Politics & Policy

Terry McAuliffe to Virginia Homeschoolers: ‘You Can’t Have That Privilege’

(Win McNamee/Getty)

Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe is a defender of privilege. Earlier this week, the first-term Democrat vetoed a bill that would have let the commonwealth’s homeschooled students play sports and otherwise participate in extracurricular activities at their local public schools.

“Participation in athletic and academic competitions is a privilege for students who satisfy eligibility requirements,” McAuliffe said.

Curious. We hear a lot about privilege these days — mostly in the racial context. We don’t often hear big-shot Democrats referring to the free public-school system as a bastion of privilege. But homeschooling has a crazy-making effect on liberals — especially those whose campaigns are funded and staffed by the teachers’ unions, which despise homeschooling and, to an increasing extent, homeschoolers.

According to the Virginia Education Association, McAuliffe and his allies owe teachers “a big tip of the cap” for his 2013 win over Republican attorney general Ken Cuccinelli. “VEA members made a difference at the ballot box,” a post-election union press release claimed. “The dedicated efforts of Association volunteers across the Commonwealth went a long way toward putting some new friends of public education in office.”

Those efforts included writing over 7,000 postcards by hand, canvassing neighborhoods, and paying for television ads. That’s quite a commitment. The governor has said he plans to increase spending on K–12 education by $1 billion and add an additional teacher in every Virginia public school.

Like teachers’ unions everywhere, the VEA is terrified of the threat that homeschooling poses to its exclusive claim on curriculum control and pedagogical competence. In ten years the number of homeschooled students in Virginia has exploded by 72 percent, from 18,693 in 2005 to 32,314 in 2015.

Like teachers’ unions everywhere, the Virginia Education Association is terrified of the threat that homeschooling poses to its exclusive claim on curriculum control and pedagogical competence.

When E. W. Jackson, the Republican candidate for Virginia lieutenant governor in 2013, said he’d support a constitutional amendment providing “equal resources” for homeschooled kids, VEA president Meg Gruber went characteristically ballistic. She called it a “reckless agenda that would be a major blow to public schools.”

Currently, 31 states have laws allowing homeschooled students to participate in public-school sports and other extracurricular activities. These are often called “Tim Tebow laws,” after the homeschooled Heisman Trophy winner and former NFL quarterback. In 1996, Tebow’s home state, Florida, became one of the first to let homeschooled kids participate in after-school activities.

Brenda Dickinson, an advocate and lobbyist, helped get Florida’s law passed. “If the school system is truly public, those children have every right to benefit from after-school clubs, sports, the marching band or anything else that’s offered,” she has said.

That’s not a view that everyone shares. In 2002, Daniel and Christy Jones of Marion County, W.Va., asked to let their eleven-year-old son Aaron join the Mannington Middle School wrestling team. When the state superintendent of schools denied their request, the Joneses sued and won. Rather than let Aaron simply join the wrestling team, school officials fought the ruling all the way to the state supreme court of appeals.

“The parents of home-schooled children have voluntarily chosen not to participate in the free public school system in order to educate their children at home,” wrote Justice Robin Jean Davis in a majority opinion overturning the lower court’s ruling that Aaron should be allowed to wrestle. “In making this choice, these parents have also chosen to forego the privileges incidental to a public education, one of which is the opportunity to qualify for participation in interscholastic athletics.”

Hey, there’s that word again — privilege. Curious.

In Virginia and elsewhere, homeschoolers pay local property taxes that are used directly to fund public schools. They pay sales and income taxes that are used to fund state education initiatives, including aid to local school districts. They pay federal income taxes that fund the U.S. Department of Education, which provides grants to states and schools to help educate children from low-income families and support children with disabilities.

In Virginia, lottery tickets are printed with the slogan “Helping Virginia’s Public Schools.” The Virginia Lottery website boasts that it has contributed more than $5 billion to public education in the commonwealth. We can only assume that Virginia homeschoolers play the lottery in equal proportions to their neighbors and so do their part to support public education.

Yet homeschoolers place no financial burden on the local public-education system. In effect, the families of Virginia’s 32,000 homeschooled children are putting money into the public-education system and getting nothing out of it. No one ever mentions this particular privilege with regard to homeschoolers — the curious privilege of paying for a service you don’t use.

During his 2013 campaign, the National Education Association ran ads touting Terry McAuliffe’s commitment to public education. In one, a Virginia teacher said, “Terry McAuliffe knows that a one-size-fits-all approach to education just doesn’t work.”

Hogwash. Terry McAuliffe thinks one-size-fits-all works just fine. He thinks every kid in Virginia should have the privilege of being taught by a paid-up member of the Virginia Education Association.

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