Reimbursements from School Districts Would Undermine Homeschooling Freedoms

Summary: Several public school districts in northern Wisconsin are making offers to homeschoolers who enroll in their district and agree to have their homeschools supervised and monitored and their children tested. Several public school districts in northern Wisconsin are offering to reimburse homeschoolers for some of their approved educational expenses if the families enroll their children in the district, have their homeschools supervised and monitored by public school personnel, and have their children tested.

Several school districts in northern Wisconsin, including the Northern Pines and Three Rivers, are looking for homeschoolers to enroll. The Northern Pines School District requires the families who enroll to meet with a teacher on their staff to go over what curriculum they will be using. The school keeps a portfolio on each child, including information about their curriculum and the progress they are making to ensure that they are in compliance with state requirements. Children are required to take the same state-mandated tests as other students in the district. In return, the District reimburses the family for up to $2,000 for approved educational expenses for each child, with a maximum of $5,000 per family. The approved expenses include music lessons but not religious curriculums or materials. Children who do not live in these school districts can enroll in the program through open enrollment. People are strongly discouraged from enrolling after the third Friday in September because then the district does not receive state aids for them.

Reasons Homeschoolers Refuse Such Offers

Offers like these are tempting. Who couldn't use some extra money to cover the multitude of homeschooling resources and opportunities that now exist, especially since homeschooling families often live on one income? But a clear look at the real costs involved leads us to conclude that such offers are not worth taking and, in fact, are a threat to our homeschooling freedoms.

• Our homeschools would no longer be our own. Having a public school teacher review our curriculum and continually monitor our children's progress would inevitably influence and limit our choices. If the public school had records about our children, we would lose important privacy and open our family to inspection not only now but in the future. Needing to prepare our children to take state-mandated tests would determine some of the information and values we would need to teach them. All these would make our homeschools much more like government schools. Many if not most of us are homeschooling to avoid the perspectives, values, and beliefs of government schools.

• We would be threatening not just our own homeschool, but those of other homeschooling families in Wisconsin. The few who chose to use such programs, and thereby trade their homeschooling freedoms for ”approved educational items” could easily trigger calls for further regulation of all homeschoolers. If public school districts were given power and authority over some families, it would set a precedent and increase the pressure to put all homeschoolers under the public school system. Critics and opponents of homeschooling have long been waiting for an opportunity to press for increased state regulation of homeschooling. This program would give them such an opportunity.

• Actually, families who enrolled in such a program would no longer be homeschooling, since homeschools are private schools, not part of the public school system, and since the hallmark of homeschooling is parents taking responsibility for the education of their children, not working under the control and supervision of public schools. This kind of program blurs the distinction between public and private schools, including homeschools, and threatens the freedoms that private schools enjoy. This kind of program also creates a strange hybrid program in which the public schools make the decisions and parents do almost all the work.

• We could ask how much money we would actually receive. There would be increased cost, for example, purchases of curriculums and materials we would not have gotten but that we would need to meet state standards and prepare our children for the state tests. But the greatest costs would probably be the increased stress as we worked to maintain our principles and beliefs while complying with the standards and requirements of the public schools that would undoubtedly be different, perhaps very different from out own. The increased pressure the kids would feel would add to the cost. These costs might well translate into dollars as stress takes its toll on our families in various ways.

• How would we feel knowing the school district was taking advantage of us? For each child we enroll in the district, it receives tax dollars of around $10,000. If they give us $2,000, or, if we have more than 2 children, $1,000 or $ 0, they can keep $8,000 or $9,000 or $10,000 for which they have to do very little work because we are educating our own children. Is it ethical for school districts to collect tax money in this way?

• Requirements placed on participants in such programs would undoubtedly increase. Such programs will be opposed by alert teachers (who justifiably fear losing their jobs because programs like these require few teachers), teachers unions, and tax payers. Such groups will demand that the programs prove that taxpayers' money is being well spent by proving that the students are making progress, leading to demands for more testing, more reporting, more regulations. This, in fact, is what is happening in Alaska and Washington state, which offer programs such as these. Gradually the list of acceptable expenses is shrinking and requirements for testing and other regulations are increasing.

What We Can Do

• We can alert other homeschoolers to the fact that such programs have been established and will probably spread, especially since school districts throughout the state will want to enroll students who live in their district rather than lose them to another district through open enrollment. It will be better for homeschoolers to know the problems such programs raise before they are contacted by a school district trying to recruit them by offering what may appear to be free things.

• We can be prepared to explain the problems with these programs if we hear them discussed in informal conversations, at support group meetings, in the media, etc.

• We can inform WPA if we hear about such programs being established in our local school district or if we are contacted by any school district trying to recruit us.

From WPA Newsletter #90 December 2006 pp 6-7