Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Educator Discount Cards for Homeschoolers, Taxes, and Costs of Homeschooling

Some stores which offer discount cards to teachers also grant these discounts to homeschoolers.

Just about all of the book store chains grant discounts. In my area there are discount book stores called “Book Warehouse” which also offer an “educator discount”. (However I find that I save more by buying new books from Amazon if I can get free shipping to boot. However there are occasions when browsing in a book store is a fun thing to do so having one of the discount cards to use in local chain stores is a good thing.)

Independent book stores sometimes (rarely) will grant educator discount cards to homeschoolers. In my experience the local independent book store owners do give school-teacher discount cards but refuse to give the same discount to homeschoolers. One owner told me that as a homeschooling parent, in her eyes, I am the same as ‘just a parent buying books for their child’.

In order to obtain the discount cards you must first inquire if the store has such a program. Then you inquire as to what their application process is.

The first obstacle you MAY encounter is that the store does let homeschoolers have the discount card but IGNORANT employees may not realize this. I have personally experienced this at Barnes and Noble stores and at Borders stores. These problems also occurred when:

a. I had a current, valid educator discount card but when the employee didn’t like the entry of “homeschool” so they chose to try and not honor the already-approved card
b. I tried to renew an expired card which had obviously been approved by store staff (or the store manager) in the past

If a store employee tries to deny you the discount card and you are sure that the store does grant this discount to homeschoolers (as learned from other local homeschoolers or as you read on the internet from other homeschoolers or from the company’s website)…what you should do is ask to speak to the store manager.

I have found that I am always asked for written proof that I am homeschooling. In my state this can be tricky as the state does not issue any kind of written approval or proof that I am homeschooling my children. Store employees in this state, though, do ask for written proof from the state. I have to explain that the state does not issue any such thing. I have even been asked for a union card! I explain then that not only am I not part of a union (!) but that I am not paid by anyone to teach my own children! I have been asked for some kind of proof in the form of a school id card. I remember reading in “The Home School Source Book” by Jan and Don Reed that their family made up their own school identification cards using their home computer and home printer. I have not gone that far. Another kind of ID that can be used is a membership card to show membership in a local or state homeschooling support group; that is what I use.

On rare occasions the store manager will hesitate or deny the discount card. Last week, on January 3, I was denied a renewal of an educator discount card (which I have had for over five years) because my state homeschool support group card had expired on Dec 31st. I didn’t realize the card expired on December 31st until I took it out of my wallet, because in the past the cards ran with an academic year dated calendar rather than a calendar year time frame. So last week the store manager agreed to give me a discount for that day’s purchases but refused to renew my card. She insisted that I reapply after getting a new identification card. Part of the silliness is that it is unlikely that I would homeschool my children up to December 31 then move them to a school on January 1. The last comment she made to me which was kind of random and unwarranted was that “Many parents read to their children but we don’t give all of them discounts”. I guess she was thinking that my saying that we homeschool was a lie. At the time this happened I was miffed but didn’t get angry. I had my mind on traveling the rest of the 300 miles north that I was going. (The book store was 200 miles away from my home and was a good way for me to take a break from the long drive.) However now that I am home I am annoyed at her comment and the denial of the renewal of the educator discount card.

In my state we do not receive any kind of property (school) tax break or any reimbursement from any government body for homeschooling my children. We do not have a voucher system to reimburse any parents for using a private school either. We pay over $15K in town property taxes a year and the town is happy that my two children don’t attend their schools. The cost in my town for an elementary or middle school student is $9500 per student per year and the spending on a high school student is $14,500 per year.

Okay I am going off on a tangent but will continue….

In an effort to curb the number of houses built in this town and to try to not have too many new homes with school aged children in them (lest the need for bigger and new schools arise), the town had passed a 3 acre zoning law for the northern half of our town. If you were a developer and had 3 acres to build a house on and wanted to make as much money as possible what you do in terms of the size of the house that you would build? It doesn’t take much logic or common sense to think “bigger house = more profit”. So the houses that are being built now have 5 bedrooms and some have an in-law or au pair apartment. (The apartments are being used by elderly relatives or a Nanny). Guess who is buying the big houses? People with lots of kids. A family with a single child or two children is the minority and a rarity in my town. Three children is “the norm” and four is becoming more and more common. Let’s do the math. Say a home owner of a big house is paying $20K in taxes and has 4 kids in elementary and middle school that is a cost of $38K. Guess who the town relies on to make up the difference? People who have children and don’t use the school system (they are using private schooling or homeschooling) or empty nesters, or senior citizens. Guess who is now asking for tax breaks? Senior citizens on fixed incomes who can’t keep up with rising taxes, fueled by rising education costs. (I don’t blame them.) Guess who bears more of a burden to make up that difference? The younger people who are working.

Anyway one reason I brought that up is that as a homeschooler we get nothing from the town or state by way of any kind of discount on taxes or any supplies or books given to us. All of the expense of educating our children is an out of pocket expense.

Some homeschoolers will brag about how an education can be gotten for free by using library books. In my area this is not really realistic or the norm, as many homeschoolers take various classes and uses paid/private sports (since we don’t have access to participate with school-based extra-curricular activities). This can all add up very quickly. It is common that a class of one kind or another costs $10 per hour per child. Some classes that my children are eligible to participate in (at our town’s community center) have even been upwards of $25 per 50 minute session! If a child does one or two sports, an art class and an academic class (i.e. Audubon nature class) you can see how the costs can add up quickly.

One way that homeschoolers can get teaching for free is to do a co-op. this is not truly free as the parent must volunteer their time and energy to plan and participate with some of the teaching in a co-op. So while this does not represent a financial cost to a family, it is one more thing that takes time and energy for the homeschooling parent.

I don’t quite know how to sum up this blog entry other than to say that one thing that homeschoolers do is sacrifice time and money to educate their children. First there is the loss of the income of the parent who is homeschooling the child. (Yes I know some parents work part time or full time while homeschooling their kids but this is not the norm--in my area at least.) There are expenses to buy curriculum or textbooks or books or teacher guides or books to help us plan our homeschooling journey, or in the least, good literature for our children to read (some of which cannot be found in local libraries). Not all that we need is available in a library and some of this we need for a longer term than the usual library check-out time period.

Okay I have to stop writing now and get back to homeschooling my kids and other household duties.

1 comment:

cinnamon said...

Homeschooling definitely requires a sacrifice of time and funds...and nothing could be more worth it. :) I have had good luck getting educator's discounts at B&N and the Book Warehouse outlets you mentioned. I was thrilled last year when B&N allowed the discount on a Bible and commentary I purchased for our lessons.