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Public Money and Private Education Don’t Mix

July 11th, 2022

COVID-19 restrictions and prolonged school closures have highlighted what many of us have known for years: the public-school system is deeply flawed, and the needs of students are given consideration only after the self-serving bureaucracy has waded through its laundry list of demands. This was evident during the pandemic, when California trailed behind most of the country in re-opening schools for in-person instruction,[1] and online learning proved to be a fiasco.[2]

Two “school choice” ballot initiatives that involved Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) were circulated around the state in 2021-2022. Their wording would have allowed families to take government money and use it for private education options. The appeal of such a measure for California families is financial gain—if you step out from under the umbrella of the public-school system, how will you pay to educate your children?

However, in spite of the vast disillusionment with California public schools, no school choice initiative gained enough signatures to qualify for the November 2022 ballot. While many people may lament this fact, the truth is that private education as we know it may well have been threatened by such an initiative. The thought of being able to take “free” government money and apply it to private education is appealing, but the idea requires thoughtful examination.

When families seek to exit public schools, the question logically becomes, “Now what?” For many parents, charter schools seem to provide the answer—a safe transition when leaving the familiarity and security of the local public school. Charter schools are also attractive to parents who are just starting to take on their educational journey with their children. The thought of taking on sole responsibility for their child’s education is intimidating, so they join a charter for support. ESAs also seem to be an innocuous way to fund education outside the local public school.

HSLDA’s Vice President Jim Mason would disagree with such sentiments. “What they are promoting today as an ESA has a venerable intellectual origin and honorable purpose. I do not mean to impugn motives; the proponents of ESAs intend to do good. But the ESAs proposed today are not savings accounts; they are social welfare vehicles designed to transfer public tax money to parents of school-age kids. Calling them savings accounts doesn’t make them so, and I believe ESAs would be poisonous to the private homeschooling movement of today.”[3]

A well-known children’s poem by Mary Howitt begins: “‘Will you walk into my parlor?’ said the spider to the fly.”  We chuckle, thinking we would never be so foolish as that simple fly, enticed step by step until it disappeared forever into the spider’s parlor. Charter schools (which are public schools), if wrongly understood as an option that allows for a “Christian education,” can entice families into a web of thinking that public funds can be used for religious instruction. I also postulate that the “school [NJ1] choice” initiatives and ESAs also sit like the spider, drawing families in with the promise of “free” books, classes, and computers to take to whichever school they chose, even for private education.

The money offered by these programs is tempting, for sure. However, you cannot simply take the money provided to you by the government and educate your child as you see fit. If you receive public funds you are obligated to follow government regulations. Control of your child’s education passes from you to the state. You cannot take the money without conforming to their regulation and ideology. There is no such thing as a free lunch, or a free book, or a free computer. Government money never comes without government regulation.

The situation is the same if your child attends a brick and mortar charter school, or if you exclusively teach them in your home. The circumstances would also be the same for any private entity—whether a private school in the home or a brick and mortar private school—that would accept public funds through a government-funded  ESA.

Practical Implications

Now, consider SB 777 and its discrimination prattle. Governor Schwarzenegger signed SB 777 into law on October 12, 2007.[4] While SB 777 dealt primarily with discrimination against homosexuals, it also changed the Education Code (EC). SB 777 prohibits public school teachers from giving any instruction that would indicate that same-sex marriage or homosexuality are wrong. Consequently, any instruction in support of traditional marriage as the only legitimate or best model for a family could be considered an illegal discriminatory bias. [JK2] If you are using public funds to educate your child at home, these Education Code sections apply to you.

There are also two provisions in the California state constitution that include Blaine amendment language.  Article IX, Section 8 says, “No public money shall ever be appropriated for the support of any sectarian or denominational school, or any school not under the exclusive control of the officers of the public schools.” And Article XVI, Section 5 says that no state or local government entity will use public funds “to support or sustain any school, college, university, hospital, or other institution controlled by any religious creed, church, or sectarian denomination whatever.” 

These constitutional articles make it clear that no government funds are allowed to be used for religious instruction.  The reality of this is that if you enroll your child in a government school program, religious instruction in any form cannot be part of your school day. At all. Even if you purchase Bible-based materials with your own funds, you may only use them outside of regular school hours and apart from your main curriculum![5] SB 777 is just one example of regulations that apply to publicly-funded education. CRT, LGTBQ-friendly sex education curriculum and evolution are just some of the topics you may be forced to present if you receive public funding for your private homeschool. You will find yourself opening the door to the very things you left public school for in the first place[JK3] ! 

Trusting God’s Provision

Ultimately, we must trust God for our children. We must trust Him to provide for their true needs.  When we are financially unable to provide an opportunity to our children, we must resist the urge to turn to the government to supply our need!  Where God calls, He provides.

We must trust God to provide what our children need (and they do not necessarily need the extra bells and whistles that a charter school could make possible). 

Does this feel counter-cultural? It is! Christians are not to be at home in this world! Our lives here, lived for the sake of building the Kingdom of God, should not look like the lives of those around us. As believers we are called to live in a fundamentally different way. We are called to raise our children in a fundamentally different way. Private Christian home education is ultimately about discipleship. If we put ourselves under the authority of a state government program, they are controlling the curriculum—they are discipling our children!

“Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, ‘I will dwell in them and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore come out from their midst and be separate,’ says the Lord. ‘And do not touch what is unclean; and I will welcome you’” (II Corinthians 6:14-17[JK4] ).

Parents are undoubtedly looking out for their children’s best interests as they reason through the complex issue of school choice.  Would vouchers be good? What about an ESA? Maybe a charter school? Well, I ask you this: Why should you consider any of these options? Why take any money from the government to educate your children? Your children belong to you. You are responsible before the Lord to “bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). God has always provided for the needs of his people, and He always will.

Chris Klicka wrote, “I saw first-hand the tremendous sacrifices and risks parents took to follow God’s leading to train their children at home. These families faced fines, jail, and even the threat of the state taking their children away. These families held on to their convictions and God honored them in an incredible way. After 15 years of litigation and legislative battles, we won the right to homeschool in all 50 states… This liberty is at risk if homeschoolers begin crawling back to the government to drink from the public trough.”[6]

The allure of “free” money is powerful, especially to new homeschooling families that possibly do not value or understand the struggle it took to get where we are today. We must value freedom over financial benefit. The money is enticing, but if you take the money you are obligated to abide by the regulations.


[1]Lyster, Lauren and Associated Press. “’How Is This OK?’ California Schools Lag behind Nation in Reopening Push.” KTLA, KTLA, 14 Apr. 2021, https://ktla.com/news/california/how-is-this-ok-california-schools-lags-behind-nation-in-reopening-push.

[2] Turner, Cory. “6 Things We’ve Learned about How the Pandemic Disrupted Learning.” NPR. NPR, June 22, 2022. https://www.npr.org/2022/06/22/1105970186/pandemic-learning-loss-findings.

[3] Mason, Jim. “The Civic Virtue of Private Home Education.” HSLDA, 4th Quarter 2018, https://read.nxtbook.com/hslda/the_home_school_court_report/fourth_quarter_2018_vol34_no4/the_civic_virtue_of_private_h.html.

[4] “Discrimination,” SB 777, Chapter 569, Statutes of 2007, https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billStatusClient.xhtml?bill_id=200720080SB777.

[5] “CCSA Answers: Teaching Religious Curriculum at a Charter School.” California Charter Schools Association, 11 Dec. 2011, http://library.ccsa.org/blog/members/2011/12/ccsa-answers-teaching-religious-curriculum-at-a-charter-school.html.

[6] Klicka, Chris. “Charter Schools: The Battle for the Soul of Homeschooling.” Homeschool World, 2001, https://www.home-school.com/Articles/charter-schools-the-battle-for-the-soul-of-homeschooling.php.