Mitt Romney has said publicly that parents who home school their children should get a federal tax credit to help offset the expense of teaching. “I also believe parents who are teaching their kids at home, homeschoolers, deserve a break, and I’ve asked for a tax credit to help parents in their homes with the cost of being an at-home teacher,” he said.

He then explained that he supports giving parents more educational options, including charter schools or vouchers, but felt that those should be restricted to state and local governments.

I don’t *get* this at all. In an increasingly polarized society between the rich and the poor, often geographically based, why make some educational incentives state and local based, but give a federal home-schooling credit? It’s more complicated than it needs to be. And considering state and local budgets, it’s really the same as offering a break to some of the population and telling others that they’re out of luck. Specifically, it penalizes working mothers who don’t feel comfortable sending their children to public schools. Oh yeah, I’ll say it again: a homeschooling credit without an accompanying private school credit is discriminatory against working mothers.

To be clear, I support the concept of homeschooling. My sister-in-law homeschooled my niece and nephew for a short time because their school system in rural South Carolina was not getting the job done. Ultimately, my sister-in-law went back to work and the kids went to private school. Under Romney’s proposal, my sister-in-law would have received an economic break for homeschooling but not for sending her children to private school while she worked – and I feel fairly confident saying that South Carolina would not have, on its own, provided an equivalent tax break for private schools.

I have often said that I support public education. In the US, however, the differences from school to school are dramatic and sometimes, it is not feasible to send your child to a public school. In a perfect world, there would not be a financial incentive to send your children to private schools or alternative forms of education. However, we don’t live in a perfect world. We live in a world where some public schools are unsafe and underperforming. And if you offer a financial incentive to one set of alternatives, like home school, why wouldn’t you extend that to other alternatives? Is the message that you’re sending that staying at home with your children is always better? Is that fair or realistic?

Education is a tricky thing. We all want our kids to have the best. But throw economics into the mix, and it’s tough to be middle class in America where your educational choices for your children are often made for you. In this country, we’ll subsidize bigger homes but not better schools. And now Mr. Romney suggests that if you can afford (or desire) to stay home with your children, we’ll subsidize that, too. Why is that remotely fair?

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Kelly Erb is a tax attorney and tax writer.


  1. Some public schools care about student attendence nowadays, because when the students miss school, the funds associated with them aren’t coming into the school. So they want to keep their students badly. If we give home schooling credit, an associated problem with that some irresponsible parents would simply keep their children at home for the money without really educating them. That’s not a good thing. This kind of stuff can be hard to regulate. (Then again, this is similar to family members taking the welfare money without using it on the truly disadvantaged.)

  2. Tax breaks for private schoolers are controversial, unfortunately, because of class warfare; these families are more likely to stoke resentment rather than empathy. Homeschoolers are not seen as rich because, generally, they are not. Most people know at least one homeschooling family and they, in my experience, come across as poorer. It’s not because they make less money, but they tend to have many more kids on average leaving less disposable income. When you add that the kids tend to make very positive impressions, it is easy for the public to support tax breaks for homeschoolers.

    Like you, I wish this could be done for private schoolers, as well, but politically, it isn’t feasible.

    “If we give home schooling credit, an associated problem with that some irresponsible parents would simply keep their children at home for the money without really educating them.”

    That’s a legitimate point. I can’t imagine a credit being large enough to cause it, but would be something to be concerned about. The biggest reason I don’t think this would happened is not about money, though. For so many poorer people, schooling isn’t about their children getting an education, but about babysitting: that’s eight plus hours that their homes are kid-free! It would take an awful amount of money for them to give up that luxury… but, of course, I wouldn’t put anything past some seriously underclass parents!

  3. Emily, that’s an interesting perception about home schoolers versus private schooled kids. In the city (at least in Philly), that tends not to be true. It is not an economics decision but rather other factors: desire to teach alternative curriculum or concerns about safety or religion. There are home school co-ops in my section of the city which are comprised of comfortably middle class (and higher) families. So, I don’t see it as a rich versus poor argument at all.

  4. I just checked a few homeschooling web sites. The National Home Education network confirms that homeschoolers are not more likely to be “poorer”, stating, “Income levels for families mirror those found in the general population but homeschooling parents tend to be better educated than non-homeschooling parents.”

  5. Maybe they should link a private school credit to families where both parents work (or a single parent family). I would think that by paying for a private education as well as working, you are actually helping the economy, so the government could give a little back.

  6. You do realize that this is a white women’s argument only. Blacks and latinas don’t have the option of staying at home.

  7. kellamd – That’s a broad generalization and unfair to boot. I know many white women that can’t afford to stay home – as well as black, Indian, Latina, Chinese, Korean, etc. – and vice versa.

  8. Broad generaliztions? The truth is the truth no matter how unacceptable it is. I don’t think I can recall ever a black or hispanic women dissing working women. I think it’s because they can relate to the struggles of working women. I think white middle class women forget that their gamemanship hurts the poorest of the poor.

  9. I think this is an issue of class, not race. And while the two can be intertwined, they are not inexplicably so.

    I grew up in a poor area of the South where most mothers stayed home because of culture (and the economy which did not lend itself to “additional” jobs). The working mothers in that setting were the anomaly.

    Yet, in Philadelphia, which is wildly diverse, I am surrounded by moms – like me – who work. I have not noticed a racial divide between moms who work and moms who didn’t. I have noticed a class divide. And while there is definitely overlap between the two, I don’t think that you can draw a line to connect the two so easily.

  10. While the issue of white-mothers versus ethnic-mothers who stay at home is a totally different topic post, there is a class divide for sure among the stay-at-homers versus the working moms. However, I do think that working parents should receive an incentive-based tax credit as well when considering options on educating their children. Is it their fault if the schools are sub-standard? Should it be their fault because they cannot afford to stay home and educate their children? Or because they HAVE to work? I think the economic impact of the working (mom) in the community far outweighs and maybe even equalizes the “tax relief” proposal that some would enjoy. In other words, both sides are sacrificing, so therefore both sides should recieve some type of incentive. Anything else is not only unfair but is discriminatory.

    And, by the way, there ARE Black moms who stay at home and don’t ‘diss’ White women or any other racial group who choose to work. Conversely, there are classes of women who do ‘diss’ each other for working AND for not working. Same with homeschooling and classes and cultures of people who are for and against it. It is what it is – – a choice. Remember, there is always an element of self-hatred in every racial class, group and culture of people.

  11. What a fascinating discussion!

    It’s a shame that the focus on getting the best education for a child gets balled up with discussion of class and race, because I’m thinking that’s a goal that should transcend both of those.

    There doesn’t seem to be any truly “fair” solution, so I guess I’d opt for the one that best met the goal of educating children. Well, I guess there are too many arguments on that topic as well.

    Erg. No further along in a decision than I was before.

  12. A little insight on what may Romney’s goal may be. I live in Utah, where “we the people” just voted to overturn private school tax vouchers with a desire to put that money into public education. Two points, though, for consideration:

    1. There are large amounts of homeschooled children in Utah, usually due to religious concerns of what is being taught in “liberal, secular” schools.

    2. Romney is aware that, though he is from Michigan (and just won the primary there), his largest and staunchest block of supporters is in Utah, and he obviously needs play to that.

    For the record, I am LDS. My son will be attending public school. I will probably NOT be voting for Romney.

    I am a rare breed in Utah: liberal, Mormon and not voting for Romney.

  13. The “why home school” question is often, I think, based on class and economics.

    In urban areas, like Philly where I live, homeschooling moms tend to be more affluent – granola if you will – and make the choice to stay home based not on economics.

    In many rural areas, like where I grew up and where my brother and his family lives now, homeschooling moms tend to be less affluent and often make the choice to stay home based on a combination of economics and curriculum. In rural NC, where I grew up, if you wanted to send your child to private school, your only option was a religious private school – this is not the case in larger, more urban areas. More choices necessarily mean a wider range of parents choosing all kinds of alternative education.

    And this brings me back to my point in my post… why would you provide federal subsidies in the form of tax breaks for one form of alternative education and not others?

    It’s not solely an economic argument. As demonstrated in the comments here, folks homeschool for a number of reasons – not all of them have to do with economics.

    I think one of the key pieces here, and Miranda hit upon it, is religion. Homeschooling may often be done for religious reasons. Private school, similarly so. But private schools that have religious components – parochial schools included – tend to be overtly religious which brings up the spectre of the division of church and state when you consider vouchers or tax breaks. Homeschoolers don’t have that same concern – and maybe that’s where Romney was going. He could appeal to his base without raising constitutional issues.

    Should religion matter when it comes to tax breaks? Is excluding a credit based on a relationship to religion wrong? What do you think?

  14. kellamd
    Jan 16, 2008 at 8:46 pm

    You do realize that this is a white women’s argument only. Blacks and latinas don’t have the option of staying at home.


    A black woman and stay at home mom for about 9 years and counting. Oh and by the way “ise not on foods stamps!”

  15. Thank you, Jay. My best friend’s mother (who happens to be black, and who I would consider my other mama) stayed at home until her children went to college, and now works full time. We lived in the same neighborhood, and were NOT well off whatsoever. She had a VERY hardworking father and a mother that was great with numbers and did what she could to budget well. My best friend’s brother graduated from college after receiving a full scholarship for being valedictorian of his high school, and now works at an insurance firm in NYC. My friend will be graduating soon with a 4.0 GPA to become a nurse practitioner, so I’d say their mom did a FINE job.

  16. I am a Black woman who chose to leave her career and become a stay at home mom. I have been at home now for nearly 12 years. There are many of us in the US. Please don’t make broad statements. You will find Black moms on every economic level who chose to rear their children rather than leave them in childcare with strangers. To each his own, but please don’t generalize.

    FYI- I have a BS in Marketing but none of that matters to my children who just know me as Mommy.

  17. Shelly, your comment that your children only know you as Mommy made me smile. I worked hard to get my degrees but they impress my kids not a bit – it still makes me giggle to this day that my daughter thought I worked with “taxis” instead of “taxes.”

  18. I was wondering why homeschooling parents just can’t take the same credit that is given to teachers who purchase products for use in the classroom. Why can’t we deduct the cost of materials – wouldn’t that be fair? We are teachers too – we just happen to have smaller classes – or at least some us do – I guess maybe not the Duggars 🙂 This would only be following the current standards instead of making new laws.

    But, that being said – this SHOULD be a state and local issue – the reason it is NOT is because of the Dept of Education, which I believe is a completely useless and un-Constitutional part of the gov’t. Education should belong strictly to the state and local gov’t – once again, we don’t need the Fed gov’t to assume that they know more just because someone sent them to Washington – after all, they came from a state (with only the DC guys being the exception).

  19. In regards to the discussion about being able to afford to stay home – that also is usually a choice in a two parent household. My husband and I have a very frugal lifestyle because we have chosen to educate our children at home.

    If we had new cars, new clothes, or went out to eat every day, we could not afford this, but instead we drive cars that are 10 yrs old, buy thrift store clothes when possible or on such a super sale that they are practically giving things away, and we shop with coupons. All because we believe in our choice. I think in a lot of cases, people think it is an economics choice, but really if you look at how much money you must spend to go to a corporate type job with clothes, gas, plus daycare, you find that your lifestyle can then be cut just a little more if you want to homeschool. (Of course this doesn’t apply to single parent households and other situations of hardship.)

    With all that being said, there is nothing wrong with making the choice not to homeschool your kids – everyone needs to make the choice that is right for them. We are not a “one size fits all” kind of culture. 🙂

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