Va. teachers union blasts Jackson proposal for home schoolers as $100M tax hike

Virginia’s largest teachers union on Tuesday condemned GOP lieutenant gubernatorial candidate E.W. Jackson’s promise to work for equal funding for home schooled children as a “reckless” proposal that would take $100 million out of the state’s public school system.

Virginia Education Association President Meg Gruber told reporters a constitutional amendment as proposed by Jackson that would give equal funding to home-school families would equate to firing 1,700 teachers.

“At a time when Virginia’s public education system is hardly getting by ... E.W. Jackson would make even deeper cuts,” Gruber said.

Asked about whether she believed there should be any financial consideration for parents who choose to home school their children, Gruber said those parents “are accepting the responsibility of making that choice.”

“Parents who make that decision do not want to participate in our public schools and therefore are accepting the responsibility, not only of educating their child, but the monetary cost that goes into that,” she said.

In a radio interview last week, Jackson — a Chesapeake minister whose wife is a public school teacher in Newport News — vowed to work for the constitutional amendment, saying, “We’ve got to make sure that a home-schooling family is like any other family” and that home schoolers “get the resources that would otherwise be spent in a government school.”

Virginia’s General Assembly has debated issues surrounding home schoolers in recent years, including high-profile legislation named for New England Patriots quarterback Tim Tebow that would have allowed home schoolers to play sports at their local high schools. The bill has stalled in recent sessions.

If elected, Jackson, who has run on a platform of personal freedom and liberty, and is challenging state Sen. Ralph S. Northam (D-Norfolk) in November, would preside as the tie-breaker in an evenly-divided Senate. Northam has labeled Jackson’s proposal as extreme.

In a statement, Jackson spokesman Chris Merola said Jackson’s proposal would “give choice back to parents.

“E.W. Jackson believes that parental choice in education will improve education, save money in the long run, and give a desperately-needed opportunity to children in the poorest communities.”

On Gruber’s comments regarding home-school parents, Merola said “Ms. Gruber’s idea that it is okay to abandon Virginia’s families because she doesn’t like their choices is obviously too extreme to respond to directly.”

The Virginia Department of Education recognizes about 25,000 children in the state as home schoolers. A report provided by the department showed the state spent roughly $5.5 billion — or $4,355 per pupil — in fiscal year 2012 on public education.

Based on those figures, funding homeschoolers equally would cost about $110 million.

Yvonne Bunn, lobbyist for the Home Educators Association of Virginia, said the group — the largest in the state representing home schoolers — has not yet had an opportunity to talk to Jackson about his proposal, but is interested.

“I do know that home schoolers are taxpayers, and they pay property taxes for public schools,” Bunn said, adding she could not say whether the group will support his proposal until they have discussed the details with Jackson.

“Their children don’t get the benefits of that. So we would be very interested in seeing some type of tax credit ... for parents who choose to home school,” Bunn said. “That doesn’t impact public schools in quite the same way.”

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