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Why Kansas Homeschoolers Should Reject Moundridge's Mid-Kansas Independent Academy
by Jim Farthing, Editor
Moundridge Public Schools (MPS) have created a new program targeted specifically at homeschoolers known as the Mid-Kansas Independent Academy (MKIA). Homeschooled students participating in this program are technically enrolled and thus counted as full-time students in MPS, and as a result, MPS will receive full state funding for them (approx. $4,000 per student). However, MKIA is merely an umbrella. There is no building or teaching staff. Students enrolled with MKIA receive no academic instruction from MPS, are not eligible to participate in MPS extracurricular activities (including sports), and are not directly overseen by MPS teachers or administrators. This absence of oversight is in fact part of the program's "appeal." Homeschooling families enrolled with MKIA remain in complete control of their educational program. In turn, participants can submit receipts to MKIA for up to $2,000 of homeschooling expenses per student (e.g., books, supplies, reference materials, field trip expenses) and receive direct cash reimbursement.
This program is not the result of any recent legislative enactments. Instead, MKIA is operating within the existing school financing framework. Public schools in Kansas have been permitted to enroll and receive funding for independent study students for many years. Public schools have also been permitted to utilize uncertified individuals for instructional purposes so long as those individuals are not directly compensated. (Parents serving as teacher aides are an example of this.) What MKIA does is combine these two elements. Homeschool students are enrolled essentially on a 100% independent study basis, with uncertified individuals (in this case parents) providing all of the student's instruction. Despite expending virtually no funds of its own, MPS will nonetheless seek to receive full state funding for each enrolled MKIA student, which will then be shared with the homeschooling family through reimbursements for curriculum and other educational expenses. Teacher/parents will not be directly compensated.
This is admittedly a clever program, which may in fact be completely legal under the existing statutory framework. MPS have managed to establish what is effectively a state-funded school voucher program for homeschoolers without the Kansas Legislature's direct consent.
To the best of our knowledge, there has been no official reaction to the MKIA program from any state-level authority. CHECK Chairman David Barfield contacted Rod Bieker, general counsel for the Kansas Dept. of Education, to inquire if MKIA's program had been approved. Mr. Bieker replied that it had not. In his view, MKIA's reimbursement of expenditures made by parents is not authorized, but he could not state unequivocally that this is the case. The KDOE is apparently seeking an opinion from the Kansas Attorney General as to whether the MKIA program can be funded. He also speculated that a lawsuit might be necessary to resolve the issue.
MPS Superintendent Rustin Clark has been speaking with homeschooling families and support groups all over the state, and word of this program is beginning to spread through the grapevine. According to hearsay reports, perhaps as many as 50 homeschooling families have already signed on.
A number of homeschoolers have contacted various CHECK Board members to ascertain our views on this issue. CHECK has no official position as of yet, owing primarily to the difficulty involved in assembling Board members in one place on short notice. However, Board members with whom I have had contact on this issue all have grave concerns and are encouraging Kansas homeschooling families not to sign up.
As I have stated in previous articles on this subject, I am strongly opposed to this or any program whereby homeschooling families would be directly subsidized by the state. Kansas homeschoolers not only should avoid getting involved with the MKIA program but should actively campaign against it.
The MKIA program is bad public policy.
Even if MKIA is found to be technically legal, this program clearly violates the spirit of the law. Public schools are funded by the state to compensate them for the costs involved in providing an educational program organized according to state guidelines. MKIA is claiming full state funding for students for which it offers very limited services. Further, MKIA clearly intends to expend the funds it receives for educational programs which are established independently by the participating homeschooling families, which likely do not follow any state guidelines at all and for which no direct accountability is maintained. MPS thus stand to profit $2,000 per student while providing limited services and maintaining no direct accountability. This clearly violates basic principles of public finance. MKIA is attempting to exploit a loophole in the current school finance law, with the willing participation of the enrolled homeschooling families seeking to get their share of the largesse.
Government transfer payments (subsidies) are morally wrong.
When governments purchase goods and services (weapons for the military, street construction, salaries for policeman, etc.), they are exchanging value for value. (The public policy question then becomes whether those goods and services should be purchased in the first place.) But when governments make transfer payments (subsidies) for any reason, one group of individuals is forced to support another while receiving nothing in return. Whether these transfer payments consist of food stamps, farm subsidies, school vouchers, college grants, unemployment benefits, or Social Security payments, the net result is the same: one group of individuals (taxpaying nonrecipients) is forced, essentially at gunpoint, to surrender a portion of its wealth to others, receiving nothing in return. Homeschooling families participating in MKIA are forcing their fellow homeschoolers and every other Kansas taxpayer to support their educational choice financially.
Without a doubt, Kansas homeschoolers are being victimized by the current tax system. We are forced to fund public schools that we do not use and in many cases do not support. However, this is not justification to indulge in similar behavior. If my home is burgled and my property stolen, I am not justified in burglarizing my neighbors to "even things up." Homeschoolers should instead work to solve the problem at its source - eliminating universal mandatory tax funding for public schools - rather than becoming accomplices within the same system.
A private school voucher program, if universal and successful, will inevitably result in an increase in taxes for everyone.
During my discussion with Supt. Clark concerning MKIA, he noted that the program could easily be extended to include students attending private schools, including religious schools. Such families would simply submit their school tuition as the expense to be reimbursed. The implications of this are staggering. If the MKIA program succeeds, especially if other school districts adopt it so as to share in its success, such programs will inevitably expand to include all types of private school students. Many supporters of Catholic parochial schools have advocated state-funded vouchers for private schools for years. If such students should become eligible for this program, the resulting financial obligation on the state would be enormous, inevitably resulting in significant tax increases on every Kansas taxpayer.
A backlash against Kansas homeschoolers may result if this program is overturned.
Early indications point to an inevitable review of the MKIA program by state authorities. (Even the program's promoters are encouraging families to get in while they can because they don't expect the program to last long!) If the program is judged to be an abuse, official attitudes towards homeschooling families participating in such an obvious misuse of state funds will not be positive. In fact, it is possible that participating families could be required to repay any funds received.
Participation in this program weakens our case before the Kansas Legislature.
As independent educators, homeschoolers have been in a favorable position before the Kansas Legislature. We ask for no state funds and generally pursue no legislative proposals. We simply ask to be left alone to educate our children. Participation in MKIA changes this. Homeschoolers in this program become yet another special interest group spending state funds, in this case without the Legislature's specific authorization. It will be difficult for such homeschoolers to insist that they be allowed to remain independent of the state's regulatory authority on the one hand when they are accepting $2,000 per year per student of the state's money with the other. In fact, participation in this program by even a handful of homeschooling families will doubtless taint all of us in the eyes of state legislators, who will only remember that homeschoolers were involved in a questionable program.
Participating families become part of the public school system.
MKIA participants are considered to be enrolled in MPS. Admittedly, MKIA intends to operate in a hands-off fashion, allowing participating families to conduct their homeschools as they see fit. Even so, participating families must maintain required records (including immunizations) and sit for state assessments to qualify for the program. If MKIA survives a state review, additional, more intrusive, requirements are inevitable. He who takes the king's shilling does the king's bidding!
Further, HSLDA has already declared that MKIA families will be ineligible for membership. This will likely not be an issue for families in McPherson County (where Moundridge is located) or in other counties so long as a stable relationship exists between homeschoolers and local legal authorities. Elsewhere, the picture is not so certain. Since participating families will still be home-schooling, enrollment in MKIA, which provides no direct oversight, might not be enough to ward off a challenge if local legal authorities were of a mind to do so, and without HSLDA's assistance, such families would be on their own.
Although $2,000 per student per year represents a substantial windfall to most homeschooling families, the difficulties involved with this program clearly mitigate against enrollment in Mid-Kansas Independent Academy. I strongly encourage Kansas homeschoolers not only to reject this program but to actively campaign against it. Warn fellow homeschoolers in your area about the potential problems of getting involved. Bring it to the attention of your state legislators and State BOE members, who likely have not heard about it. This will no doubt be a subject of debate next January at Day Under the Dome, and we should begin now to lay the groundwork to deal with this contentious issue.
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