One day, when I am acclaimed Galactic Commander, I will mandate a civics test before allowing people to vote and test of reading comprehension skills before allowing them to access the internet.
What is circulating now is a story that Ted Cruz supports the federal regulation of homeschooling. There are two underlying causes of this story: rank dishonesty and pig-ignorance.
Not all states, however, are supportive of homeschooling. And there are areas within certain states where the decision to homeschool your child will be accompanied by anonymous allegations of child abuse/neglect and a visit from Child Protective Services.
The crux of the issue: the Coverdell Education Savings Account. The Coverdell ESA works much like one of the standard 529 plans with this major exception: it allows you to set aside money that can be withdrawn tax free for high school and elementary school expenses. This is where homeschooling takes place and you can incur non-trivial expenses if you are homeschooling. Fourteen states have provided guidance that affirmatively define homeschooling as being the equivalent of elementary through high school education. Thirty-six states, however, are silent on the issue.
Why is this important. If you have a tax audit in one of those 36 states and you are a homeschool family that has set up a Coverdell ESA you will find yourself having to prove that your plan is allowed and that you aren’t liable for taxes and penalties. You may prevail. You may not. But it will be a stressful, expensive, and non-productive exercise. Moreover, a discrepancy like this allows the IRS to engage in rule-making and, given what we’ve seen of how they treat anything that looks vaguely conservative, they could very well put the plans off limits to homeschooling parents.
Enter Mike Lee, Ted Cruz and S.306 and proof that no good deed goes unpunished. The bill itself is very, very simple:
Amends the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 to allow a state educational agency to allocate grant funds among local educational agencies based on the number of eligible children (children age 5 to 17 from a family with an income below the poverty level) enrolled in the public schools and the state-accredited private schools within each local agency’s geographic jurisdiction.
Amends the Internal Revenue Code to: (1) allow payment of home school expenses from Coverdell education savings accounts; (2) remove the dollar limitation on contributions to Coverdell education savings accounts and require such accounts to provide adequate safeguards to prevent contributions from exceeding the amount necessary to provide for the qualified education expenses of the account beneficiary; and (3) allow tax-exempt qualified tuition programs (529 tuition programs) to pay qualified pre-kindergarten, elementary, and secondary education expenses.
From this an assorted collection of poltroons and imbeciles have constructed the argument that this bill creates a “federal definition of homeschooling” and will subject homeschooling to federal regulation. That anyone would believe a bill written by Ted Cruz and Mike Lee would actually do that tells you all you need to know about the sheer number of idiots there are on the internet. Take this douchebaggery, for instance:
What’s so sinister about a tax-free education account? Simple: it’s a federal program that comes with federal government strings attached. Granted, the strings may not seem that onerous right now, but the shadows of tyranny are already looming. Currently, in order to use the funds tax-free, you must send your child to a school that is accredited and also able to receive federal student aid. If you use the funds outside of such parameters, you not only have to pay the taxes but penalties on top of them.
More importantly, what could these accreditation and federal-aid regulations portend for homeschoolers? Maybe very little at first, and maybe nothing, some supporters would even say. But remember that such regulations can be tweaked and redefined by activist administrations, no matter what Congress allegedly did or did not intend. Take the money, and you just signed a contract that could allow the federal government to impose mandates on curriculum and more. Common Core would be just the beginning. Under an executive-order-happy president like Obama (and they all are), you could easily have common core, evolution, and the gay agenda shoved down your throats, or else face steep fines.
Ummm… NO. It doesn’t do any of that stuff. The bill does not create either “accreditation” or “federal-aid regulations.” It simply amends the definition of a qualified Coverdell ESA expense in IRS regulations to specifically include homeschool expenses. The federal government cannot impose a curriculum. Common Core is imposed by the states upon themselves. More to the fact, the Coverdell ESA rules don’t require you to report the name of the school and the school district has no idea which kids are using the program.
Opponents of Cruz and S.306 argue that giving home schoolers access to education savings accounts creates federal regulations for home education and, they insist, results in federal aid to home education that invariable comes with strings.
That is just not true.
Coverdell accounts operate just like an IRA or a health savings account. Just like a savings account or checking account, the money in a Coverdell, IRA or HSA comes from deposits made by the account holder. The advantage of a Coverdell over a regular bank account is that, just like an IRA or HSA, after the money is deposited it can grow with interest and not encounter a tax penalty as long as the money is withdrawn to pay education expenses. In the case of IRAs and HSAs the money is withdrawn to pay for retirement or health care expenses.
As a provision of the tax code, Coverdells have a similar function as tax credits or tax deductions. Families frequently take advantage of the child tax credit, standard deductions or itemized deductions to reduce their tax liability. Coverdell accounts function as a means of controlling tax liability.
“In some ways [a Coverdell account] is actually even better than a tax credit or tax deduction, because those require you to show documentation to the IRS. The Coverdell has your own money in it; it isn’t something the IRS needs documentation for,” [ director of federal relations for Home School Legal Defense Association, Will] Estrada explained. “It is even more safe, if you will, from government regulation, than a tax credit.”
This non-troversy is being driven by a variety of Trump friendly websites, but even RedState is not immune to this cretinish douchebaggery (here | here). Note that this bill is being defended by the Home School Legal Defense Association. That, alone, should tell you that the Trump-ish critique is dishonesty on stilts.
This is not an argument about the Constitution. It is not about the role of the federal government in education. It is a very simple concept. The Coverdell ESA is a federal program that could benefit homeschooling families. The current definition of whom is eligible to participate omits homeschooling families making use of that program potentially risky. The Cruz-Lee bill, S.306, simply includes homeschooling expenses as an eligible expense, it does not create a federal definition of homeschooling.