As the Texas Legislature debates bills in both chambers that could result in a voucher program that would effectively take funding from the state’s public school system — one aspect of that use of taxpayer dollars is unclear — could parents use tax dollars to homeschool their children in extreme ideologies?
This week, the Department of Education in Ohio is investigating an openly antisemitic and racist Nazi homeschooling group with thousands of members being operated by two parents in that state, an official at the department told VICE News.
According to the anti-fascist researchers at the Anonymous Comrades Collective, the group openly advocates white supremacist ideologies, hoping to help teach children to “become wonderful Nazis.”
On Sunday, VICE News reported that Logan and Katja Lawrence, known online as “Mr. Saxon” and “Mrs. Saxon,” are the operators of the neo-Nazi Dissident Homeschool group, where they share with over 2,500 members on its Telegram channel examples of how their family embraces Nazi ideology, even baking a Fuhrer cake for Hitler’s birthday and sharing a recording of the children shouting, “sieg heil.”
Under Ohio state laws, parents have to inform the local superintendent that they want to homeschool their children and agree to legally keep their children out of public schools, which in light of the revelations regarding the newly discovered group, has caused the Ohio Department of Education to actively review compliance with statutory and regulatory requirements, according to the VICE News report.
“I am outraged and saddened,” Stephanie Siddens, the interim superintendent of public instruction at the Department of Education, told VICE News. “There is absolutely no place for hate-filled, divisive and hurtful instruction in Ohio’s schools, including our state’s homeschooling community. I emphatically and categorically denounce the racist, antisemitic and fascist ideology and materials being circulated.”
In Texas, many proponents of vouchers, also known as ‘School Choice’ — are already on the fringes, such as the ‘Parents Matter’ movement — A far-right advocacy campaign created and funded by the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) to advocate for changes to education, such as allowing the use of tax credits for homeschooling children.
The TPPF also bullies school boards, teachers, and librarians regarding current curriculum and library list reviews to remove materials from public schools that they find offensive or objectionable as advocates for ‘Christian Nationalism,’ despite the separation of church and state referenced in the Establishment Clause.
And proponents of the voucher-type programs in Texas often reference the Arizona example: Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESA), created by the Goldwater Institute, was passed into law in 2011 and expanded in 2013.
The program essentially incentivizes parents to take their children out of public school — and nearly a third of parents use the money for private school or homeschooling.
The ESA concept creates a “savings account” set up by the state for a qualified child who opts out of the public school system. Then the parent or guardian draws on that account to pay for the child’s education, and anything left over at the end of the school year rolls over to the following year.
Critics say it is another way around the state constitution, which forbids public money for religious instruction, as 70% of Arizona’s private schools are religious institutions.
ESAs give the money to parents — rather than the schools — and thus allow the skirting of the law.
And the peril to school funding in Texas is evident — even without a proposed voucher incentive for parents to remove their children from public schools. According to a Houston Chronicle report, the Houston Independent School District lost roughly 45,000 students to charter schools — a loss of $276 million in funding just last year.
And that amount only includes the district’s per-student allotment, excluding special education funding or other distributions. If the result of a voucher program means even more taxpayer money gets diverted from school districts, the effect could devastate some schools and communities in Texas.
“I think that it’s a real danger that they would actually do something to pass vouchers and permanently harm neighborhood schools in Texas,” said Matt Angle, founder, and director of the Lone Star Project, according to Spectrum News.
Nevertheless, State Sen. Mayes Middleton, R-Wallisville, has filed Senate Bill 176, which would create an education savings account program. It would allow parents to use state funds to pay for their children’s private school, online schooling, or private tutors — including homeschooling.
“Parents have truly woken up,” said Middleton. “You’ve seen in school boards — not just across the state, but across the country — where a lot [of parents] feel like their voice may not be heard, but at the end of the day, this is just giving them the tools.” But questions about vouchers remain.
For example, can the state effectively regulate what ‘tools’ parents can choose, as Ohio is now trying to do — so that Texas children do not get indoctrinated into a genuinely dangerous ideology — such as neo-nazism?