Ari Armstrong, Education, Exclusives, Uncategorized

Armstrong: Colorado homeschoolers navigate new funding challenges

As an “official” Colorado homeschool parent, I was legally required to give my third grader a standardized test this year, or else pay for an evaluation by a licensed teacher. I chose the test. I don’t mind this. The usual tests offer pretty-good insights into aspects of a student’s academic progress. I say my family “officially” homeschools because most “homeschoolers” technically are enrolled in a private “umbrella” school.

So I payed $29 to a company called Academic Excellence and soon received a paper version of the California Achievement Test in the mail (they also have online options). I picked this test because it covers the basics and seemed easy to order and administer.

The test consists of nine sections covering language and math, for a total of 132 minutes. My child aced the reading comprehension and math sections. I was a little surprised by how easy the math was. Then again, we’re working a year ahead in the rigorous Dimensions Math program by Singapore. A few of the story problems were tricky: If you buy 3 boxes of chocolates at $3.00 a box, a case of caramel candy at $6.50 a case, and 4 jars of hard candy at 2 for $1.50, how much do you pay?

Like his old man, my child struggled a bit with spelling (hey, that’s what spell-check is for), and he also missed a few questions about punctuation. Overall he did great, as I expected he would.

I do not want to claim that my child is a typical homeschool student. I don’t think there is a typical homeschool student. The flexibility and diversity are kind of the point. Some homeschooling families use a rigorous curriculum; others “unschool.” While many families that homeschool do so to emphasize religious values and instruction, many Colorado families are part of a vibrant secular homeschooling community. Many parents choose homeschooling to better-fit their children with neuro-diversities including autism and dyslexia.

I am sympathetic to the idea that most schools over-emphasize standardized tests at the expense of substantive learning and that such tests do a poor job of revealing the progress of a subset of children. Children learn many important things about home maintenance, the arts, sports, and more, that standardized tests do not cover.

My child does fine on tests, and I think for most students the tests reveal important markers of progress. Mainly I know how my child is doing because I see the math problems he’s working, the books he’s reading, the science projects he’s pursuing, and so on, on a daily basis.

The challenges of financing

Financing aside, Colorado law well-respects the rights of parents to homeschool their children. The legal requirements are minimal and for the most part reasonable.

The main challenge to homeschooling is financial. We have out-of-pocket expenses, such as for the CAT test and Dimensions Math books. The main cost is the time. For many families, homeschooling will mean a parent working less at a paid job (or not working at all for pay) and so earning less money. Although it’s possible for a single parent working full-time to homeschool, that’s not easy.

On top of all that, as I have complained many times, homeschool families are forced to finance the public schools even if they don’t use them.

What I wish would happen, as I’ve written, is that government would not force homeschool families to pay taxes into the public school system in exchange for them not using tax-funded benefits, and otherwise leave homeschoolers alone (aside from recognizing basic standards). If government is worried about families in poverty, it should subsidize people in poverty, regardless of schooling status.

What happens instead is that government forces homeschool families to pay into the public school system and then offers homeschoolers limited opportunities to recapture some portion of the value of their tax dollars through government-authorized programs. I participate in one of these programs, not because I think it is optimal, but because I think it’s the best I can do under current rules. It’s better than getting no value whatsoever from my family’s education-directed tax dollars.

In particular, various school districts and charter schools offer programs one day per week for homeschoolers. Depending on the program, students can sign up for science classes, martial arts, theater, and so on. As a variant of these in-person classes, some programs offer online and parent-directed classes. In some cases, parents can be compensated for out-of-pocket expenses. Again, typically this is just homeschooling parents getting back some portion of their money that government forces them to pay into education.

The fight over funding

As Shaun Boyd reported for CBS, starting last year, My Tech High, which offers tax-funded programs for homeschooling students (and which my family uses), started voicing concerns that proposed rule changes by the Colorado State Board of Education might eliminate some My Tech High programs for elementary students. Although programs for this school year will not be affected, the group’s offerings probably will be substantially affected for next year. I expect the program that my family uses to be eliminated.

In Boyd’s words, the Department’s proposed rule changes are “meant to ensure that public money is only spent on public education.” Is my family, are other homeschool families, not part of the public? Am I entitled to no benefit from the tax dollars that government forces my family to pay into education? Does the Board of Education really wish to treat homeschool families as second-class citizens?

Again, I’ll happily give up all tax-funded education benefits just as soon as government stops forcibly confiscating my family’s money for education. Until that happens, that “public money” is partly my family’s money.

Colorado Early Colleges also expressed concerns that the rule changes could affect their programs, as Sherrie Peif reported for Complete Colorado. In a letter to the state board, CEC said the proposed rules would impact their online offerings. Further, CEC wrote, the proposed rules would make it harder for some high school students to get funding if they want to take some college classes but are not ready to take a full-time college load.

There has been some confusion and debate even within the homeschool community as to the nature of the proposed rule changes and their legal basis. Carolyn Martin of Christian Home Educators of Colorado claims, “Government funding that reimburses parents for educational expenses or teaching is against the law.” That seems like a stretch to me. Martin, we should note, has long been completely against any government funding of homeschoolers. She writes that the “wave of funding homeschoolers with government money has hit our shores and we must resist it if we want to be free!”

I certainly sympathize with Martin’s concerns. Again, though, so long as government forces homeschool families to pay into education, I think homeschool families deserve to get some benefit for that money.

At a February 15 Board of Education meeting, advisors to the board claimed that current programs involving parental reimbursements for educational expenses constitute “de facto educational savings accounts” or the “equivalent of an educational savings account” and have thus been expressly disallowed by the legislature. I don’t think so.

Educational savings accounts involve parents putting their own money directly into a tax-advantaged account, then using that money for education. I think ESAs might be a a good idea (not as good as my proposal), but that’s not what’s happening here. The programs in question involve teacher oversight and substantial record-keeping.

One point of possible confusion is that Arizona uses the same acronym, ESAs, to describe so-called “Empowerment Scholarship Accounts,” which are totally different from educational savings accounts. Regardless, clearly the board did not like the idea of any educational money passing through the state back to parents, even though generally the parents earned that money in the first place.

I’d be more sympathetic to the board’s position if the usual government-run, teacher-led classes had fabulous results. But they don’t. To review, in not a single grade, in not a single subject, did a majority of students meet or exceed expectations, according to the results of last year’s Colorado Measures of Academic Success. On the whole, parents can hardly do a worse job than the public schools are doing. Maybe instead of focusing its energies on hassling homeschoolers, the board should focus on making sure the public schools consistently teach their students how to read and do basic math.

My family will be okay come what may. We are doing well enough that we can afford to homeschool even if government forces us to also fund the government-run public schools that we do not use, and offers us nothing in return that meets our family’s needs. Other families, though, are having a harder time and may be seriously damaged by the government’s discrimination against homeschoolers.

Ari Armstrong writes regularly for Complete Colorado and is the author of books about Ayn Rand, Harry Potter, and classical liberalism. He can be reached at ari at ariarmstrong dot com.


Our unofficial motto at Complete Colorado is “Always free, never fake, ” but annoyingly enough, our reporters, columnists and staff all want to be paid in actual US dollars rather than our preferred currency of pats on the back and a muttered kind word. Fact is that there’s an entire staff working every day to bring you the most timely and relevant political news (updated twice daily) from around the state on Complete’s main page aggregator, as well as top-notch original reporting and commentary on Page Two.

CLICK HERE TO LADLE A LITTLE GRAVY ON THE CREW AT COMPLETE COLORADO. You’ll be giving to the Independence Institute, the not-for-profit publisher of Complete Colorado, which makes your donation tax deductible. But rest assured that your giving will go specifically to the Complete Colorado news operation. Thanks for being a Complete Colorado reader, keep coming back.

Comments are closed.