Homeschooling can thrive with school choice policies

My conversations with families who home educate have revealed their mixed feelings on school choice policies — there are those who want to be included and those who are concerned it opens the door to potential government overreach and new mandates.

Concern over possible regulations is understandable, and we should always be vigilant against government overreach, but we can remain so and still empower parents.

new report from ExcelinEd shows how policymakers can enact school choice policy (Education Scholarship Accounts or ESAs) that provides students educational opportunity while protecting hybrid homeschooling and traditional homeschooling.

As home education continues to grow as a viable schooling alternative, and as states continue to pass bills expanding educational freedom, it’s important model legislation “explicitly protects the autonomy of education providers from additional state control, especially pertaining to curriculum, creed and admission policies,” notes ExcelinEd. “This can help assuage at least some families’ fears of experiencing government overreach.”

At the end of the day, participation in a school choice program, including an ESA program, is voluntary. “Families can certainly keep their space to educate without government interference, even as ESAs open the doors of opportunity widely for many other students,” continues ExcelinEd.

To help ensure this, ExcelinEd recommends the following measures:

  • Consult with trusted homeschool associations in crafting policy. “It can be helpful to acknowledge fears of intrusive homeschool regulations without abandoning the cause of expanding educational options. Recognize and communicate that such regulations may come regardless of whether a new choice program is enacted.”
  • Maintain a separate legal status for homeschoolers who do not wish to participate. Several states with ESA programs have done this in their legislation — the language defines ESA participation separate from homeschool law, while allowing families to use funds for those purposes. “That preserves existing freedoms for some while expanding educational opportunities for others. If this approach is not followed, policymakers should at least adhere closely to the current homeschool law and not add extra application or reporting burdens that make customized education spending less attractive.”
  • Consider defining a third status to ensure robust access to hybrid options. The ranges of qualified uses for ESA funds laid out in a state’s ESA policy matter. “Since hybrid homeschooling may only be covered as ‘tuition and fees to a qualified school,’ officials must ensure that applicable private school regulations, including accreditation requirements, don’t foreclose the possibility.”
  • Allow different avenues to fund nonpublic student access to public school courses and activities. “Families may want to maintain access to public school courses and services for their nonpublic students on an à la carte basis,” so it’s important to consider stating that these courses and services are an allowable ESA expense. An ESA bill introduced in both the Minnesota House and Senate this past session included such language.

Through ESAs, parents are empowered to be in the driver’s seat of their children’s learning — whether that occurs at a private school, a micro-school, homeschool, or a hybrid option.
“…[E]xisting institutions and freedoms can be preserved or even strengthened for students” as we continue to work on growing “a flourishing, pluralistic education ecosystem,” concludes ExcelinEd.