Friday, March 21, 2008

California homeschoolers welcome in Oklahoma

[This article by Brandon Dutcher and J. Scott Moody appeared today in the San Francisco Examiner.]

In the 1930s hardship and adversity forced many Okies to leave their homes and start a new life in California. Perhaps now is a good time for some Californians to leave their home-schools and start a new life in Oklahoma.

“California is now on the path to being the only state to deny the vast majority of homeschooling parents their fundamental right to teach their own children at home,” said Michael Smith, president of the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), after a recent state appellate court ruling declared that parents don’t have a constitutional right to home school their children.

Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute, added, “There are going to be a lot of parents forced to make some very difficult decisions if an appeal is not successful.”

Parents weighing their options might want to consider the most homeschool-friendly state in the country. For when it comes to educational freedom for homeschoolers, “You’re doin’ fine, Oklahoma” is a massive understatement.

“Oklahoma law does not require parents to use certified teachers or state-approved curricula, initiate contact with, register with or seek approval from state or local officials, test their students or permit public school officials to visit or inspect homes,” HSLDA points out. “If a parent is teaching his children the basic subjects for at least 180 days, the law requires nothing more.”

Indeed, HSLDA notes, “Oklahoma is the only state with a constitutional provision guaranteeing the right to home school.” The state constitution directs the legislature to provide for attendance at some public or other school—“unless other means of education are provided.”

As one delegate to the Oklahoma constitutional convention argued convincingly in 1907, “People ought to be allowed to use their own discretion as to how to educate their children.”

That century-old sentiment still prevails. A 2004 telephone survey by Cole Hargrave Snodgrass and Associates found that 69 percent of Oklahomans “favor the right of parents to home school their children.” Only 26 percent oppose.

The Tulsa World reported last year that “Larry Mason, president of the Christian Home Educators Fellowship of Oklahoma, said home-schoolers from other states are envious of the state’s protection of the practice, and it influenced his family’s move to the state. ‘Home-schooling was a big part of moving here,’ Mason said.”

Not only will ex-Californians be pleased with the freedom to teach their own children at home, they’ll be pleasantly surprised at how many square feet they can afford in which to do it.

Let’s face it: it’s expensive to live in California. According to ACCRA, the nation’s most respected cost-of-living index, of the 329 U.S. metropolitan areas surveyed in 2007, all the California cities represented are huddled together in the top (most expensive) 20 percent. San Francisco leads the way with a cost of living that exceeds the national average by a whopping 70.9 percent. The most “reasonable” cost-of-living city in California is Bakersfield, at 8.2 percent above the national average.

Oklahoma, on the other hand, is at the other end of the cost-of-living spectrum, with its represented cities falling in the bottom one-third of all cities surveyed.

This cost-of-living difference not only means that your dollar will buy more goods and services in Oklahoma than in California, it also means lower federal income taxes. How so? Because the federal income tax code does not adjust items like the standard deduction, exemptions, or tax brackets for cost of living. As a result, folks in high cost-of-living areas, such as California, suffer a cost-of-living tax penalty.

For example, take a married couple with one child earning $100,000 who purchase a fixed bundle of goods. If they lived in San Francisco, they would need to earn $170,852 to buy that fixed bundle of goods, whereas in Oklahoma City they would need only $92,202. However, the couple in San Francisco would pay 19.8 percent of their income to Uncle Sam, but the Oklahoma City couple would pay only 13.3 percent.

In addition to federal taxes, there is also a disparity between the state and local tax burdens in the two states. On average, California residents pay 11.2 percent of their income in state and local taxes whereas Oklahoma residents pay 9.75 percent—or 13 percent less. Another way to look at the tax disparity: in 2007, California’s top marginal income tax rate was 9.3 percent while Oklahoma’s was 5.65 percent.

So if you’re tired of traffic and high prices, maybe it’s time to pack up those moving trucks and get your kicks on Route 66. When your friends and neighbors ask why you’re leaving, just tell them, “We’d sooner homeschool.”

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