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Charter School Seduction

By Mary Leggewie

March 1999, updated April 2000

I was recently called by a homeschooling mom here in Southern California who invited me to attend a meeting held by a man who is a new "educational facilitator" for a charter homeschool program in Northern California. I attended the meeting, and here's what happened:

Well, it's a good thing I was informed about charter schools and government Independent study programs (ISPs) before I went, because this definitely seemed "too good to be true."

They waved $100 per month PER kid in front of the parents (8 moms were there, 24 locally have already signed up) and told them this was their "mad/fun money." What a temptation to some of those moms with 5-7 school-aged kids! It's hard to turn down that kind of money when many are struggling to buy groceries.

The man who is the "educational facilitator" was a very nice Christian man. He firmly believes he's checked it all out (although he wasn't able to answer several questions because he's only been at it for 3 months). He's a leader in the community, so he has the respect of many families. He teaches at a local school.

I posed a few questions and the answers tell me that this school is indeed to good to be true, and they'll get audited. When you go around telling folks that you could even use only the Bible for a textbook and use the "fun money" for your art supplies, sport/music/art lessons, you know they are going to be challenged and forced to change their "anything goes" policies.

I was told that there was no requirement for hours per day of work, but the usual public school requirement of 180 days of work applied. Many of the moms were confused on the issue of private versus public school law.

I wish I'd thought to ask about School-to-Work (STW) and Outcome-Based Education (OBE) during the meeting, but I asked afterwards if they were going to switch to a Certificate of Mastery (CIM) such as the federal government is working on. He didn't know.

The $100 per child per month is not given directly to the parent. Parents make up a "wish list" from approved vendors and submit it to the "EF" for purchase and is shipped directly to the home. This also means that supplies can't be ordered for September until September. This is why he was encouraging parents to sign up right away, so they could get on the dole (oh...excuse me, the program) now.

Another thing that bothered me was that on your "wish list," you could carefully word things to be approved that were really on the unapproved list. For instance, a microscope or telescope is not approved, but a kit for either is. One mom asked about a particular computer programming learning toy by Lego. That $200 Lego kit (Legos are not approved) wouldn't be approved, but the man suggested that you leave off the "Lego" and just write "Mind Storm" on the list. Reminded me of my old government homeschool program (I belonged before I knew better) telling us to essentially turn in work samples that didn't match what we were really doing at home. (If you were using A Beka, a Christian publisher, you were told to turn in a work sample of math problems on a blank piece of paper.) It didn't take me long to realize this was dishonesty.

As he was wrapping up the meeting, I mentioned that my biggest concern was that government programs like this hurt the future freedom of the homeschool community in general. Most of the moms thought I was nuts here. I didn't intend a debate, but they spent 10 minutes in heated conversation. I held up well, and pointed out that what happens if they all join the program and I'm the only one left in town not in the program. "What happens to me when school officials come over and say that if I want to homeschool, I have to join too."

I told them that I had a packet of papers I'd printed off from the Internet and that I hoped they would consider the other side of the issue and make an informed decision, repeating that there had to be strings attached to government money. The man was very kind, and said he was glad I had brought it up, and not to feel bad, although he did sort of laugh at me in a nice way that ('re the one I was warned about who was coming from "the other side").

When I mentioned the brochure, I just about got knocked over by one woman begging for it, and my homeschool friend who went with me stood up and proceeded to hand them out! Anyway, one woman looked hesitant, and I said that she wouldn't hurt my feelings if she didn't take it. (Turns out she was a friend of the man, who, by the way, also homeschools his children.)

The hostess turned to me and said she likes to read, could she have one too. I figured what the heck. Well, the hostess turned out to be totally paranoid of the government, and wouldn't even sign his list for more information with her name and mailing address. She began a nice tirade in front of everyone saying that the government didn't know about her kids, and she liked it that way, and she wasn't gonna tell them about them, and if someone from the government came to HER door, her husband would greet them with a shotgun!

If any mom had been trying to listen past the $100 per kid, they should have seen past the "nice man from the government," and realized that he's just beginning, hasn't tested the system himself, and he might be suckered in himself thinking that this is the perfect program. I believe he honestly feels this is the perfect program for homeschoolers.

I enjoyed visiting with the moms, and only one of them appeared to be a bit afraid of me after I'd said my piece. I get along with most folks, and no one seemed to be upset that I'd been there. I think 5 of them signed the sheet for more information (not binding) and it looked like two to three will definitely sign up.

Not knowing how my friend felt, when we got in the car at 11 p.m. to go home, I said "sure looks tempting doesn't it?" She said "but it all comes with strings!" Whew! At least she's a smart mom. And she's got 7 kids, so that's quite a bit of money she's walking away from. One family nearby did have 7 school-aged kids...$700 per month.

I have a real hard time believing that this school won't be audited and threatened with closure if they don't change some policies. The moms seemed to think "once a school, always a school," but I know better!

I did my best with God's help. Hopefully the moms who took the literature will prayerfully read what I gave them. By the way...the same folks who made this Charter school are working on charters for Oregon, Washington and Texas.

Further reading

Home-based Learning vs. Alternative Learning Programs: A great comparison chart from Washington Homeschool Organization showing the difference between real homeschooling and public alternative education.

Interview with Cathy Duffy, author of Government Nannies, discusses vouchers and charter schools.

Give to Caesar What Is Caesar's, an apology by a Christian mom to her fellow Christians for being temporarily seduced by government bribes.

California Charter Schools, "We're from the government and we're here to help," an article by Mary Leggewie about Bill Bennett's K12 curriculum.

UPDATE -- April 2000

Since I wrote this article a year ago, I've gotten to hear all the horror stories from the women at this meeting. Most of the ones in that room that night have already dropped out! This charter program is from northern California, so all the money they collect that isn't spent on the students and "educational facilitators" goes to a district 800 miles away.

Here are a few choice tidbits I've heard or thought of over the past year:

  1. One woman who signed up in April so she'd get 'her' computer for summer time finally got her computer the end of September. She lost ALL those months of her $100 per month to spend.
  2. Those who ordered up their $100 often found out 2 months later that they couldn't get what they wanted, and couldn't substitute...they just lost "their" $100 worth. I have heard this a LOT.
  3. Originally they told everyone that it wouldn't be much different from what they were already doing...not much paperwork, but now they'd get their "fun" money. Well, every month I got to hear from someone (I'm really amazed that these women told me all this too, knowing my stand on public homeschool programs!) how the paperwork increased monthly, and finally in December they had to sign a note that said they understood that the parent is not really the teacher.
  4. You agreed to teach what your teacher said you had to teach, although they said that was just a formality.
  5. Testing came up unexpectedly, and they pressured parents to get the kids to submit to standardized tests.
  6. Lessons were originally permitted to be paid with your $100 per month. After several months of school, the rules changed (yet again...) so that they could only use $25 of the $100 per month to pay for lessons. So all those piano/violin/sports teachers lost their students if the parents couldn't cough up the rest of the money that the charter would no longer pay. Not only that, but those teachers were forced to wait a LONG time to get their pay.
  7. Some of our local moms were encouraged to become approved vendors. I heard that the charter eventually decided to go directly to the parent companies instead of ordering through those moms who had probably invested quite a bit of time and money in a venture only to have their entire customer base evaporate.
  8. The parents have to return all non-consumables. So if they ordered up all sorts of cool books, they will have to return them when they are done with them, or when the child leaves the program for whatever reason (graduation or defection).
  9. My REAL fear. We are on shaky Homeschool ground in California because we file as private schools. There really isn't any law to cover who can be a private school here, and it is possible that it could go to court at some point in time. I doubt that we would loose our ability to homeschool independently, but regulation is a real possibility. Now, if these programs become more and more popular, those of us who homeschool independently could be forced to join a state-approved program in the future. I can see it now...
    • Phase one..."We're here from the government, and we're here to help you!" "You want to homeschool? Great...we've got a program for you." "You can do whatever you want and we'll give you what you need."
    • Phase two..."Well, you can have our stuff, and if you want to use something else, you can buy it yourself."
    • Phase three..."If you use your Christian (or Moslem/Jewish/other) stuff, you'll have to do it outside of school hours."
    • Phase four..."You know about separation of church and state, right? Well, you can't mention God while you're doing school." OK...most of us would just shine it and talk about God anyway. HOWEVER, you are breaking the law now, even if you are encouraged by your supervising teacher to do what you want to do in the "privacy" of your own home.
    • Phase five..."If you want to homeschool, you have to use OUR books exclusively."
    • Phase six..."You need to bring your kid in to our office once a week...twice a week...etc."
    • Phase seven..."Come on in for our free health check-up, immunizations and psychological evaluation, or abortion without the parents' consent."
    • Phase eight..."We've got a great classroom program for y'all..."

Get the drift? Sorry if I'm strong, but this subject requires being strong to protect the independent homeschooler, whether he/she may be Christian, Buddhist, Atheist or whatever!

Please see the web site for the Alliance for the Separation of School and State and sign the Proclamation of Separation of School and State if you agree!

UPDATE -- Summer 2001

I received an e-mail from a mother saying she was going to be off-line for a few months. It turned out that her charter school homeschool program told her that if she wanted to keep the computer they loaned her over the summer that she'd have to sign up for summer school. She was about to have a baby and didn't want to hassle with summer school, so she packed up the computer and returned it. She said she'd order a new one in September. And she also mentioned that it took several months to get the first one! Does this sound like wise money management on the part of the school?

Another mom refused to do testing that they implemented after she joined and was told she'd have to do a detailed portfolio of work for her child. I'm not sure of the outcome of that case.

Professor Alexander Tytler had to say while the USA was still a British colony:

From bondage to spiritual faith;
From spiritual faith to great courage;
From courage to liberty;
From liberty to abundance;
From abundance to complacency;
From complacency to apathy;
From apathy to dependence;
From dependence back again to bondage.