For Immediate Release: The success or failure of public funding for homeschooling rides on how it is structured
Canton, Ma., 02/17/2017—Over the past year, the question of public funding for homeschoolers has garnered increased attention. This past September, Donald Trump promised to create a school choice program that included homeschooling; last week, the Senate confirmed Betsy DeVos, a supporter of school choice and vouchers, as Secretary of Education. “The idea of public funding for homeschooled students is not new,” said Rachel Coleman, executive director of the Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE), a national nonprofit organization that advocates for homeschooled children. “What’s new is the idea of promoting public funding for homeschooled students from the federal level.”
The idea of vouchers for homeschooled students has already been broached in Congress. On January 23rd, Rep. Steve King (IA) introduced House Resolution 610 in the United States House of Representatives. This legislation would repeal the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 and restrict the Department of Education to one function only—awarding block grants to states that agree to comply with an education voucher system. Under this program, local educational agencies would be required to distribute funds to students who attend private schools or who are homeschooled, in a manner that ensures that the money will be used for educational purposes. HR 610 has only three co-sponsors.
“While HR 610 is unlikely to pass, the question of public funding for homeschoolers is likely here to stay,” said Coleman. “Our primary concern is ensuring that public funding is always accompanied by accountability.” CRHE runs Homeschooling’s Invisible Children, which catalogues cases where homeschooling has been used to hide abuse or neglect. In a number of these cases, unscrupulous parents have fraudulently used subsidies for the care of adopted children with special needs, pocketing the money and abusing the children; these actions have gone unnoticed because the children are not attending school. CRHE is also aware of cases where neglectful parents have opted to homeschool without any intention of educating their children, solely in order to avoid the effort of taking their children to school every day. “Only a handful of states require assessments for homeschooled students; most states never ask for evidence that education is taking place,” said Coleman. “In the absence of accountability, providing public funding for homeschooling risks creating an incentive for neglectful parents to pull their children from school solely in order to pocket the money.”
A number of states present case studies for how public funding can enhance homeschooled children’s experiences—but only when it goes hand in hand with accountability. Minnesota gives homeschooled students access to the public health and guidance and counseling services provided by their local public schools. Other states allow homeschooled students to enroll in individual public school classes, or to participate in public school athletics or extracurricular activities. In Iowa, school districts run “Home School Assistance Programs” that provide homeschooling families with access to teachers and educational resources. An estimated majority of Alaska’s homeschooled children are enrolled in the state’s popular “correspondence school” programs, which provide parents with $2,000 per child for education-related expenses. These programs require quarterly progress reports and annual testing, and give parents access to resource centers and certified teachers as they design their homeschool courses and choose curriculum. All of these options expand the public resources available to homeschooling families.
“We know that homeschooled children can benefit from publicly funded resources, as well as from public funding for textbooks or tutoring,” said Coleman. “But these programs have to be implemented in a way that ensures accountability and avoids incentivizing fraud, working against children’s interest in a quality education.”
The Coalition for Responsible Home Education is a national organization founded by homeschool alumni and dedicated to raising awareness of the need for homeschooling reform, providing public policy guidance, and advocating for responsible home education practices.
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