Imagine a network of alternative schools designed to support
homeschooling. Imagine thousands of new families flocking into
homeschooling because we are now able to provide support services such
as tutoring and testing, curriculum products, libraries, and computer
technology—none of it costing parents a penny! Imagine homeschoolers
connected to each other state-wide by multimedia computers, satellite
video, and toll-free telephone numbers. Imagine a free PC-compatible 486
computer and laser printer, plus free texts—for each homeschooling
family! Imagine giving each homeschooled child $5,500 per year in
products and services—with only 20 percent going to administrative
It’s not just your imagination. It’s real. What’s
more, it’s happening in a state that was once among the most
hostile to homeschoolers—Michigan.
What is it? The Noah Webster Academy, a “charter school.”
Noah Webster is the brainchild of Home School Legal Defense Association
(HSLDA) attorney David Kallman, who fought for the rights of
homeschoolers in the well-known DeJonge v. Michigan case. Now Kallman
has helped create a high-tech marvel which has already brought in over
750 students—many new to homeschooling. And he has helped birth the
“charter schools movement” in Michigan. These schools, like Noah
Webster, want to provide services that enhance and support
homeschooling. They widen the net to include families who would not
otherwise have educated their children at home.
Furthermore, Noah Webster plans to support the teaching of creation,
morals, and the Christian religion for those who want it—namely, the
majority of their homeschooling families.
As of September four new schools like Noah Webster were scheduled to
open. Another 35 or so were in the planning stages.
Sounds great? Well, maybe not. You see, there is a large fly in the
ointment. Every dime to support these “charter” homeschools comes from
the state, at taxpayer expense. Charter schools are funded solely by
Needless to say, the whole thing has stirred up a hornets’ nest in
Michigan. We are not surprised to find the NEA pouring money into suits
filed against Noah Webster, or the ACLU preparing to join the fray to
oppose what they view as public funding of religious teaching.
Some major homeschooling leaders also oppose Noah Webster. Inge Cannon,
of the National Center for Home Education, told PHS that NCHE is against
using tax money for homeschooling. HSLDA informed us that they also
strongly, and officially, disagree with the Noah Webster concept.
Well-known author and educator Sam Blumenfeld agrees: “The all-powerful
state will not pay homeschoolers to be free. They will pay them to
become slaves.” Strong words!
Eugene Newman, the President of the Christian Home Educators of Michigan
(CHEM), has been particularly vocal in his opposition to Noah Webster—in
spite of his long-standing friendship with Noah Webster’s founder,
David Kallman. Newman recently issued a detailed position paper warning
of moral problems and practical dangers associated with any private or
home school accepting tax money —especially if they are fully
state-funded. Its central points were reprinted in the Blumenfeld
Newman thinks local homeschool groups should refuse to give goods and
services to state-funded homeschoolers. He feels it is unfair to have
some parents pay for services (such as field trips) out of their own
pockets, while others buy them with state dollars. And Newman is
squeamish about homeschool support groups accepting state voucher
dollars for their products and services, in light of the government
strings that follow any receipt of tax dollars.
Needless to say, the situation within the Michigan homeschooling
community has become tense. The arguments on both sides are essentially
the same associated with any talk of government vouchers for private
education. Is this simply financial help to allow people of any income
and education to have decent education free from government tentacles?
Or does it extend the reach of state control, and blur the distinction
between the private realms of family and church, and the public domain
of the state?
Newman admits that what Noah Webster plans to actually deliver is
exciting and valuable. Meanwhile, Kallman admits that state money could
lead to unacceptable restrictions in the future. He says that when and
if this happens, homeschoolers involved in charter schools will have to
leave the public coffers and fend for themselves.
So why does all this educational and technical wizardry have to be done
with state money? Why not create similar charter schools and co-op
schools with volunteers, a small professional staff, and significant
grant money supplied by corporations? Why not tap private capital and
initiative to support private, innovative, alternative education?
This brings us right back to the subject of business partnerships with
homeschools. PHS asked both David Kallman and Eugene Newman this
question: “Why not avoid all the potential problems of accepting state
money by asking private corporations to supply much of the needed
capital, and even technical support, to make projects like Noah Webster
Eugene Newman, who is also a businessman and the vice president of a
pharmaceutical company, was enthusiastic about the idea. He feels that,
properly done, this could provide all the advantages of Noah Webster
without the government strings. It also, he says, represents a good
investment for corporations, who depend on a moral and educated work
force for their survival. More from Newman:
I think that having corporations back the kind of services that Noah
Webster is trying to provide would be a very creative approach. This
would be a helpful and constructive thing because business has a vested
interest in a literate and competent workforce. To go to businesses—and
religious institutions, too—and appeal to them for support is something
that could work.
First of all, it remains private. Second, the accountability of an
effort by, say, a group of home educators going to a large corporation
would be great. Large corporations are much more responsive—this is
their money. It is also not a political process in the same sense as
federal or state governments. Corporate politics are a more benign form
of politics than what we see in state or federal governments.
When you go to business the relationship you have with them is
contractual—they can’t change the conditions later. And it is a
much more professional relationship. They expect accountability and
results. The success you can expect from this kind of relationship is
much greater than one with the State.
But most importantly, it’s not at the expense of anyone else!
It’s not creating a situation that is going to be coercive for
people who are not direct beneficiaries. This is voluntary for both
parties. But the State must force people to give. Most people would not
voluntarily give money to the State. They would rather contribute to
private entities where there is more accountability and efficiency.
David Kallman agreed that, all things considered, private capital in
sufficient quantities would be preferable to government dollars. He also
pointed out that he had tried this route with little success:
Big corporations won’t give you the time of day. If you can find
someone who is going to be successful in saying to some corporation
“Please give us 20 million dollars a year so we can have 3,000 students
in a private school—we’re going to have computer networks and all
that”—more power to you. It’s not going to work. And that’s
what we’re talking about here, in terms of having companies
supporting the charter schools.
We tried to get money from corporations for this early on. You have to
be the son of a CEO, or have an “in” with somebody, or they’re not
going to give you the time of day. Even now, they won’t help us
with the computer side of what we’re doing. You’d think
they’d be busting down our doors—after all, we have over 700
families! But they see all the risks.
Right now, corporations aren’t convinced that money spent on
public education is wasted. So what we’re doing now is to try to
get them to shift some of that money they’ve dedicated to public
schools to the [public] charter schools. We’re saying, “Here is
something new that might really have an impact—why don’t you try
it out?” But corporations don’t want to spend money on something
until it’s been tried and has worked. And they’re concerned
about legal challenges—they don’t want to invest until all that is
Kallman’s experience brings a healthy dose of realism to the
discussion about how to get corporations to back efforts by
homeschoolers. We are not going to simply stick out our hands and have
businesses fill them with cash!
Of course, the money Noah Webster has obtained from the state
hasn’t come too easily, either. Nor, in the midst of numerous
lawsuits, and the possible of future restrictions, is Noah
Webster’s future very certain.
The fact that Kallman was trying to provide a total replacement for
public schools undoubtedly made it tougher for him to raise funds. Such
a radical idea is a political hot potato that could frighten away
conservative corporate sponsors. Also, the hefty per-pupil price tag
might have been a corporate stumbling block. More modest projects, such
as a well-equipped educational resource library, might well do better.
Kallman did point out that he was handicapped in approaching
corporations, because, unlike public schools with their hands out for
funds, he did not have the support and help of any national
organization. We can learn from his experience that we need such an
organization to supply materials, information, referrals, and
As a start, we are setting aside part of PHS’s new area on America
Online (keyword: PHS) for our Business-Homeschool Partnership Project.
Businesses that wish to partner with homeschool groups, and homeschool
groups that wish to partner with businesses, are both encouraged to post
their contact information in our area.
We also encourage any reader with experience or ideas about how to set
up and maintain good partnership projects to post that information. We
will be happy to allow this use of our online area as a clearinghouse
and catalyst for groups to pull together their own projects. And of
course, we hope to be able to report on some of your success stories in
Let’s think about building bridges to local and national
businesses. Let’s pool our experience. Once businesses have tested
and tried us, and seen the relative advantages of grants to homeschool
groups versus grants to public schools, we are sure many of them will
realize that working with homeschoolers is a “win-win”