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March 2, 2017

Fake educations savings accounts are really just government subsidies.

Jim Mason by Jim Mason
VP of Litigation and Development

Some of HSLDA’s friends in the homeschooling movement have speculated that we oppose the latest legislative fad, so-called Education Savings Accounts, because we are a bunch of grumpy-pants, risk-averse lawyers whose knee-jerk reaction is to simply shout, “NO!”

To that I shout, “NO!” But not simply.

An aside

I prefer to think of us as a merry band of outlaw lawyers living in an undisclosed location in Sherwood Forest (which is in Northern Virginia, oddly enough). When the Sheriff of Not-in-homeschool seizes the fair damsel, we don the clever disguise of distinguished barrister and slip into the castle undetected. At the opportune moment we fling our powdered wig into the air, tweak the Sheriff’s nose, grab the damsel, and gallop to safety just as the portcullis falls and the drawbridge rises.


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Each of our attorneys either is a homeschooling parent, was homeschooled as a child, or both. I was a homeschooling dad before I ever attended law school and changed careers in hopes of joining this merry HSLDA band, having read of their noble exploits in the Teaching Home magazine. In the fullness of time it came to pass, just as in the fairy tales.

We grumpy-pants HSLDA lawyers eat, drink, and breathe homeschooling—then we come to work.

So why on earth do we oppose these so-called “ESAs”?

First, a closer examination of the name is in order. Why is it called a “savings account”? No one is saving money. The happy-sounding name belies what is really happening. For example, the full title of the “ESA” bill in Texas says, “Senate Bill 3 establishes a state-funded subsidy program called an ‘Education Savings Account.’”

In other words, as Joe Biden might say, these so-called savings accounts are literally misnamed. Not to be confused with Coverdell ESAs1, these fake “ESAs” are just the old idea of vouchers from the 1990s, repackaged under another name. The funds in these accounts are not “saved” in any normal sense of the word—they are tax dollars.

And what is a tax dollar? It begins as your dollar, then through the hocus-pocus of representative democracy it becomes the government’s dollar—whether you want it to or not. After passing through various sticky agency fingers it then magically becomes 50 cents deposited in your or someone else’s state-funded voucher—er, “savings account,” to be spent with a debit card.

Fake ESAs compare poorly to genuine tax-protecting savings.

In the short term, fake “ESA” vouchers might encourage some undecided families to homeschool, provide relief for some families facing special financial challenges, and perhaps provide public schools with meaningful and healthy competition.

I understand how attractive these benefits can be. But they come at a cost.

Who is responsible for the education of my children?

HSLDA believes it is not the government that is responsible for our children’s education. As a matter of first principles, we believe that parents are responsible, and that the freedom to homeschool has been won because parents took that responsibility—including the financial responsibility. “ESA” vouchers are based on the premise that it is the government’s responsibility to ensure that children are educated and to fund that education.

The homeschooling movement has grown up organically, as hundreds of thousands of parents made a myriad of choices in the best interests of their very own Hunter and Taylor. Innovation, voluntary collaboration, and an entrepreneurial spirit fuel the engine of the homeschooling movement. Not tax dollars.

Daniel Webster said, “God grants liberty only to those who love it, and are always ready to guard and defend it.”2

Liberty can be taken by force or through subtler means—such as enticement to grasp at goodies. (See e.g. Eve, Adam, et al v. Serpent.)

We recognize that some families struggle financially. That is why our sister organization, the Home School Foundation, exists—to help single parents, disaster victims, military families, and others homeschool through hard times.

And we support other approaches to helping families with homeschooling costs, such as Coverdell ESAs, or an education tax credit that allows parents to keep more of their own money instead of filtering it through the tax-dollar goose.

We urge you to join with us to find better solutions to the problems some homeschoolers face. But let’s not sell our birthright of homeschool freedom for a mess of debit cards.


1. Read more about Education Savings Accounts here.

2. Edward Everett, ed., The Works of Daniel Webster, Vol. IV (Boston: Little, Brown, 1853), p. 47.