Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Cost of Compulsion, the Value of Volunteers

This past weekend I had the privilege of addressing over two thousand homeschoolers in one place, at the 22nd Annual North Carolinians for Home Education Conference in Winston-Salem. As many as that is, and it is impressive to see, it is only a fraction of the groundswell that home education is in this state. If all the parents and children in the 34 thousand homeschooling families across North Carolina were gathered together, they would populate a city the size of Fayetteville. That is significant.

At the same time as that conference was opening, the General Assembly -- to be specific, the North Carolina House -- was filing a bill to raise the compulsory attendance age from 16 to 18 years old. The long session last year already passed a change to upgrade truancy from a Class 3 to a Class 1 misdemeanor, meaning penalties could reach six months imprisonment or could even be raised to the level of a felony. Playing hooky isn't what it once was.

There are careers based on the debates which these two philosophies represent, but I find it interesting that the proposed change in compulsory attendance -- wisely avoiding the phrase "compulsory education", by the way -- carries a price tag of $41 million for the 2006-2007 school year. I seriously doubt that a student who has thrown in the towel on his own education by age 16 is going to gain much more from sitting in school another two years.

On the other hand, parents who have volunteered to fund their own children's education, whether by homeschooling or enrolling them in private or religious academies, are saving taxpayers over $980 million per year, according to the state's Department of Administration, which oversees "non-public education" here. Those options are not only for the well-to-do, either; last year I spoke with the headmistress of a Christian school which charges less than $1800 per year for their students, and even less for members of the sponsoring church.

As I concluded an op-ed in Carolina Journal once, perhaps the state should be looking at ways to encourage more of these parents who are making the choice to direct their children's education and cover their own expenses. In a $7 billion education budget, $41 million just disappears; but in a state budget of $17 billion, a non-expenditure of nearly a billion simply because citizens exercise their freedom is an idea worth promoting.


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