The kids are eating chips and yogurts for dinner again, your husband is drying off with paper towels, you keep forgetting that you’re actually sitting down to pay bills when you open your laptop, and you’re not sure how you got to the point where dozens of people were emailing you expecting support, but here you are.
When I first began informally coaching homeschooling mothers who were launching hybrid programs in 2013, it seemed as though we were all in the same boat, overwhelmed and at the brink of sacrificing the sanity of our own homes in an attempt to provide community for our families.
I learned, though it took many years and many failures, that in order to provide support to others outside of my family, I had to have systems in place and information organized in order to to not spend all my time putting out fires.
I did all of this without pay, never realizing a profit for 16 years of homeschooling and advocating.
When I was asked to serve as Legislative Liaison for our homeschool support group, I had to put some real thought into it.
I knew I did not want to generate what I could not sustain. How much time would I need to dedicate to this role? Could I pick up that commitment without having to take away too much time from our homeschool? What type of backend infrastructure would be required to collect, store, and deliver information?
Ultimately, I said yes because it was going to be seasonal, and I had a great support system with my parents and my older children.
When I was introduced to parent leaders in the school choice space in the fall of 2021, I learned that many of them were providing services above what I would consider volunteer work. They were organizing regular meetings, taking appointments with stakeholders, and supporting coalition partners with initiatives that depended on parental involvement.
What was the difference between their work and mine?
No one was profiting from my work.
It’s one thing for me to take an hour to hold a meeting with another homeschooling mother who needs some pointers to run her hybrid program that doesn’t make anyone a penny, it’s another for me to take an hour to provide local expertise to a lobbyist looking to pass a bill that is bringing their organization in a major contract.
I do understand that there are advocates whose voluntary efforts help raise awareness, help paint pictures, and help shine light on the potential for school choice programs.
But when someone is providing a service, someone like Tillie Elvrum, a powerhouse advocate whose insight and mentorship helps prevent burnout in leaders across the country, who should be paying for that?
Do we really expect parents to pay for navigation support?
I do not want to propose that I have the role of a parent leader sorted out. I do want to have the conversation. I do want to ask ed reformers what they are doing to support parent leaders so that they can continue to do the work.
I launched West Virginia Families United for Education to remove barriers, guide parents, and support providers through the transformation of K-12 education in the Mountain State. This work requires my attention more than 40 hours a week. It requires travel. It requires backend systems that our newest employee said blew her mind. But because of our commitment to high quality customer service, parents continue to say they come to us for up-to-date accurate information. Our work makes other people money, and it supports efforts of numerous organizations involved in the movement. I am regularly relied upon for answering questions, providing data, and delivering feedback based on my full-time work, yet we do not have sustainable funding. How do we ensure our work is around for years to come?
Well, we have decided to work to keep information free to parents and to generate revenue through multiple efforts to sustain our work, I can’t help but wonder what is to come in other states who pass similar programs.
Vouchers are vouchers. Point A to Point B.
Unbundled ESAs that are promoted as the a la carte feast, the make-it-your-way individualized experience that is student-focused is a different animal.
And for them to work as they are designed to work, I do believe we will see the local in-state expert parent leaders rising to the occasion to support families and providers with implementation services.
The question remains.
If that is part of the parent leader’s role, who pays for that?