The Need for Accountability

By Bill Mefford

I heard over the weekend the horrific story of parents in Paris, CA who held their thirteen children captive in their own home in torturous conditions. The law enforcement who rescued the children thought they were all minors due to the fact that they looked so malnourished even though their ages ranged as high as 29. Most of us cannot even begin to imagine why or how someone could do this to any child, much less to their own children. It is sickening even to think of.

As a side note to this story, it seems the parents were able to shield their children from exposure to any outside authorities because the parents home-schooled their kids. Now, I am the first person to say we cannot effectively legislate when it is done from cherry-picking the most horrendous events and ascribing all people or institutions impacted by that event as typical. Yet, this has been done time and time again, especially in regards to people of color:

  • In 1986, after the Boston Celtics chose University of Maryland basketball superstar Len Bias in the NBA draft, Bias died of an overdose of cocaine. It was wrongly identified as crack cocaine (due largely to the racist stereotype that Black people only used crack instead of powder cocaine) and because he was chosen by the Celtics, then-Speaker of the House, Tip O’Neill sped through legislation – without any hearings or studies –  that created harsher sentences for crack cocaine rather than powder cocaine. This essentially ballooned the prison population and resulted in mass incarceration of African American men.
  • When Ronald Reagan was running for office he talked often about “welfare queens” who collected welfare checks and lived in luxury off of government handouts. Now, this story was entirely false, but the myth lived on in conservative imaginations until 1996 when conservatives, led by Newt Gingrich in collaboration with President Clinton, passed “welfare reform,” which drastically limited the number of years struggling people could have access to necessary services.
  • Most recently, when an undocumented immigrant accidentally shot a woman in San Francisco, Kate Steinle, Congress did not pass common sense gun violence prevention legislation. No, instead, they decided to say that every “Sanctuary City” (a city whose law enforcement refuses to serve as federal immigration officials) must no longer be allowed to receive federal funding. They did this because one woman was shot accidentally even though so-called sanctuary cities tend to be safer places than many municipalities whose law enforcement work hand in hand with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.

Legislating based on the most extreme anecdotes is indeed problematic. However, at the same time, can it not be said that had the Turpin children been in a public school there is a better than average chance that a teacher or school administrator would have noticed how malnourished they are? Wouldn’t a high quality teacher have inquired about one of the children’s home life to see if something was wrong? As the answers to these questions are likely to be yes, then isn’t it worth it to do all we can to ensure that children receive the best attention both at home and in our public service institutions such as public schools?

One of the many problems with home schools and voucher systems that allow public money to be used, at taxpayer expense, for private and oftentimes religious schools, is that there is no system of accountability for home or private schools.

Taken from the National Coalition for Public Education, here are some important things to keep in mind about a lack of accountability:

  • Many voucher schools hire teachers that simply are not qualified, with some states not even requiring private school teachers to hold bachelor’s degrees.
  • Voucher programs also frequently fail to enforce the minimal educational standards required by law.
  • In Florida, voucher schools took public funds for kids not even attending those schools!

And in my online search I failed to find any state boards of education that regularly visited home-schools, such as the one the Turpin family ran, as there are simply too many home-schools for them to regularly visit and ensure that the physical site is safe and equipped for teaching children.

I know that this horrendous story is not endemic; that most home-school parents are not holding their children captive in torture-like conditions. Most home school parents are loving and dedicated. However, more questions must be asked about the capability of home-school parents to teach their children adequately and if, as so many home-school parents are Christians, if this is the best form of missional engagement for Jesus-seeking parents. We should not write legislation based on this terrible story, but hopefully, this story will provoke us to ask necessary questions. And if we do ask good questions, the answers should always lead us to doing everything we can to ensure the best outcomes for our children and that must mean better forms of accountability for voucher and home schools.

And as a longtime parent of public school kids I believe that doing the best for our children means strengthening public education.

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