Lesson Time

Home schooling gets a boost.


Parents who prefer teaching their children at home have a new ally in Santa Rosa, California: the public-school system. When one parent works at home as the teacher the family often loses much-needed income, but in the Bennett Valley School District a new program helps out parents by subsidizing their home-schooling efforts.

Back in 1991, superintendent Lyle Graff faced declining enrollment in Bennett Valley as parents opted to take their children to districts with few restrictions on home schooling. In an effort to keep the kids–and the tax dollars that accompany them–in his district, Graff came up with a plan to actively support, not just tolerate, home schooling: The district would help out parents financially by giving them a portion of the tax-allotment per pupil, since, as Graff has pointed out, "they are the ones doing the teaching."

The program, which enrolled just 22 students in its first year, has taken off. About 250 kids, from kindergarten through the sixth grade, now participate. In addition to reimbursing their parents up to $1,000 per child per year for purchasing books and taking field trips, the Bennett Valley school district also lets home-schooled kids use the school library and attend photo and health-examination days.

While the project has received praise from local parents and such parenting publications as Mothering, there are some critics. Cato Institute Senior Editor Sheldon Richman, who home-schools his three children, says the Bennett Valley program "is seductive–but it worries me." He is concerned that regulation will eventually follow the money into the homes and suggests a system of tax credits rather than direct subsidies. "I don't like to be an impediment to reform," he explains, "but I would be leery about accepting money from the government for my kids and then have it come back to haunt me later."