Maintaining Homeschooling Freedom
What’s at stake?
Homeschooling is still sometimes misunderstood by conventional educators, legislators, homeschoolers’ friends and relatives, and the general public. A lot of what was written about as ”homeschooling” during the spring shutdown was not an accurate portrayal. Homeschooling is not school at home. That is not why it works or what makes it valuable. The strength of homeschooling is that it allows a diversity of families to teach their children in the way that is best for them, with the flexibility to meet children’s changing needs.
With the significant increases in numbers of homeschoolers this year, and reports of overreach circulating in social media channels, discussions about Massachusetts homeschool law have ensued. Would a statute serve us better than the current case law? Why can’t all homeschoolers in Massachusetts participate in school activities? Shouldn’t we get vouchers or tax credits to defray the cost of homeschooling? These questions are not new, but they have been amplified by the burst in new homeschooling families. Below, we consider whether these ideas would expand or diminish homeschooling freedom.
Replace case law with a homeschool statute
Some say a statute would better standardize the way schools and homeschoolers interact across the state. While it is true that there is some variation in how the Charles guidelines are executed town by town, the guidelines themselves remain unchanged. Overall it is still very easy and straightforward to homeschool in most towns in Massachusetts. See Policy and Practice Database Report.
If a statute were to be written, legislators and educators would have as much or more influence over its creation than homeschoolers, a scenario likely to lead to more restrictions, not fewer. Homeschooling regulations intended to make home schools more like conventional schools would interfere with the flexibility needed for homeschooling to be an effective alternative to conventional school.
Another often overlooked factor is that the local oversight of homeschooling that Charles delineates gives homeschooling parents more power in influencing school officials and elected officials such as school committee members.
Right of homeschoolers to use school facilities
Local control also means that local schools can decide what services homeschoolers can access. The school does not receive funding for your unenrolled child if you homeschool, which dilutes the argument that some homeschoolers make about why they should be able to access school programs. Of course, all citizens pay taxes whether or not they use the public schools. See Participation in Public Schools.
Vouchers and tax credits
Some argue that homeschoolers should be eligible for tax credits or vouchers. It’s important to remember that when the government provides programs, services, or financial benefits, it reasonably expects accountability. With accountability comes definitions, in this case the need to define what homeschooling is and what it is not. What activities and materials are “educational” would have to be determined. As with proposed legislation, the likelihood is that the definitions would mirror the practices of conventional schools, setting us off on the slippery slope to restricting homeschooling freedom.
The right to homeschool has been a refuge during the pandemic, an option that allows families to organize their lives on a predictable schedule that is suited to their own needs. We have heard from many families that witnessing the blossoming of their children without the constraints of conventional school has proven an unexpected joy. It is important for that personalized, flexible option to be available to all families, all the time, pandemic or not. We know that many of you who have chosen homeschooling this year plan to return your children to school in the future. That is a choice that is available to all homeschoolers at any time.
We hope AHEM has been a help to you in getting started homeschooling this year, and we ask in return that whether you choose school or homeschool in the future, you will understand and support our mission to maintain the right for families to independently homeschool with the most freedom possible in Massachusetts.