Homeschool Idaho regularly works behind the scenes with Idaho’s legislators to successfully ensure that bills under consideration respect homeschoolers’ interests and liberties. In fact, it has been 16 years since we have been required to oppose a bill that has been introduced in the legislature. We take this action rarely in part so that, when it occurs, the combined voices of Idaho’s homeschool community might be heard loud and clear.

Homeschool Idaho is encouraging families to ask Idaho representatives to oppose House Bill 215 (now 294).  This bill is wrong for Idaho for several reasons.  Among these are: It attempts to place nonpublic students under the control of the State Board of Education, which is against Idaho code; it is wasteful of taxpayer funds; and most importantly, it sets a precedent of homeschoolers being subject to the oversight of the state.  Idaho homeschoolers have been successful in academics, social engagement, community involvement, and rewarding livelihoods for over two decades without oversight and without state funding.  It is in the best interest of Idaho families that House Bill 215 (now 294) be defeated.

Here are several answers to questions you may have regarding Homeschool Idaho’s opposition to the bill.

1. Summary of the Bill: Proponents of House Bill 215 (now 294) contend that, if passed, it will promote choice-in-education by creating new state-funded Grant and Scholarship programs for the primary benefit of private school and homeschool students.

2. Beware the Dismissal: Legislators who don’t have an articulate reason to disagree with a criticism sometimes resort to the “brush off.” That usually takes the form of “you don’t understand what the bill says,” or “you’re being given bad information.” If you receive such a response to your email, please gently ask for specifics. What don’t I understand? What specifically is the bad information upon which you think I’m relying? Don’t be shy about asking questions so that you can become even better-informed.

3. The Bill violates restrictions on the Idaho State Board of Education: The grants and scholarships created by this bill are for the benefit of private school and homeschool families. However, existing law precludes the Board of Education from operating outside of the existing public school system.

Title IX, section 2 of the Idaho Constitution states, “The general supervision of the state educational institutions and public school system of the state of Idaho, shall be vested in a state board of education . . .”

Section 33-101 of the Idaho Code states, “For the general supervision, governance and control of all state educational institutions . . . and for the general supervision, governance and control of the public school systems . . . a state board of education is created.” While section 33-107 contains a lengthy list of matters that are within the jurisdiction of the State Board, that list does not stray from the narrow bounds of the public school system and the state’s college and university systems.

In other words, as created and defined within Idaho’s existing laws, the Idaho State Board of Education seems to lack the legal authority to administer a grant or scholarship program that excludes public school students. Although the grant program created by this bill may include public school students (as well as private, parochial, and homeschool students), the much larger scholarship program explicitly excludes public school students. Consequently, it appears that the scholarship program should not be established under the purview of the Board of Education.

4. The devil in the not-yet-developed details: Supporters of this bill point out that it does not include any provisions that compromise homeschoolers’ freedoms. Unfortunately, that assurance is a bit misleading.

Under the terms of both the grant program and the scholarship program, the State Board is explicitly given authority to “conduct audits, or designate a third party to conduct audits of: Any participant and such participant’s parent” to monitor compliance with these programs. That by itself is a significant intrusion into participating homeschoolers’ existing freedoms.

But bear this in mind: The bill only provides a skeletal description of the grant and scholarship programs. Beyond the audit requirements, the bill states 14 different times that the Board of Education is granted authority to flesh out, develop, and implement the additional bureaucratic rules that will govern the program and the families that participate.

In short, if as the supporters point out, the money follows the student, we must not lose sight of the fact that, in the wake of the money, bureaucratic restrictions will likewise follow. And, in truth, as taxpayers we should expect nothing less. Expenditures of taxpayer funds without restrictions or accountability should never occur.

5. If you don’t want the money, don’t take it. While at first glance this argument might be attractive in our state of rugged individualists, it is flawed when it comes to freedoms about which we are passionate, such as our homeschooling liberties.

It is important for all homeschoolers work together to protect the hard-won liberties that we all enjoy. We must remember that Idaho homeschool families have never been subject to the Board of Education. To the extent that any of us now opts to acknowledge the authority of the Board of Education by applying for one of these scholarships, it communicates an apparent willingness for at least some homeschoolers to be subject to the authority of that Board. That would set an unfortunate precedent.

Consider this analogy:   Suppose two families in Idaho live next to each other. Each household has a number of firearms.  Now imagine that the state adopts a program that offers to provide free ammunition to anyone in the state who signs up for the program, registers all of their guns, and allows the state to conduct gun safety checks in their homes.  One neighbor says, “If you don’t want the ammunition, don’t sign up for the program.  My taking the ammunition doesn’t affect your right to bear arms.”  As you might imagine, the other neighbor will have a different view.  The first neighbor’s compromise will be viewed as a small first step toward gun control.  It is recognized as an infringement of a Constitutional right that “shall not be infringed.”

As the frog on the stove reminds us, freedoms are lost one small step at a time.

6. Overly-Generous = Wasteful Government Spending: If passed, the scholarship portion of House Bill 215 (now 294) would allocate state funding for homeschoolers of about $6,000 per year per student. But before you imagine spending all that money, here are a few salient details.

First, according to a 2009 study by the National Home Education Research Institute, the median amount spent per year on a homeschooled student’s education (for textbooks, lesson materials, tutoring, enrichment service, testing, counseling, evaluation, etc.) was between $400 and $599. So how does a government project that plans to reward families with ten times that amount make fiscal sense? At least with respect to homeschoolers, this is pork-laden spending at its worst. The very magnitude of the scholarship cannot help but spark a willingness among homeschoolers to make expenditures that normal frugality would preclude.

Second, parents need to read the list of “Eligible education expenses” in the bill over carefully. Only certain specified expenditure (which the State Board must have previously approved) will suffice. And paying mom or dad for their services as “tutor” will not be an approved expense.

Finally, bear in mind that these are not funds intended to help a family of limited means make ends meet. The fact that a family “really needs” the funds to cover living expenses in order to homeschool is utterly irrelevant. In fact, if the funds are not spent with the utmost care, the bill’s audit procedures will result in a rather painful outcome.

7. Back to Basics: What is a homeschooler? Once upon a time, education in Idaho took place either in public schools, private schools, parochial schools, or home schools. But in more recent years, a variety of hybrid teaching methods have evolved – charter schools, online charter schools, public-school-at-home, private enrichment programs, and other blended programs.

“Homeschooling” is easy to identify by its two primary traits: It is (1) parent-directed and (2) parent-funded.

So, even programs in which the child is at home while teaching occurs may not be homeschooling. If the student is enrolled in a public school or a public charter school, the education is not parent-funded and may not be entirely parent-directed.

Despite educators’ and parents’ wishes to be identified as “homeschoolers,” if their children are enrolled in a public school, they are public school students even if they are receiving their education at home. With the scholarship program in House Bill 215 potentially funding home education, there arises yet another educational mode – the “state funded homeschooler.” Unfortunately, we won’t know just what that term might mean until all of the administrative details have been hammered out by its staff and approved by the State Board of Education.

8. “Free-Market” is not the same as “economical.” Some have argued that this bill applies market pressures to the public schools. But the truth is that “government-funded” education will not be any more efficient than government-funded health care and government-funded college educations have been.

This program is rooted in an effort to take advantage of temporarily-available federal funds. But as is almost always the case with such programs, the state will be left holding the bag for the ongoing operational expenses, year after year.

9. Why the 100-day enrollment requirement? Under the bill’s scholarship eligibility requirements, neither a private school student, nor a homeschooler, may qualify unless that child attended a public school for at least 100 days in the preceding school year.

This is a requirement that seems counterproductive in a “school-choice” bill. If the goal is to encourage parents of public school students to make the leap to private or home education, why does this requirement force parents to do exactly the opposite as a condition of qualifying for the scholarship?

Could it be that the real, but hidden, beneficiaries of this requirement are the students that were attending public schools right up until the COVID crisis? Those students who switched to home education are the rookie homeschoolers. Yet, because their children were enrolled in public schools last year right up until the time of the school shutdown, this requirement will allow rookie homeschoolers to leapfrog over any veteran homeschoolers who might have an interest in applying for this scholarship. The applications of those veteran homeschoolers would be delayed until after they’ve re-enrolled their precious children into the public schools for the mandatory 100-day period.

None of this makes sense. And remember that this discriminatory requirement applies to both veteran private school students as well as veteran homeschoolers.

10. What is the declared “emergency?” The last three lines of House Bill 215 state that an “emergency is hereby declared to exist. . .” But it doesn’t explain what the emergency is.

While this leaves us scratching our heads, one outcome of such an emergency declaration is this: Parents of students who were in the public school system when the COVID lockdown started, will be immediately qualified for the scholarship so long as the effective date of the bill is the date that the Governor signs the bill. But if the effective date of the bill is the July 1st date that would otherwise apply, a date that is beyond the end of the current school year, the students who were driven to homeschooling or private schooling by the COVID lockdown last year will also be required to re-enroll their students in the public system for another 100 days just like the veteran homeschoolers and private schooler will have to do. This punishes the veteran homeschoolers whose teaching has remained stable and been impacted only minimally by the COVID crisis.

We are not sure why legislators would try to create two classes of private/homeschool families, giving preference to only the newest families. The arbitrary requirements put on families who would apply for the scholarship are not in the best interests of students. Instead, the bill creates a special class of student which it will pay generously.

11. Were the bill’s sponsors ignorant of homeschoolers’ opposition before the bill was launched? One of the legislators working with the bill’s sponsors reached out to the Homeschool Idaho in December to discuss the bill. In that conversation and a subsequent email conversation, Homeschool Idaho’s board member clearly stated our concerns about our inclusion in the bill. In fact, an article explaining the history of our position (similar to this updated article) was forwarded to that legislator. Yet, despite all of that, we never saw a draft of this bill until the day after the official print hearing on the bill. Both Homeschool Idaho and Home School Legal Defense Association sent letters to the House Education Committee members ahead of the bill’s consideration a few days after the bill was printed. Both letters spelled out the precise changes that would be needed to satisfy the homeschoolers who oppose the bill. It is difficult to imagine that our opposition to the bill was unexpected.