offer you some alleged benefit, and then cloak all of this in some vague notion of free markets. The situation is no different than a thief stealing all your money, then sending you some canned beans each week. After all, you might as well get SOMETHING for your money!

Keep fighting the good fight -- education is one of the most essential areas for liberty, and one where we lack it most. We especially lack it because of the tired, knee-jerk pleas of, "THINK OF THE CHILDREN!" Witness the brouhaha in Wisconsin, where ends (public education & teacher's pay) are used to justify means (public officials fleeing the law, doctors handing out fraudulent medical leave notes, and so on).


Kash said...

I personally hold out hope for the day when schools and extracurricular activities are no longer linked, especially with regard to athletics.

J Murphy said...

Jenn, our family actually supports this legislation. Why? Well we can provide a very high quality education for our children, but we can not provide for all their extra curricular activities. Living in a rural part of the state, there are not enough like-minded home schoolers to have middle or high school sports, a debate team or literary group. We have few options. We've tried to get others to join us, but as you know mant home schoolers are very independent.

Just so you know, Tennessee has just recently given access to these extra curricular activities. Now there are 25 states that have developed rules or laws to allow access to all its school aged citizens. Research these states and you'll not see any loss of control for the home schoolers.

I ask you to please reconsider your position on this issue.

J Murphy said...

Also, just so you know Senator Rogers (a sponsor of SB34) told me this morning that 55 is dying in committee and 34 is going to the Senate floor to be voted upon. So, home schoolers are again limited from options available to other taxpayers in the state.

Jenn Casey said...

Thanks for your comments, all.

Thomas--Think of the children, indeed. Someone, years ago, appalled at our decision to homeschool, pleaded with me to think about what's best for my child(ren). Which of course I am. :)

Kash--That is a very salient point. If extracurriculars were truly extra curricular--outside of school--then this whole thing would be moot. Tons of companies would vie for the chance to offer sports and academic teams to kids of all ages. They already do, of course, but the opportunities would be even greater than they are now. Why would a program want to compete with high school football right now? The schools are the only players in that market--but that's not how it needs to be.

J Murphy--Sorry, there is no way I'll change my mind on this. I think that once the door is cracked open, it will lead to more "help" from the GA legislators in the form of increased oversight and control.

What will happen if homeschoolers who are participating in sports teams or academic teams are found not to have required GPAs? Who will determine their GPAs? Who will determine if the coursework is comparable? (Hint: not the homeschooling parents.) Will the schools accept the grades given by the parents? If not, then will the kids be subject to testing? What will happen once the state is allowed to oversee and possibly test one segment of homeschoolers but not the other? It's not too hard to imagine that somewhere down the line, "for the sake of the children" somebody will decide that ALL homeschoolers need more oversight and testing.

This isn't the only route to more oversight and testing. Just a common one.

If you want to take advantage of extracurriculars likes sports and debate teams, then send your kids to school (or create programs yourself). If you do not want the state to tell you how and what and when to teach your children, then homeschool. It's a difficult choice to be sure, because as Kash has pointed out, these two disparate sets of activities are inextricably linked, but any muddying of these waters will make things more difficult and less free for all of us.

Most of all, get the government out of education all together and we'd all be freer to make better choices with and for our children. We should be advocating for FEWER laws, not more.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Jenn. I think you're on the right track. Anytime the government gets involved we should all be concerned. Personally, when I hear that a legislator is "thinking about us", I become concerned, even nervous. I would rather they not think of me at all. And knowing that they consider my children as "non-enrolled" concerns me even more.
When I chose to home-school I recognized the "sacrifice" that we may not be able to participate in certain activities. Weighed in balance. "If" I chose to seek participation in particular extra-curricular activities, I would do so on the local level, within the school.
When a legislator cloaks their position in "evangelism" I am concerned even more. I see them as attempting to appease a position they know nothing about.
Bottom line, government has no place in education and the less they are involved the better off my family will be.

Anonymous said...

Jenn, I like your enthusiasm, but many of the questions and concerns you ask could be implemented right now if anyone in the legislature cared enough to implement these restrictions. The home school community would not be large enough to stop it.

Allowing some home schoolers access would not limit the freedoms of others. Just look at the 25 other states that have granted equal access. You will see before and after that none of your concerns have come true for anyone choosing to stay away from the extra curricular activities. Obviously those choosing to take advantage of the extra opportunities must follow the set of rules established by the local school system, but that's to be expected. The FACTS are there to observe. Please take a look.

Also its pretty irrational to suggest the government will leave education to the citizens. As I am sure you know, teaching is not easy and every American is not equipped to educate their children. Its a sad state we find ourselves in. Many of the brightest minds, founders of our country, were home schooled. People have become to lazy to take the responsibility for their childrens future. Sad.

J Murphy said...

Jenn that last post was from me. I don't know how it posted as anonymous, I typed in my name.

Mindy said...

The fact that I could not have my daughter participate in any school-related clubs, sports, or activities has been the worst imposition the the forced choice to home-school imposed.
She cannot be in 4-H, or Jr. Achievement, debate, band, etc. The other side of this coin is that, especially with the older kids, all their peers are occupied in these activities, creating even greater social segregation for the home-schooler.
I'm sure neighborhoods and regions vary a lot in terms of the number of home-schoolers available for group activities--and what sort of group they make (the staunchly religous don't wish to associate beyond arms-length with disbelievers.)
Again, this has been a terrible additional problem in my own case, and I am against people's being against this legislation on grounds of hypothetical developments, when the harm it would positively undo is so great.

Mary said...

We all use government-subsidized services every day, whether we really want to or not. While it's great to fight the fight, while something still exists as a public service, I would think it would be discriminatory to block any group from using a public service. I am shocked that there even needs to be legislation to "allow" home-schooled students partial-access to schools. When my brother was in high school, he attended a private school full-time, but went over to the local high school for some of their science and labs. He was able to get some advanced biology that he wouldn't have gotten otherwise, and I think it was his right to use the resources for his benefit. I've also known many home-schoolers who have been able to use the school system just for their special needs instruction (speech therapy, etc). I've never heard of anyone getting hassled for just using the school system for selective purposes. As long as it exists as a public resource, the public should be able to decide how they use that resource. While it may seem pragmatic to take advantage a public service you are morally opposed to, I think it's plain stupid to shoot yourself (and your kids) in the foot for refusing to participate in anything that is publicly funded. (Do we let the public trash collection pick up our trash? Do we drive on state roads? Check out books from the library?) I am not going to burden myself (or my kids) to hold an ideal above my own rational self-interest.

Mary said...

Just thought I’d add if you don’t want to associate with public schools in any fashion, all the power to you. However, as I was describing above, I do empathize with home-schoolers who do wish to use public schools selectively. I understand the sanctioning argument, but I have to admit, I am very weary of it. I think when Objectivists argue about “sanctioning” it’s very easy to go down the slippery slope to hypocrisy. I think if people were really truly concerned about “sanctioning,” they should go live in the woods withdrawn from society or form their own Galt’s Gulch. Bottom line is to me, if something is a currently a public service, people should be able to make up their own minds about how they’d like to use the service. I think there is a happy medium. (Didn’t even Ayn Rand accept social security benefits?)

Jenn Casey said...

Appreciate the additional comments, everyone! Even though I disagree with some of you, I'm glad we can have this interesting discussion.

J Murphy--I will always be suspicious of any more government intrusion into our lives. Just because some states are "successful" doesn't mean they will not use this as a way to encroach further on homeschooling freedoms. Just because other states are "successful" doesn't mean GA will be. We need fewer laws. Not more.

Mindy--I appreciate that your kids (and mine) have fewer opportunities. But that is not a good enough reason to let the government allow hs kids into public schools. The way I see it--if the value of the extracurricular opportunities is so high, then send your kids to school. (Or move to one of the 25 states that apparently have some kind of access laws.) If one of my kids was on the road to college football or baseball, then maybe he would attend a good high school. It's a tough choice, because as Kash pointed out, these things are linked to school. Would that they weren't. But given that they are, make a choice--which one is more important? Do not advocate for blurring the line between private/homeschooled/completely out-of-the-system kids and government schooled kids. The government wants our kids. They want the $$ they'll get with the extra kids. They will do what they can to entice ("evangelize") us back in. If you want to do that, then fine, but do not use the power of government to make this harder on my family and families like mine who like the line nice and clear and definitive.

Mary--It is absolutely in my rational self-interest to do what I can to prevent the state government from creating opportunities for itself to encroach further on my freedom! This is not an ideal I'm holding above my rational self-interest. There is no false dichotomy between the moral and practical. Also, it is not sanction of the victim to use public services when there is no alternative. The sanction part comes when you help the government and others pretend that a government "service" is the same kind of service you get from private companies. It is not a sanction of the victim to get scanned by the TSA. It is sanctioning it when you let the TSA people play games with your child in order to trick him into complying. I think it's sanction of the victim when people pretend that we are customers of the government schools. Money is taken from us by force. Laws are in place to make sure we put our kids in schools. The government likes to pretend it offers a service, but without the force of taxation and compulsory attendance, would they really have customers? No they wouldn't. Not as many as they do! So playing along with them, tell ourselves and each other that we'll just accept more "services" for our "money" places this government-forced activity on the level of private business transactions. THAT is sanction of the victim.

There's probably more I could write, but I've already made this torturously long. :)

Gene Palmisano said...

It has been my experience that during a public school budget krunch the first thing to go is the activities bus, then the activity, then the arts and music classes. Thanks Jenn