Saturday, April 3, 2010

Trailblazing tax break can help Oklahoma homeschoolers

A recent back-of-the-envelope calculation revealed that my wife Susie and I have saved our fellow taxpayers more than $200,000 (so far) by educating our four children at home rather than asking other people to foot the bill. And since some of our kids are still young, this figure will continue to mount.

As I never tire of pointing out to my friends in the state legislature, Oklahoma policymakers should be thankful for homeschooling parents. Imagine the strain it would put on the state budget if thousands of homeschooled children showed up at their local public school tomorrow ("Hi there, I'm here for my free education!").

Thanks to the selfless efforts of thousands of homeschooling parents, Oklahoma's cash-strapped state legislators have extra money available to appropriate for roads and bridges, prisons, Medicaid, and more.

Most of the homeschoolers I know don't ask for much in return. All we ask is that our elected officials secure our educational freedom. However, there is one thing you might want to be aware of as you're doing your taxes this year.

Back in 2007 the Associated Press reported on "what could be a trendsetting state tax break for families," namely, giving Oklahoma's stay-at-home moms a credit on the family income-tax bill. "At this point, we're not aware of other states with laws like this one," said a spokesman for the National Conference of State Legislatures.

I'm looking here at my 2008 Oklahoma income tax return (specifically, line 15 of Form 511) and — thanks be to God — I'm seeing $200 ($50 per child) that I got to keep for myself rather than send to the Oklahoma Tax Commission.

This tax credit [click here, go to page 8, and see the instructions for line 15] wasn't designed for homeschoolers per se, but clearly there are many of us who can take advantage of it. And though $200 may not seem like much, it will buy some books and other curricular materials.

Bryce Christensen, author of Divided We Fall: Family Discord and the Fracturing of America, says Oklahoma policymakers "deserve high praise" for this trailblazing tax break. "Researchers have now amassed a mountain of evidence showing that young children are far better off if cared for by an at-home parent rather than the employees of a daycare center," Christensen said. "So wise policymakers will help — not penalize — families who make sacrifices to keep one parent at home."

I agree, and suggest that we should encourage Oklahoma policymakers to help these families even more.

A few years back, Gov. Brad Henry made a rather startling admission. Before saying that daycare is a necessity for many parents in today’s society, he paid the perfunctory lip service to at-home parents, but he laid it on surprisingly thick: "Obviously," he said, "it’s always best when children can stay home with a parent ..."

Obviously? Always? Well, if he really means that, here’s a way public policy can help make it happen: Enlarge the tax credit. Instead of $50 per child, how about $500 per child?

Many of us in the public policy arena will continue to work toward that end. But for now, you can bet I will be taking advantage of Oklahoma’s child tax credit as I’m doing my 2009 taxes.

[This article appears in the current issue of The Informer, a quarterly magazine published by the Oklahoma Christian Home Educators Consociation. Cross-posted at Dutch, Reformed.]

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