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Thousand Oaks

Families First: Home Schools Outperform Public Schools at a Fraction of the Cost

California consistently ranks in the bottom half of public K-12 education, but it’s not for a lack of money. The state spends more than $100 billion annually on the education system for its 6 million students, yet U.S. News & World Report ranks it forty-second in the nation. By comparison, Canada spends $60 billion to educate its 5.7 million students but is ranked fourth in the world behind Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States (with no help from the Golden State).

The quantity of resources is not the problem — it’s how they are allocated within a district.

Conejo Valley Unified School District (CVUSD) burns through $10,000 per week to administer a classroom of twenty-one students. Overall, it spends $18,000 to educate one student for the school year, and the results are disappointing. In 2022:

— A third of CVUSD students failed to meet English standards.

— Four out of ten didn’t meet math standards, including a majority of 11th graders.

By contrast, in that same year, California homeschoolers scored at the 78th to 88th percentile in reading, language, math, science and social studies. This school year, Trinity Pacific Christian School, a Thousand Oaks-based homeschooling cooperative, bested 28 Ventura County high schools in a mock trial competition for the second year in a row. Its middle school team also placed first after defeating 14 teams. Eleven Trinity students were voted to receive individual first-place awards, according to the school’s website. Just last month, the varsity team won the statewide championship.

Tutors.com, a website directory that connects tutors with students, estimates that homeschooling costs between $500-$2,500 per student per year, which includes curricula, supplies, field trips and activities. Tuition for Trinity Pacific is less than $1,000, and while group classes are purchased a la carte, the cost is still a fraction of that of public schools. Additionally, since parents pool their resources together to help educate each other’s children, homeschoolers interact all the time with fellow students, enjoy field trips together and even have group graduation ceremonies and proms.

How can homeschoolers, taught by parents often without education degrees, achieve better results at one-tenth the cost of public schools? When it’s your money and your children, you spend it wisely. Unlike at CVUSD, home schools don’t pay thousands of administrators hundreds of thousands of dollars each, including rich pensions, every year — while crowding out the money going into classrooms. Just 800 of CVUSD’s 3,300 personnel are teachers. The district spends $6 million for 27 psychologists and 31 counselors — but only nine school nurses.

The district superintendent, Mark McLaughlin, is paid $320,000 annually, including benefits. His four assistant superintendents make between $200,000 and $250,000 annually with benefits. Salaries and pensions consume 84 percent of the CVUSD budget. Is that the best use of resources?

The district is now spending money to renovate school bathrooms so they can be occupied by multiple members of both sexes simultaneously in a project that is estimated to cost $250,000 per bathroom. What could possibly go wrong? With distractions like that, is it any surprise that education suffers while expenses increase?

How do we fix public education?

All public policy can be improved with one simple rule: don’t make policy that puts adults ahead of children. This seems obvious, and it operates in our personal lives since, as parents, we innately go out of our way to sacrifice for our children. But in the public sphere, children are often put last.

During the pandemic, scared adults tried to protect themselves by requiring children — who were virtually immune to COVID — to wear masks and get shots to return to the schools that they had closed, along with playgrounds, churches and other places where children congregate.

Likewise, we require our children to share public spaces with addicted homeless adults because we feel more compassion toward them than toward the kids.

“Compassionate” adults are soft on crime for the same reason, endangering our kids’ communities. So that we don’t seem unsympathetic to migrants, we have lax border controls that allow drugs to pour in and poison young people disproportionately. In each of these cases, it is the next generation that has to pay the consequences — quite literally. Americans have also saddled our kids with $33 trillion in national debt — a number that climbs precipitously every single month.

Public schooling isn’t working anymore — and throwing billions at it is not making it better. Many good teachers are doing their best in an impossible system, but we need to recalibrate our decision-making process to put children’s interests ahead of adults’. Perhaps the best way to do that is to put discretionary power in the hands of those who care for children most — their parents. Parents have precious little power in the sphere of public education. One way to empower them is to attach public education money to the students in the form of vouchers. Parents can decide which school is best for their child.

Teachers’ unions have long opposed homeschooling and school vouchers. The California Teachers Association says they lead to cuts to public schools. Children, say the unions, are better off inside public schools because “voucher school operators were not required to have any training or experience educating children and voucher school teachers were not required to have a credential or even a college degree.”

In other words, leave it to the experts. The only problem is someone forgot to tell the mock trial champions. Let alone the homeschooled kids who are acing their academic subjects while public school kids muddle along, underperforming in a system that primarily serves adults.

Without parental empowerment, many parents will continue to take their children’s education into their own hands by homeschooling. The choice requires sacrifice, but according to the guiding principle of putting children’s interests ahead of ours, isn’t sacrificing for them what we are supposed to do?

Eric Ingemunson is the author of hundreds of articles on Ventura County public policy, and his work has appeared in the Ventura County Star, CNN, and Fox News. He earned a Master’s degree in Public Policy and Administration from California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks and served as a board member for youth sports and Boy Scouts. He resides in Moorpark with his wife and four children and is active in the homeschooling community.

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