Alumni Group to WV: ESAs Are Not the Best Way to Support Homeschooled Students

For Immediate Release: District-run policies in Alaska and Iowa serve as models for publicly funded homeschool support

Canton, Ma., 2/14/2019—The Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE), a national nonprofit organization that advocates for homeschooled children, is urging West Virginia lawmakers to take a more holistic approach to supporting the state’s homeschooled children than that currently included in discussions surrounding the omnibus education spending bill. “Creating Education Savings Accounts for a limited number of new homeschooled students would not provide the vast majority of the state’s homeschooled students with the sort of meaningful support their families need,” said Dr. Rachel Coleman, CRHE’s executive director, referencing one proposal included in some versions of the bill. “West Virginia lawmakers could better support all homeschooled students by granting these students access to public school athletics, services for students with disabilities, or other public school programs which which are currently off limits to most homeschoolers.”

“Good homeschool policy considers the needs of all homeschooled children, not a select few,” said Coleman. Some versions of Senate Bill 541 have proposed to create up to 2,500 Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) for children currently in public school who are subsequently withdrawn and enrolled in a private school or homeschooled. Families with household incomes less than $150,000 would be eligible. These accounts would receive 75% of students’ per-pupil state aid, or around $3,000. There are currently 10,000 students being homeschooled in West Virginia; these students would not be eligible for an ESA.

“There are better ways for states to support homeschooled students than ESAs,” said Coleman. “The best programs bring resources to both homeschooled students and the districts that support them. Alaska’s district-run homeschool programs and Iowa’s Home School Assistance Programs are excellent examples, and should be emulated.”

In Alaska, school districts run programs that enroll homeschooled children. Districts receive 90% of the students’ per-pupil allowance from the state; parents receive $2,000 per child in reimbursements for education expenses, and are assigned a teacher who helps answer questions and support students’ progress. Many of these programs also offer homeschool resource centers, where students can take enrichment classes. Iowa’s district-run programs operate similarly—they receive state funding, offer homeschooling parents access to homeschool resource centers, and grant homeschooled children access to public school programs, classes, and support services. Homeschooled students with disabilities have access to district resources; districts receive funding for the services they provide.

“When states do provide public funding directly for homeschooled students, as is proposed in some versions of SB 451, it is imperative that the expenditures be accounted for,” Coleman added. In Alaska, there are strict guidelines surrounding what expenses can and cannot be reimbursed. Lawmakers in some states have become concerned about abuse of other forms of direct-aid, such as adoption subsidies, which can incentivize parents to adopt older children or children with disabilities in order to receive the money. “Unfortunately, not all parents have their children’s best interests at heart. Some parents may homeschool to hide drug problems, cover up parental neglect, or avoid mandatory reporters,” said Coleman. “Providing funding without accountability could encourage parents to choose homeschooling for a financial payout, without considering their children’s best interests. If lawmakers include ESAs in teh final version of SB 451, they must take steps to prevent the system from being abused.”

“We are pleased to see West Virginia lawmakers thinking about the needs of the state’s homeschooled students,” Coleman said. “We urge them to include provisions that benefit all of the state’s homeschooled students, while also supporting school districts.”

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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