Towards a Post-Scarcity New York State of Mind (through homeschooling)

New York State current spends roughly 20,000 US dollars per schooled child per year to support the public school system. This essay suggests that the same amount of money be given directly to the family of each homeschooled child. Further, it suggests that eventually all parents would get this amount, as more and more families decide to homeschool because it is suddenly easier financially. It suggests why ultimately this will be a win/win situation for everyone involved (including parents, children, teachers, school staff, other people in the community, and even school administrators :-) because ultimately local schools will grow into larger vibrant community learning centers open to anyone in the community and looking more like college campuses. New York State could try this plan incrementally in a few different school districts across the state as pilot programs to see how it works out. This may seem like an unlikely idea to be adopted at first, but at least it is a starting point for building a positive vision of the future for all children in all our communities. Like straightforward ideas such as Medicare-for-all, this is an easy solution to state, likely with broad popular support, but it may be a hard thing to get done politically for all sorts of reasons. It might take an enormous struggle to make such a change, and most homeschoolers rightfully may say they are better off focusing on teaching their own and ignoring the school system as much as possible, and letting schooled families make their own choices. Still,homeschoolers might find it interesting to think about this idea and how the straightforward nature of it calls into question many assumptions related to how compulsory public schooling is justified. Also, ultimately, the more people who homeschool, the easier it becomes, because there are more families close by with which to meet during the daytime (especially in rural areas). And sometime just knowing an alternative is possible can give one extra hope. Who would have predicted ten years back that NYS would have a governor who was legally blind and whose parents had been forced to change school districts just to get him the education he needed? So, there is always "the optimism of uncertainty", as historian Howard Zinn says. We don't know for sure what is possible and what is not.

I recently wrote a very long (and probably way over-the-top :-) screed against compulsory schooling, comparing it to a dystopian future envisioned by Marshall Brain where most people end up in "Terrafoam" welfare housing. A tiny excerpt:
    "Terrafoam and schooling and peer networks"
    http://listcultures.org/pipermail/p2presearch_listcultures.org/2009-July/003931.html

Then, we can dispense with the childcatchers we pay so well in the USA:
      http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=childcatcher
and justify with this sort of rhetoric:
      http://www.ehow.com/how_2081395_become-truant-officer.html
"School truancy is when a student is absent from school without permission. Truancy can be a serious problem, especially when children are left alone with no adult supervision. At worst, truancy can lead to violent crime. At least, it can lead to an unsuccessful, unproductive life. Read on to learn how to launch your career as a truant officer."

See, that is the false choice -- suggesting you either confine a child to prison or they will commit their first violent crime and have to be imprisoned. That is a very dim view of human nature, neighborhoods and families. Yet, it is a self justifying view, in part destroying the very neighborhood fabric it claims to be defending. So, we are left with streets that are safe because there are no people on them. We have successfully destroyed the village in order to save it, using compulsory schooling instead of napalm.

Frankly, writing that screed left me feeling very unhappy. When one really dwells about the enormity of what goes on inside most Prussian-derived schools when seen from either a democratic or homeschooling perspective, or how they create a Silent Spring of empty streets, it is a very heavy weight on your heart (like the world in Madeleine L'Engle's "A Wrinkle in Time"). Homeschoolers can at least save their own kids from Prussian schooling, but they cannot save their kids from having to deal with the results of an undemocratically and authoritarianly Prussian-schooled society, or essentially, living in 1850s Prussia (but 150 years later on another continent, as John Taylor Gatto suggests). Still, it is very sad to think about all the lives cut short in some way by schooling (usually just cut short psychologically, but sometimes also physically). So, I wrote this new essay in part to cheer myself up and atone for writing such a scathing document about compulsory schooling. So, here is something that in the end is much more positive and suggests a specific action plan and why that plan makes sense both for homeschoolers and everyone else. I also stuck a bit of humor in the middle, envisioning what an economic recovery and politics in NYS might look like if it flowed from the suggestions here. :-)

This essay builds on the most positive part of that screed, where in the context of an imaginary conversation with my local school district superintendent, I wrote:

"But maybe if every family could just use the school building as a hangout place when they wanted, then it could be like a community center for everyone?"
"But then how would children learn anything?"
"They'd learn from their parents, from friends, from relatives, from neighbors, from the community."

So, this essay builds towards how such a thing might work in practice.

I've seen slightly different figures about the cost per child in school in New York State as an average. It seems to me it is about $20,000 per child in school per year for NYS. The exact figure may depend on what you count. I'd suggest it might even be a lot higher if you count in the economic impact of lost creativity and lost happiness and lost opportunities, but I'll go with just the direct dollar costs.

I've seen that $20K figure here, by a conservative-libertarian group:
    http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=9734

A look at the numbers explains why: New York has one of the largest private-school populations in the country, with almost 16 percent of all K-12 students opting out of government institutions. And when all costs are counted, the state's public schools spend a whopping $20,000 per pupil.

And there is a fairly similar figure here:
    http://www.uticaod.com/homepage/x497795585/Most-local-districts-spend-less-on-students-than-state-average

The state Commission on Property Tax Relief, headed by Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi, found that New York schools outside of New York City spend more per student than any state in the nation - an estimated $18,768 this school year.

It sure is strange then, that kids are running away from all that money spent on their behalf as "truants". Very strange. Related:
    "Education at Gunpoint - Legal Force a Misguided Way of Ending Truancy"
    http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/1527015/education_at_gunpoint_legal_force_a.html?singlepage=true&cat=4

If school was a family, someone might even be calling in a government agency to investigate why the kids were running away so often. It is unlikely that a government agency would return children to the school's custody until they had satisfied the agency that school was a good place to be for all the children. School saying the trouble was that those youths were just bad children who deserved to be punished more would not cut it, would it? And school saying $20K per child was not enough to "help" them might be a bit hard to believe, too. Clearly, if viewed as a family, school would be seen as dysfunctional, likely because it was excessively authoritarian, but also because it was being neglectful of many individual children's needs, overwhelmed by its large family size (millions of unique kids but only one parent, the state, with one standardized parenting method for all of them).

I would not have thought about this issue this way except for a calculation in NYS Teacher of the Year John Taylor Gatto's online book:
    http://www.johntaylorgatto.com/underground/prologue.htm

The cost in New York State for building a well-schooled child in the year 2000 is $200,000 per body when lost interest is calculated.

That's a lot of money. Why would anyone run away from that much money?

Well, there are reasons to run away from lots of money, but they are different than why kid run from schools:
    "Why Affluent, High-Achieving Teens Are Often Depressed"
    http://health.usnews.com/articles/health/2007/09/07/why-affluent-high-achieving-teens-are-often-depressed.html

Costs have gone up since 2000, of course, with productivity rising in the USA about 20% (even if real wages for most have gone down). And Gatto's subsequent mathematical calculation in that paragraph about this are flawed (essentially, he counts interest twice to come up with a million dollars per child, and I have pointed that out to him). But I can cut him a lot of slack for getting at the heart of the problem even if some details are confused. He is one of New York State's true heroes, IMHO. This essay and this essayist owes a lot to him.

The heart of the matter Gatto raises is that NYS is spending a lot of tax money on children every year, but who gets to make those decisions about why and how that money is spent?

I am suggesting that the parents (and over time, the child) are in the best position to make those decisions about how to spend that money.

And even if parents are not able to make such decisions well at first, would that not be another example of the failure of previous schooling of the parents, and a reason for trying something new and giving it a chance to work out over time? :-)

At $20K a year, with 9% annual interest (stocks), that would be about half-million dollars in future value for thirteen years of K-12 schooling (delivered when a child turns eighteen). Or, at 5% interest (bonds), that would be about $350K in future value. This assumes no inflation, otherwise things get even messier. That's how much kids don't get in money when they get handed a piece of paper that is a high school diploma. That is what that diploma has cost them, besides thirteen years of much of their waking hours. So, the deal of school is, not only are you in prison for thirteen years, but you essentially get a six figure fine, too. All for being guilty of youth, another thing that is removed as well in the process. So school takes your money, your time, and your youth, and you are supposed to be happy about all that because it gives you a piece of paper in the end. Presumably, by that logic, armed robbers will stop being convicted if they start giving receipts?

But the key point is, anyway you count it or invest it, hundreds of thousands of dollars is a lot of money. It's a vast amount of money. It is an amount of money that is a big chunk of most working people's lifetime earning, especially if the have minimum wage jobs. It is like the amount of money so many working people who play the lottery dream of getting if they win, with dreams it would change their life. Yet, in a way, every child born in NYS has already essentially won the lottery at birth, being born into such a great state with so many amazing people producing so much wealth, and with much of that wealth being directed somehow (through taxes) towards children. These newborns just have been prevented from collecting their lottery winnings. :-( Instead, that money is drained away in other directions, to prop up an obsolete schooling system designed around an outdated 1850's Prussian society, along with all the other negative economic and negative social consequences that flow from that in the 21st century.

Those interest rates are somewhat historical, as right now rates on most investments are obviously pretty low as the economy collapses. That collapse is a related issue to schooling. Why train kids for an 1850s lifestyle anticipated to be revolving around jobs that will likely be automated or redesigned out of existence soon (like with robots or 3D printing), as opposed to just using the same money to give them a basic income for life and letting them build in their own lifestyle by extra work on that base? So, if we do see a jobless recovery, as some economists expect, then for most kids, I can wonder if they would be better off without the high school diploma but with the money when they turn eighteen. They could use it to buy a house and a safe car. Over the past year, well schooled 20-somethings have been rioting in Greece because there are no jobs for them. Is that otherwise our future in New York State?
    "Are the Greek riots a taste of things to come?"
    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/are-the-greek-riots-a-taste-of-things-to-come-1064479.html

Or, perhaps, children could get the money in the form of a monthly annuity, so they might not even have to "work" once they graduate, unless they wanted more than a subsistence life (which no doubt many would)? For any child who wanted to work in the arts, or to be a writer or poet, or to be a free software developer, or to work at a struggling non-profit is a volunteer, that supplemental basic income for life might make such career paths much more feasible. So, school is really closing out those options of public service to a digital gift economy or physical voluntary economy for all but the wealthiest and luckiest children who can afford to take low-paying jobs but still have a trust-fund lifestyle.

For more on that last idea of a basic income for everyone in society:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basic_income
    http://www.usbig.net/whatisbig.html

Still, it is possible it would be better for the kids and their parents to get the money now, to use in building a better life now. Because, who knows if there will even be a future if we can't make a better now? So, maybe kids should get that money now, not after they turn eighteen?

Following the basic income idea, and unlike some libertarian-leaning homeschoolers, I don't object to NYS saying it will tax wealth from the community to redistribute it to children (or anyone else). As was suggested in the Triple Revolution memorandum given to President Johnson in 1964, a revolution in modern cybernetic technology (robots, automation, better design, telecommunications) is breaking the link between having a job to do and having a right to consume. I also don't object to any state holding in trust other sources (like Alaska's Permanent Fund related to leasing natural resources) to give money directly to citizens or to spend money on their behalf for public works. Like the original natives of NYS, I feel every human being has a claim on part of their surrounding commons whether they "work" for others or not. The US Constitution already borrows heavily from the Iroquois Confederacy, and most of the positive changes to it have been just adding in more of the Iroquois Confederacy's features, like giving women the right to vote. :-) So, one could see this proposal in that light, of affirming some more traditional New York State values. :-) Obviously, you still need to bother to pick up your basic income check or to go to an abundant nature for picking up fruit or other sustenance in the old days; see "The Original Affluent Society" by Marshall Sahlins for more on that theme.

So, I don't object to paying a fair share of taxes on labor I perform or assets I own (even as people can legitimately argue about what is "fair" based on disagreeing values and assumptions). The USA had lots of general prosperity back when marginal taxes were 94% after WWII. This reflects the idea that markets are better at creating wealth than they are at distributing it.

Still, as a parent, I *do* object to *not* having much of a choice as to how that $20K per child per year is spent in regards to my own specific child. Right now, there is only one option to access that annually available $20K, which is to put a child into a local public school, to become part of a system of what Gatto calls Prussian-derived education designed to meet the needs of a 19th century society. Maybe Prussian-derived extremely hierarchical schooling made sense 150 years ago; maybe it did not. But in the 21st century, especially with the internet, I would expect we could do better, focusing more on learning-on-demand (like through using the internet) than learning-just-in-case (like following a state-wide curriculum based around the idea that one-size-fits-all). So, the current system is actively suppressing diversity. We need a better balance of top-down hierarchies and bottom up grassroots meshworks (to borrow from Manuel de Landa) in order to deal with the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century. It is true kids need to learn to be part of a society, but they need to learn to be part of a 21st society, with its opportunities and pitfalls, not an 1850s Prussia.

For most homeschooling families (typically with two or three kids) giving the same amount of money otherwise spent on schooling per child directly to the families would mean $40K to $60K in extra annual income for those families. For many families currently homeschooling, that might mean either lots of extra travel and tutoring and educational toys as well as less parental anxiety about money. There would be even more options for children to develop unique interests to make their own unique contributions to society. Or, instead, that extra money might mean both parents could choose to be home to help with raising the kids instead of needing one in the workforce. Either way, one might expect the children of homeschooled families to then be better off and achieve more for themselves and society than by being in school. They might potentially achieve *much* more than most schooled kids in some case. In general, they and their families just might be a lot happier, which would be a big win even if they are not much more productive in other ways. Happiness in the now has a lot to be said for it, given such an uncertain future. And happiness now might lead to happiness later. And, for many people, learning and "hard fun" (Papert) are some of the best sources of happiness. And more often as not, school is actually in the way of such happiness through learning.

For families with two or three kids that don't currently homeschool, the possibility of getting such a payment would make the choice to homeschool much more feasible. For two or three kids, or $40K to $60K per year, that amount is about the median US family income. And it is approaching a big chunk of the median NYS income for a family of four.
    "New York State Median Income for FFY 2008/2009"
    http://liheap.ncat.org/profiles/povertytables/FY2009/nysmi.htm
So, by itself, it is enough for most families to live off of, if they are frugal, and they would have more free time for being frugal.

Naturally, this benefits should extend to private schoolers too, to be fair. So, for example, the world-renowned democratic Albany Free School (which still costs some money) could then think about expanding statewide in hundreds of locations for the families where both parents decide to keep working outside the home, by helping local communities make their own free schools with related educational communities of networked families. There might be no end of educational alternatives created to suit unique needs and special circumstances, and there would be plenty of money in the hands of all families to spend on these diverse alternatives. Truly, no child would be left behind, only for real this time, and all would be on a bus going to a happier place than mainstream school as we know it now.

The cost to the state of all these changes would ultimately be minimal. Only current homeschoolers or private schoolers would cost the state any new costs, which according to the Cato figure above would be about 18% or so (16% private schoolers plus 2% homeschoolers). While significant, those costs might be more than offset by lower crime rates and greater industrial productivity from a more uniquely educated and more creative population. In the long term, this process might produce a vast increase in the wealth of New York State, but more importantly, it would produce a vast increase in the *happiness* of New York State.

Naturally, if this proved popular, there might be a huge demand by people in other states to move back to New York State, leading to a state wide housing boom, and rising real estate values again, as well as greater demand for all sorts of services and products. So, this might be a huge win for every New Yorker, rather than just listening to the current moaning about people leaving New York State due to high taxes. The biggest issue is maybe not the taxes you pay but what you get for them, and whether your job or pension pays well enough so you are happy not just despite the taxes, but because of the taxes.

Why would someone wealthy be happy despite high progressive taxes, up to 94% in the past in the USA, where the poor pay nothing but the wealthy pay a lot? Because you have guaranteed medical care including access to huge and normally mostly empty emergency rooms (sized for pandemics and disasters, not routine needs). Because you are surrounded by happy kids, and everyone smiles at you, and so your community has safe streets. Because when you drop your wallet on the ground it comes back to you with more money than was in it to begin with. Because there are an endless array of products and services available to spend your money on, and many more for free. Because every pregnancy is celebrated as another guest for an ongoing village party. And so on. You are no longer a Tom Golisano living in the one gold hut in a Prussian village of one hundred mud huts occupied by depressed villagers all complaining about high taxes (with your gold hut payed for by your cleverly removing the need for many village jobs by inventing Paychex, which would be a great thing to do if the increasing wealth was shared, but it wasn't). Instead, you are a more enlightened multi-millionaire Tom Golisano happily paying vast amounts of taxes that go directly to individuals as a basic income to be spent in the market you are so good at improving. So, you are living in a happy and healthy post-scarcity 21st century New York State civilization, where everyone is helping each other, and everyone on the street says, "Thanks Tom, for simplifying our lives and bringing more wealth and happiness to our community with information technology". It is said, "Be careful where your treasure is, for there will your heart be also." Or, I might add, your long term security. Is it better that your treasure and security be a village of happy people living in abundance (so, you have wealthy friends everwhere if you get hurt), or is it better that your treasure and security be a pile of gold you hoard? The thing is, the gold can't love you. Money is a tool, like a shovel. And while money can't buy you love, money well spent (or time with a shovel) can help create a village infrastructure that helps let love happen naturally everywhere. This is the decision we need to make as a society. It matters little to most what decisions Tom Golisano makes, or whether he spends more time in Florida or New York these days, What really matters are the attitudes of all the billionaire wannabees in New York State who want to follow in Tom Golisano's footsteps and win the billionaire lottery to escape a dreary existence in the 1850s Prussia we have recreated for ourselves in NYS. Those are the people who shape much of our politics today, as the shock troops for the current collapsing order of things:
    "The Wrath of the Millionaire Wannabe's"
    http://www.conceptualguerilla.com/?q=node/47

And it is in large part for those billionaire wannabes out there for which this essay is written. Stop shooting yourself in the wallet by trying to buy a lottery ticket out of 1850s Prussia. Start making the place around you better by more enlightened social policies, and raising happier families, and building better communities, in part by supporting better ways of spending progressive tax dollars that are already being spent on schools. Start with New York State and the go global. The best way to get out of 1850s Prussia, so that no child is left behind, is to make where we live into a 21st century New York State. That is a place that doesn't exist yet by these "standards", even as the government and schools inside which we are living liks to *pretend* that where we live now is a 21st century New York State. Ultimately, the 21st century is a post-scarcity state of mind.

The terrorists on 9/11 did not destroy our future in New York State, because we had no future, only a past we are living in together with them and Prussian-style governments and Prussian-style schools and Prussian-style politics. We need to leave that *all* behind in the past by moving onto a post-Prussian future. A post-scarcity future. A happy global village future. A future that goes full circle back to the better parts of our hunter/gatherer past in terms of abundance and gift-giving. New York State has all the resources it needs to do that, just by itself.

But it doesn't need to do it by itself. The entire globe wants this change, and it working towards it. Or as Paul Hawken puts it:
    http://www.blessedunrest.com/

From billion-dollar nonprofits to single-person dot.causes, these groups collectively comprise the largest movement on earth, a movement that has no name, leader, or location, and that has gone largely ignored by politicians and the media. Like nature itself, it is organizing from the bottom up, in every city, town, and culture. and is emerging to be an extraordinary and creative expression of people's needs worldwide.

Still, New York does not do things in a vacuum. If employees of various companies start demanding to be relocated to New York State over this one issue, of $20K per child going directly to families instead of to schools, New York might see an enormous influx of new companies for its tax base.

Every artist and writer in the country with kids might want to move to New York State. New York State might see an enormous increase in its cultural capital, which again would attract people wanting a good place to live, even if they do not have children. It would be hard not to be hopeful for New York, surrounded by so many families with children, so many artists, writers, poets, innovators, and so on.

Of course, other states would notice New York State's success and emulate it, so in the long term I doubt New York State would get overcrowded to the point where families with young children were seriously stressing the system. But New York might still have a relative advantage for a time in attracting families and companies.

If such a change was made, then there might also be an enormous pressure by homeschoolers to *increase* the mandated compulsory age all the way to birth, in order to get $20K per child from birth for all families. Which is something many NY legislators have long been pushing for, on behalf of the teacher's union, with homeschoolers pushing back because of not wanting additional paperwork. So, this is a win/win solution, at least on that issue, as far as I am concerned. :-)

And there might even be some push on the other side, to extend this benefit to age twenty-one or beyond, maybe even someday up to age sixty-five when Social Security starts. :-) That of course would mean a huge tax increase, but by then New York State might be such a hub of global innovation that the people of NYS could easily pay for that all and have more money than they do now left over after taxes.

Granted, a lot of this is handwaving about what people from other states do in relation to NYS and about how much the economy would grow from this new strategy. If there is a weak point in this proposal, it is that a local initiative in this direction may have issues that a national or global initiative along the same lines would not have, like if lots of poor people moved to NYS and just became a burden on the state without offsetting advantages. That has been a historic complaint in relation to NYS tax policy (and "welfare trains"). So, exploring that aspect would be essential in building a better case for this change, including thinking about what role the Federal government would need to play eventually, if any.

So, yes taxes might go up some, especially if some poor people move to New York State just for this reason. But, Europe has somewhat higher taxes than the USA, but they also have much happier kids. So, sometimes we do need to make a choice. But the biggest choice is really in how we spend our money, and this proposal puts control of that in the hands of parents (and, gradually, their children) to spend the money through the market. This idea would be actively trying to do something about this issue that has been totally ignored by the mainstream press:
    "British and American Children Are the Worst Off in the Industrialized World"
    http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/150708/british_and_american_children_are_the.html?cat=9

This approach is not the same as "vouchers", because those (as proposed) are only a small fraction of the total cost of public schools, and most vouchers can only be spent at other formal schools. So, vouchers just continue to support the same (according to Gatto) broken system. This idea of giving the cash directly to the families with children is much more flexible and comprehensive than vouchers.

Is this unfair to families without kids? It's too bad we can't ask Mother Theresa. Still, everyone benefits from happier communities. Everyone, whether they have kids or not.

Some homeschoolers (especially propertarian-libertarian ones) have said in response to this idea that it would better to just eliminate the school tax altogether, but that misses out on the value of a society directing substantial resources to help the youngest members of the society (and the families they grow in). The market may be good at producing wealth (ignoring externalities it causes like pollution), but the market is often pretty bad at distributing wealth. Simply eliminating the property tax most homeschoolers pay to support public schools in most cases would be a much smaller amount than the cost per child spent by NYS. For example, most families with two kids might save, say, $4K in taxes rather than get $40K in extra income. The school tax is already there, so it makes sense to think about how NYS can get more benefit out of such a progressive idea, rather than throw it away entirely.

Also, in the past when I have raised this issue elsewhere, some homeschoolers suggest that if the state paid money to each family, this would mean the state would get more into regulating homeschooling. As in,
"Be glad you don't get all the government you pay for". :-) But I don't see that New York State would have any constitutional basis for that (but I might be wrong), and in any case, NYS is already involved in overseeing home education. So, especially if NYS homeschooling families having a lot more pocket money to pay for legal defense (or legal campaign contributions :-), I'd suggest that that scenario is not an issue to worry about. In fact, I'd suggest if homeschoolers got $20K per child per year, they would have so much economic and political power that even the current regulations would be changed to be more like those in New Jersey (where you pretty much don't even have to do any reporting. :-) With so much income going to homeschoolers, and so reducing the pressure on those families to work as much outside the home, then a lot more people could afford to be as learned and as generous with their time as John Munson of the New York Home Educators Network (NYHEN).
    http://www.homeedmag.com/HEM/236/interview.johnmunson.html

For example, it has taken thousands of hours for me to develop these sorts of ideas and read on these sorts of topics (even as incomplete and roughly presented as they are). That was made possible only by my wife's past career success at working half-time for a good income, and so letting me be a stay-at-home Dad also with time for other things like reading and writing about homeschooling and unschooling and lots of other social change topics. I'd like everyone to be able to do that if they wanted while still having time for their kids, and this plan would accomplish that.

Think what the NYS homeschooling movement would be like with hundreds of people around like NYHEN's John Munson, or thousands, or even tens of thousands. While everyone is different, more homeschooling parents would have the time to develop as homeschooling advocates with more income in their own unique ways, since they could work less outside the home. They would also have more money for hiring tutors or babysitters now and then. So, more people could follow in John Munson's footsteps, but again, in their own unique ways as appropriate for their own circumstances and neighborhoods.

Sometimes one person (or a small group) is denied a chance to do something on the argument that others of different circumstance and less skill might do it too and get hurt. I still remember in kindergarten when I was told I could not climb a tree using a ladder I had found because other, younger kids, might try that too and get hurt. But sometimes the opposite happens, and the one person (or small group) can get the right for all people to do something (like Susan B. Anthony, based in Rochester, NY, worked long and hard to get women the right to vote, although she was helped by others in that struggle). So, I am trying to get the right of economic freedom for all people, via a basic income, starting with families with children.

What is freedom if you can not use it to help free others? What is wealth if you can not use it to help make others wealthy? (To paraphrase from Theodore Sturgeon, in his intro to "The Skills of Xanadu" in "The Golden Helix".)
      http://p2pfoundation.net/Skills_of_Xanadu

Whether or not this approach is politically feasible right now, it seems to me that this is what the economic landscape of fairness for homeschooled children and their families would look like. Maybe sometimes we are too afraid of just defending the hard won right to homeschool that we do not push towards more equity? Now, that fear may be justified, because the school system is indeed powerful, with lots of damage they can do to people's lives by abusing their power. But ultimately, even if we are afraid of something, we may still need to take non-violent action. And sometimes, the best defense is to move forward in some different way, like a non-violent way that is win/win for (almost) everyone. And anyone who would suffer under this plan could perhaps be made whole in other ways.

NYS thinks it is valid to make claims on my time in terms of paperwork about my child who is of "compulsory" age. But sometimes obligations work both ways, otherwise they are unfair. Would it make sense to write to Governor Paterson and ask for $20K a year then, as part of the idea of reciprocal obligations? If the funding of the school system is justified by the benefit to the children, then in some sense is not each homeschooled child "entitled" to $20K a year from NYS (as much as anyone is "entitled" to anything)? Is not the current policy of *not* giving money directly to homeschooling families to spend as they choose then *discriminatory* against my child and my family? Would this even possibly be the basis of a statewide or countrywide class action lawsuit, including to recoup the past decades of economic unfairness to all homeschooling families? I don't plan on doing that, but it is interesting to think about, or ask for commentary on it. :-)

Yes, I know that paying reparations for discrimination would only accelerate NYS's or even the USA's financial crisis. The government would suddenly be on the hook for many billions of dollars owed to past homeschooling families (even though there seems to be no problem with the Federal government printing money when it will go directly to bankers). But if schooling really worked so well, why are all these well schooled people messing up so much with the economy? And why are all the well schooled voters letting them? So, in my mind at least, there seems some grounds for such a claim of discrimination against people of good will trying something different, given that NYS will readily spend money on children put into a system that has proven inadequate to the needs of the 21st century.

Public school systems might have a valid practical objection that they have fixed costs for a physical plant and various salaries and pensions regardless of how many children they have under their control. Still, if most families chose to do home-based education, then schools could be repurposed as homeschool resource centers. They could essentially become like public libraries where anyone who wanted to learn anything could come there and use the facilities. Public libraries seem to be working out quite nicely. So, the physical plant and administrative salaries might remain in any case. But the staff might have to study somethings about how public libraries interact with patrons.

Assuming that most people begin to choose this option of receiving the $20K directly. School enrollment would begin to decline, leaving empty classrooms and underutilized other facilities like gyms and kitchens. Imagine if everyone in the community could use the school building at any time for any vaguely educational purpose, including just hanging out there to interact with other homeschoolers by their choice. Ironically, then there might be a demand by the local community to actually *increase* the size of schools. There might be a demand for adding more conference rooms, bigger playgrounds, better libraries, machine shops, organic gardens, cafes, rifle and archery ranges, more computers, yoga studios, better kitchens, automotive repair bays, a cafe, or anything else you might find at a YMCA or TechShop, or at any other informal educational facility like a museum or planetarium or space camp or whatever. With the rapid growth of FabLabs and 3D printing, schools might also expand greatly in their shop courses and other vocational training aspects, stuff that is now just after-hours "adult education". Schools might all get a new facility as part of a proposal for a resurgence in local manufacturing nationwide:
    "21,000 Flexible Public Fabrication Facilities across the USA"
    http://opengov.ideascale.com/akira/dtd/8412-4049

And for any new services related to public schools that were fee-for-service (for some reason to kids not otherwise directly enrolled in full-time programs at the school that served as day-care), homeschoolers would have plenty of money to pay for them an desired based on the annual $20K per child payment. So, for example, schools might charge homeschooler for sport coaching or science laboratory use or foreign language classes, but homeschoolers would have the means to pay for just the parts they wanted. And homeschoolers would have the ability to walk away if classes were not meeting their needs and to spend the money given to them elsewhere, same as with adult education classes or college courses. So schools might have to become more responsive places, and this change in culture would then improve the life of even the children who did not have the option to leave the grounds.

On a practical basis, schools would have to rethink the nature of their security policies as they became more open places mixing adults and children like public libraries do. Still, homeschoolers manage to operate in village settings and mixed settings, so humans have thousands of years of experience making such things work well enough. No doubt many proposals could be developed to make such places safe for everyone. But, it is true, such places might have to tolerate some degree of risk for some degree of reward. That itself might be a huge change in school culture. Still, despite all the criminal background checks on teachers, abuse of all sorts goes on in schools from a very few of the teachers, so the current system has problems. Further, the school system itself in some ways is abusing children by its very structure, whether from modeling authoritarian bullying, forcing children into social situations day after day from which there is not escape, or boring some children and frustrating others (and boredom and frustration year after year could be considered a form of torture). So, it is not clear that schools would really be more dangerous than they already are now, all things considered. In any case, public libraries manage to deal with the problem of mixing people of all ages (though in part due to parental vigilance for young kids), so this is another thing that schools could study. Technology like bracelets or necklaces with an integrated GPS and cell phone and streaming video cameras for young children or transparent surveillance for certain areas (where anyone could look at the security cameras through the internet) might be another aspect of this. Security is a complex subject, especially with a tradeoff with privacy, and no doubt many people would work very hard to make such open schools as intrinsically secure as possible. Still, ultimately, we have to rely on a basic confidence that most people most of the time will do the right thing, and that the benefits to most of being social and having places to learn together will outweigh the problems cause by the few very rotten apples.

Schools might decide to specialize as well, perhaps negotiating with neighboring schools on what made sense, so some schools might have amazing state-of-the-art planetariums, or some might have nanotech fabrication centers and electron microscopes, while others might have lots of space for dramatic productions, and others might develop amazing playscapes, while others might have incredible toy libraries. Schools could then form a network, and perhaps then use their vast fleets of yellow buses to allow anyone to travel between schools or ship physical materials for educational purposes, as a sort of "public logistics network". Again, parents might need some way of being confident that network was a safe place for their kids to be if they traveled unaccompanied. Since transportation takes time, people still might view some school district as a better match for their family's interests than others. So, they might have to choose whether they would rather live in a school district with a better nanotech lab or a school district with a better space program or one with better stages for live performances.

These might be difficult choices, but they would be different ones than, say, when a Realtor was showing us a house in Chappaqua, NY and said that you could tell the school district was one of the "best" in the country because the teen suicide rate was so high. :-( So, again, such schools as I am proposing here might be much safer for kids in many ways, even as they may be slightly more dangerous in others.
    "Gever Tulley on 5 dangerous things for kids"
    http://www.ted.com/talks/gever_tulley_on_5_dangerous_things_for_kids.html

So, ironically, if schools were to give in gracefully to this idea, they might even get bigger as they got more voluntary and broadened their missions to include people of all ages learning anything. :-) So, the current school superintendents would become more like college campus presidents, and thus get more prestige, bigger offices with larger staffs, and of course, bigger salaries to go with that all. :-)

Naturally, as schools expanded, this might cause various urban planning problems, and parking issues, and demands for more local public transit to get to them, and so on, but presumably we have a lot of good urban planners in NYS who could help with that, even as they might quickly feel pressured. Likewise, a rapid increase in construction and renovations around schools might cause various local shortages of construction workers and other tradespeople and so on. Likewise, all the families with young children moving to the state would strain the capacity of real estate agents, and overload the malls, and create traffic jams near supermarkets and toy stores. The new businesses moving into New York following the best workers (who would be attuned to new trends and want the best for their kids, or even just in case they might have kids soon, or might want to visit their grandkids, or visit their other relatives with kids) would put a huge pressure on New York's legal professionals for handling all the new business deals. The NYS Department of Taxation and Finance would face an enormous crisis of processing an increased number of corporate tax returns from all these new businesses blossoming in the state, causing follow-on difficulties in hiring professional workers throughout the entire Capital Region. Many people manning the unemployment office at the New York State Department of Labor would no longer be needed and so would be unceremoniously laid off and need to go on unemployment insurance until they could find good jobs working at the NYS Department of Taxation and Finance. An people from around the country and around the world traveled to New York to see what all the fuss was about, hotels and airports would be jam packed with tourists, creating considerable logistics difficulties in turn for their suppliers. Entire new cities with millions of new residents would be constructed in upstate NY, creating huge conflicts about environment issues, like where to put all the solar panels coming out of the nanotech centers near Albany. In all, it would be a real mess, and the Governor's office would be strained greatly in keeping up with all the growth and change.

Still, I would expect most New Yorkers would feel like those were good problems for the state to start having right now. :-)

But it would rapidly get even worse. The state legislature might once again be in crisis and get locked out, this time after the top leadership gets so tired staying up late trying to read report after report of success stories and new developments that they would forget where they put the key to the Senate chamber. Fortunately, some overworked legislators who fell asleep in session as they trying to keep up with everything going on in NYS, especially the mysteriously increasing tax revenues, would open the door from the inside. Many people might start longing for the "good old days"
when things were quieter, especially if that billionaire who changed his tax home to Florida to avoid NYS taxes, Tom Golisano, decided to move his tax home *back* to New York State to take advantage of all the prosperity, and to have another run at being governor, this time, after reversing his ideology, and running on a platform of *raising* taxes since it seems to be working so well. Tom Golisano's return to NYS politics would force a fierce debate, that everyone would soon get sick of, over whether the issue was really the tax rate, or if it was more what you got for your taxes, like whether people can easily afford any taxes because they create a booming economy if well invested in true education. People would grow tired of discussions about how best to share prosperity brought about by taxing a growing market fueled by New Yorkers imaginations, and by spreading the wealth around as a basic income to all New Yorkers to keep the economy humming. Tom Golisano would say this web page was just intended as a publicity stunt to raise consciousness about good tax policy before his comeback:
    "Why I'm Leaving New York (but still trying to change it)" by Tom Golisano
    http://www.responsiblenewyork.com/blog/why-im-leaving-new-york-but-still-trying-to-change-it/

Roles would get confusingly reversed in that electoral campaign. :-) Governor Paterson would be forced to go on record saying NYS tax rates were too high because of the stress forced on the NYS legislature by coming up with ways to spend all the new money being produced by all the breakthroughs coming out of New York State companies from all these creatively educated people. He would campaign to lower tax rates substantially to help his colleagues cope with an embarrassment of riches, but the public sentiment would be for raising taxes even higher and giving more money to families with children and the open schools, since it worked well the first time. This would put the compassionate Governor Paterson in a difficult political situation of whether to go with public sentiment or to stand with his stressed-out previous colleagues in the state Senate. It would be an ugly campaign, with Tom Golisano accusing Governor Paterson of being anti-growth with Paterson's plans to lower taxes, and Governor Paterson appealing to the people of NYS to have compassion for the people running the legislature and the Department of Taxation and Finance who were having problems processing so many corporate tax returns. Tom Golisano would say Governor Paterson was recklessly risking New York State property values by messing with the new economic magic. Paterson would counter that property values in NYS were too high and that several new cities were being constructed upstate to keep property values under control for young people. Golisano would in return threaten to move to New Hampshire, which by then would have put in place the highest taxes in the USA on income and property. New Hampshire would also have changed their state slogan to "Live *for* free or die", in accord with a theory that soon automation and better design would put everyone out of work and they would starve without a basic income; New Hampshire would eliminate the local school tax in favor of a general tax and a statewide monthly basic income payment of $2000 per person plus medical care to all citizens regardless of age or wealth. Paterson in turn suggest a similar idea was under study in New York, and that emigration to New Hampshire for Golisano might be a good idea anyway though. Things would get really ugly after that. Still, most New Yorkers would yawn at the frontpage headlines, same old, same old, and turn to the homeschool page in the news, not very concerned about economic issues anymore, and being far more concerned with their children's continuing education and their own, just for fun.

Anyway, it's fun to imagine what a successful recovery in NYS might look like. :-) We sure need a little bit of hope these days.
    "New York Tax Receipts Fall, Create $2.1 Billion Gap"
    http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601103&sid=aXYRXf6hqs0A
As Albert Einstein said, you generally can't solve problems by using the same sort of thinking that created them.

One may ask the very fair question of what would happen to teachers if the money went directly to parents instead of schools. For most teachers who are any good, there would be an enormous demand for their tutoring by all these homeschooling families with an extra $20K per child to spend, especially if most NYS families decided to go that way and eventually diminished the need for old-style large classroom teaching. These educators might make good-enough money, if not more, and might enjoy their work a lot more without school bureaucracy to wrestle with. So, any really good educator has little to fear from this proposal. Such educators would become part of a person-to-person learning network. They might face competition, including from teenagers who have learned the best way to learn something is to teach it, :-) but if they are truly good educators, they would still do well. A good teacher, in a healthy relationship where both teacher and student are learning at different rates, is irreplaceable -- and I have been blessed in my life with many such good teachers, both in and out of the school system. Teachers with their own children would benefit from $20K per child, and so some might decide to just teach their own, and maybe to help neighborhood kids now and then either for free or fee.

It is true that some not-so-good teachers might lose their jobs eventually, or be unable to offer teaching services people wanted. This plan might create problems for such teachers. But if they had, say, two kids, they could live off of the $40K while they teach their own. :-) And, if these not-so-good teachers have no children of their own, they could get jobs as chaperones or nannies for a few children, helping those few children navigate this new educational landscape, paid by parents who are unable to homeschool during the day out of their $20K per child per year. So, parents could afford to pay a teacher $60K to look after three children. Or, these not-so-good teachers might decide to take up another career better suited to their other talents. Or they might find that they are much better teachers in small one-on-one settings.

Still, the transition would no doubt be somewhat stressful for many teachers. But, the system is not supposed to be there mainly for the teachers. It is ideally supposed to be there for the children and the communities. And every teacher lives in a community, and most have children of their own.

So, overall, for almost everybody, this is a win/win solution. And it is heavily market-based while still maintaining the progressive aspects of a school tax. It thus follows the US-specific guidelines for social change outlined here:
    "Planning Through the Market: More Equality Through the Market System"
    http://sociology.ucsc.edu/whorulesamerica/change/science_market.html

One objection is that there are some "bad parents" out there who would take $20K per child and spend the money on themselves for drugs and alcohol. Well, it is true, that in some tiny fraction of families (1%? 5%?), that might happen. However, even now, such "bad parents" exist and the school system can do little to help with them, school itself even also being one more "bad parent" for many unique children. Imagine if every family on a block was homeschooling, with one parent (or even two parents) from each household around the block all the time, and that all these other families had a lot of income from this plan. Any child growing up in a neglectful house next-door would then have lots of places to turn for help in this local village ("it takes a village to raise a child"), lots of sympathetic adults with their own children, willing to extend a helping hand to one more kid. And it would be real neighbor-to-neighbor help, by neighbors with significant incomes already related to helping children, not institutionalized help that is often just someone going through the motions or by someone who is overwhelmed and has no real solutions to offer. I would suggest the overall outcome would be better across NYS, even for the cases of children with neglectful parents, who would always remember the kindness of the adults in their local village and want to follow that role model. Also, many "bad parents" today may be cracking under the pressure of needing to earn a living while raising kids in such kid-unfriendly communities, so, this proposal might reduce the stress level of such parents, in turn reducing the total amount of neglectful parents pursuing addictive escapist behavior. No doubt there would still be some failures, but the current system has lots of examples of schooled kids and their families failing (including about 30% that don't graduate on time or at all), so this approach doesn't have to be perfect -- it just has to be significantly better that what we have now.

But isn't this just Soviet-Style "Communism"? The big difference is that the money mostly goes to individuals to spend in the market, not by the state to spend on their behalf, so the market structure is still in place. (Even though one would expect a state to make some public investments into things that only states could easily do or plan for.) It is true some millionaires may be less motivated to become billionaires with a high progressive tax rate or substantial property taxes (perhaps even progressive property taxes). But, there are lots of people in New York State who would be willing to work hard and create new businesses and new non-profits if given the chance, but the can't for lack of money, because it usually takes money to make money. This gives them the chance. So, the marketplace will function better with wealth spread around, even if some millionaires may be encouraged to enjoy their wealth more than try to get even more of it on their way to financial obesity. Ultimately, all wealth rests on the commons. And every human being has a claim on some part of the commons. But a market system without regulation or taxation has no way of assuring everyone's claim on the commons is recognized. That is why people starve or go homeless amidst plenty (according to Frances Moore Lappe).

Some might argue that such a system would just get families to have more children. Well, really, what is wrong with that? Most of the industrialized world is facing lower than replacement birth rates, in part because raising children is so hard in a consumerist society. It is hard work raising kids well (even as it is best not to think of it as "work"), as any parent soon discovers (although it is rewarding hard work in many ways, even if not financially rewarding). Why discourage that hard work of being a good parent? Why not help those who want to be parents be the best parents they can be, including by taking away financial worries? And between Nanosolar PV electric panels, algae turned into biofuels, zero-emission manufacturing, advanced recycling, 3D printing, organic farming, composting toilets, and even newer new technologies (thing that are in the works that do more with less or make new resources available in environmentally responsible ways), there is no reason more children can not be accommodated in NYS or on the Earth. And NASA has in the past had plans for ways to support literally trillions of people in space habitats in the long term. Other people are developing ways to live on human-made islands in the oceans, with beachfront property for almost everyone. So, there is plenty of room for more people to live in harmony with Gaia. And the more well educated imaginative people there are, the more people there are to solve the challenges of the 21st century and beyond, as Julian Simon suggests in "The Ultimate Resource". That is the major reason why in NYS adopted this policy it would become a model of success the entire country, and even the world. Redirecting this money would free the imagination of all New Yorkers to soar and bring abundance to New York and then the entire planet and solar system. Sure, there would be more kids someday. Maybe even trillions of happy kids throughout the solar system. Let us hope.

There is another valid objection by schools that "special needs" kids should get a bigger amount of the funding, and so they could not give everyone the average. One possibility is to give a lesser amount to every family (excluding the special needs aspect of the budget), and shift the special needs funds to a needs-based charity program like Medicaid which would then be responsible for providing supplemental funding for acknowledged medical or psychological issues. Many of the families with the most profoundly disabled children already can get Medicaid for their children, so this might not be much more paperwork. This would breaking the link between labeling kids and the schools power over families. Then, any family with "special needs" (however that is defined), would make their case to Medicaid and receive money to spend on whatever educational services were appropriate from whoever supplied them (public or private). For families with kids who have some lesser special needs (dyslexia, speech therapy, special interests), the extra $20K per family would be spent as the family wished to get what services they needed, given, to an extent, all kids are "special".

So, I suggest that New York State pick a few districts, and try out this idea. I'd volunteer mine, but it might seem to self-serving. :-) But I have little doubt that if a few districts tried this, within a few years, all school districts in New York State would start moving to this new model of letting the parents decide how to spend $20K a year per child. And the New York State economy would start to grow again, faster and faster. From:
    http://www.educationanddemocracy.org/FSCfiles/C_CC2a_TripleRevolution.htm

The continuance of the income-through-jobs link as the only major mechanism for distributing effective demand -- for granting the right to consume -- now acts as the main brake on the almost unlimited capacity of a cybernated productive system.

Anyway, just more procrastination while I need to fill out NYS homeschooling paperwork. :-)

--Paul Fernhout
http://www.pdfernhout.net/

Note: I hereby put the text of this message under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license:
    http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/