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The law will create perverse incentives by giving parents who homeschool up to $7,000 per child in unaccountable public funds.
The Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE), the nation’s only nonpartisan advocacy organization founded and run by homeschool alumni to advocate for homeschooled children, condemns Arizona’s recently signed universal school voucher law. This law will provide substantial funds to families whose children are not enrolled in public school, including homeschooled children. “Giving homeschooling parents substantial public funds without any meaningful accountability is reckless,” says CRHE interim executive director Kieryn Darkwater. “This law offers a cash incentive to keep children out of public school but does nothing to make sure those children receive a quality education.”
The voucher law gives any Arizona family that chooses to not send their child to public school the option to receive a debit card with approximately $7,000. Families can use the funds for expenses related to private school, religious school, homeschool, and other educational methods. Arizona lawmakers rejected any measures for financial or academic accountability to the voucher law. “Public funds need public accountability. If the state provides funds directly to homeschooling families, those families need to prove how they spend the funds,” says Darkwater. “Unmonitored debit card transactions don’t provide the accountability that taxpayers deserve. Even worse, they do nothing to make sure families use the funds to serve their child’s needs.”
Some states’ lawmakers have become concerned about the abuse of similar direct-aid methods, such as adoption subsidies. These subsidies have been criticized for incentivizing parents with no actual interest in children to adopt older children or children with disabilities to receive a financial payout. In some high-profile cases, children whose parents received substantial subsidies for adopting them have been found tortured or murdered. When they murder their adopted children, these parents often hide their deaths so that they can continue to collect cash subsidies. “Most parents try their best to love and care for their children. But unfortunately, not all parents have their children’s best interests at heart,” says Darkwater. “That’s why lawmakers must be careful to not provide perverse incentives to keep children out of public schools. This law will encourage some parents to remove their children from public school just to pocket out the state handout and not out of any real desire to educate their children at home.”
Darkwater warns the state’s homeschool law is already easy to exploit. “Like most states in the U.S., Arizona’s homeschool laws are worryingly minimal. State law requires homeschooling parents to notify local school districts about their intent to homeschool each year, and it also requires them to teach their homeschooled children certain subjects. But there’s no law that requires homeschooled children to get an academic assessment.” Darkwater says. “The state law does essentially nothing to make sure parents who say they are homeschooling their children are actually doing so.”
Furthermore, Arizona’s homeschooling law has no measures to protect homeschooled children from dangerous home environments. Arizona is one of 48 U.S. states without any law to prevent people convicted of crimes against children or troubled histories with social services from homeschooling. The tragic stories of homeschooled children like Sanaa Cunningham and Ame Deal, who were tortured and murdered by their families; Machelle Hobson’s 11 children, whom she imprisoned and abused; and the child of Scott and Andrea Bass, who was imprisoned in a dungeon by her family, illustrate the devastating realities of Arizona’s complete lack of oversight for homeschooling families, one that abusive caregivers freely exploit to isolate, neglect, and abuse children.
Darkwater says CRHE frequently receives emails from homeschooling parents who want support and resources from their school districts. “We understand lawmakers’ desire to support homeschooling families,” they say. “The needs of both homeschooling parents and homeschooled children are best met not by a blank check, but by more holistic support.”
Darkwater points to Alaska’s district-run homeschool programs and Iowa’s Home School Assistance Programs as examples of public programs that provide holistic support for both homeschooling parents and homeschooled children. In Alaska, districts receive per-pupil state funding for homeschooled students, and provide parents with reimbursement for curriculum, tutoring, and other expenses and access to district-run resource centers, athletics, and enrichment classes. While Alaska’s program began without any unaccountability for homeschooling families accepting funds, the state later implemented accountability measures after multiple rounds of abuse of public funds by homeschooling parents. Iowa’s district-run programs operate similarly: they receive state funding, offer homeschooling parents access to homeschool resource centers, and give homeschooled children access to public school programs, classes, and other support services.
“Homeschooling families benefit most from programs that provide both support and accountability,” says Darkwater. “Arizona’s universal school voucher law doesn’t.”
The Coalition for Responsible Home Education empowers homeschooled children by educating the public and advocating for child-centered, evidence-based policy and practices for families and professionals.