Every now and again, the question comes up in my homeschool Facebook groups about whether there are any tax credits or state funds for homeschooling parents. A few states do have homeschool charter programs under which parents can get curriculum, classes, and field trips paid for, but Maryland is not one of those states. In fact, charter schools in Maryland have nothing to do with homeschooling at all. They are specialized public schools run independently from neighborhood schools and have a lottery system for admissions.
Returning to the tax credit/funding question, the answer is no, there are no financial incentives to homeschool in Maryland. However, the longer responses fall into one of two categories. One set of people are mad that they don’t get a refund on the taxes given to the schools their kids are not attending. The other set is adamant that with government funding comes government oversight and they want to keep the government out of their kids’ education. So, let’s take a look at both of those concerns.
How is education funded in Maryland?
Only about 5% (depending on the county) of the education budget comes from the federal government. The bulk of the education funding comes from state and local sources, which includes income tax, sales tax, property tax, and lottery and gambling revenue.
Everyone, regardless of whether they have children or not, pays into these funding sources. The only direct choice anyone has in the matter is not going to the casinos or buying any lottery tickets. Even people who do not own their homes, indirectly pay into property taxes through their rent payments.
Should homeschoolers get a refund for not using the public schools?
Like stated above, everyone who works, pays rent, owns a home, or buys anything pays taxes that end up on the public education budget. Those various taxes also pay for parks, libraries, community colleges and state universities, roadways, sewers, environmental projects like drainage, fire and police departments, etc. It is a package deal, like cable TV. Just as you don’t get money back because you never turn on Cartoon Network, you are not entitled to a refund of whatever part of your taxes eventually ended up on the library budget just because you don’t have a library card.
Regardless of whether you personally use any of the tax-funded perks, you are benefitting from their continued existence. If your neighbor’s house catches on fire, the roadways allow the fire department to get there quickly and put out the fire before the wind blows the flames onto your house. Public schools and libraries lead to better informed citizens around you, even if you choose not to use those resources yourself. Similarly, the choice of schooling parents make for their children does not change the fact that the vast majority of children around them are going to attend public schools that will still need to be funded.
School teachers do get a tax credit of $250 on their federal taxes. Since that credit acknowledges that teachers spend a significant amount of their own money to buy supplies for their classrooms, that credit extended to homeschooling families.
Does government funding mean more regulations on homeschoolers?
The amount of regulation on homeschools varies greatly by state. However, the states with the most regulation are not necessarily the states that provide funding to homeschoolers. In New York, homeschooling parents have to submit a quarterly plan of what they will teach and then demonstrate that they followed that plan. Jumping through all of those hoops means that homeschoolers are eligible to get an official diploma from the state of New York, but they did not get any funding along the way.
California and Alaska are two states that have homeschool charters that will pay for some educational resources. It is important to note that charter programs are only one of several methods of homeschooling in those states. So, if parents want to take that route, they have to find a program to join and then follow the rules set up by that program. So, the government is not directly handing out free money to all homeschoolers in those states, either.
The regulation that most likely bugs the “keep the government out of my kids’ education” folks is the fact that in states with charter funding, there are limits on what those funds can be used for. The charters have lists of approved curriculum vendors and field trip locations on which the money can be spent. The common theme among those approved vendors is that they are secular.
The government is not prohibiting homeschoolers from teaching religion or using religious materials. Homeschool charter funds cannot be spent on religious curriculum. If parents want that flavor to their homeschool, then they have to pay for those resources themselves. That restriction is due to the separation of church and state guaranteed in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Since homeschool charters are public entities funded by tax money, they cannot support the teaching of any particular religion.
What’s the deal with school vouchers?
School vouchers are the idea that parents could get a coupon for the value of their kids’ public education and then apply those funds to a different choice of schooling, whether that’s private school, virtual online school, or homeschool curriculum. Vouchers run into the same problem with the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment mentioned above. The vast majority of private schools are affiliated with a religious organization. Taking the school voucher to the local Jewish day school/Catholic school/madrassa would result in tax money supporting Jewish/Catholic/Muslim education. School vouchers would need to have the same restrictions on them as homeschool charter funds, limiting them only to secular institutions, and that does not line up with the goals of the people pushing for vouchers.
Do you have more questions about homeschooling? Check out all of my FAQ posts:
- How do I start homeschooling in Maryland?
- Is “homeschool” just “school at home”?
- Co-ops, Umbrellas, Tutorials – Oh My!
- How much does it cost to homeschool?
- Is it better to use an accredited curriculum?
- Can I hire someone to homeschool my child?
- How do you get a diploma in homeschooling?
- What about socialization?
- What happens at a homeschool review?
- How do I show regular, thorough instruction?
- How do we re-enroll in school?
- What is a school year in a homeschool?
- What is Secular Home Education?