For Immediate Release: District-run programs in Alaska and Iowa serve as better models for publicly funded homeschool support than Education Savings Accounts
02/17/2020—The Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE), a national nonprofit organization that advocates for homeschooled children, is urging Maryland lawmakers to oppose Maryland Senate Bill 418, which would create Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) for students who attend private school or homeschool. “If Maryland lawmakers truly want to support homeschooled children, we recommend a model that offers both children and parents more holistic support than Education Savings Accounts do,” says Dr. Rachel Coleman, CRHE’s executive director. “Homeschooled students in Maryland cannot enroll in individual public school classes, participate in public school athletics, or receive disability services at a public school. If lawmakers want to support homeschooled children, this is where they should start.”
Coleman 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, while providing funding to public school districts. In Alaska, districts receive per-pupil funding from the state for homeschooled students enrolled in popular district-run programs; parents receive reimbursement for curriculum, tutoring, and other expenses, and benefit from district-run resource centers, athletics, and enrichment classes. Iowa’s district-run programs operate similarly, receiving state funding, offering homeschooling parents access to homeschool resource centers, and granting 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 monetary support is provided directly to homeschooling families, it is imperative that expenditures be accounted for,” Coleman says. In Alaska, there are strict guidelines surrounding what expenses can and cannot be reimbursed. Coleman adds that any monetary support provided directly to homeschooling families should be offered as reimbursement for approved educational expenses only. According to CRHE, direct support programs like those in Alaska work best when they are offered as part of a comprehensive program that maintains relationships between families and districts and provides long term accountability.
Lawmakers in some states have become concerned about abuse of other forms of direct-aid such as adoption subsidies, which have been criticized for incentivizing parents with no actual interest in children to adopt older children or children with disabilities in order to receive a financial payout. “Unfortunately,” Coleman says, “not all parents have their children’s best interests at heart. Some parents use homeschooling to cover up parental neglect or avoid mandatory reporters,” she adds. “When offering families public funds for keeping their children out of public schools, lawmakers must be careful not to provide perverse incentives.”
Coleman warns that oversight of homeschooling in Maryland is so minimal it is effectively nonexistent. “While school districts theoretically have the authority to assess homeschooled children’s academic progress, few if any actually do so,” she says. “Lawmakers should strive to create policies that provide homeschooled students with holistic forms of support,” she says. Coleman notes that her organization frequently receives emails from homeschooling parents who want support and resources from their school districts. “The needs of homeschooling parents and homeschooled children are not best met by a cash handout,” she concludes.
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.