Washington State: Public Funds for Homeschooling Could Be Abused

For Immediate Release: The proposed measure could create perverse incentives by giving parents who homeschool up to $10,000 per child in unaccountable public funds

02/21/2020—The Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE), a national nonprofit organization that advocates for homeschooled children, is urging Washington lawmakers to oppose House Bill 2933, which would provide substantial funds to parents whose children are not enrolled in public school, including homeschooled children. “Providing homeschooling parents with large amounts of unaccountable public funds amounts to a cash incentive to keep children out of school,” says Dr. Rachel Coleman, CRHE’s executive director. “The potential for abuse or fraud is astronomical, but it is the children who will suffer the most.” 

Washington’s HB 2933 would give participating parents access to bank accounts containing the state’s per-pupil allotment for each student being homeschooled, or nearly $10,000 per child. Parents would be required to sign a form promising to only use this funding for education expenses, but their use of these funds would not be monitored. Coleman says she finds this very concerning. “When monetary support is provided directly to homeschooling families, it is imperative that expenditures be accounted for,” Coleman says. She adds that any monetary support provided directly to homeschooling families should be offered as reimbursement for approved educational expenses only, and not as unaccountable cash payouts. 

Lawmakers in some states have become concerned about abuse of other forms of direct-aid such as adoption subsidies, which have been criticized for incentivizing parents with no actual interest in children to adopt older children or children with disabilities in order to receive a financial payout. In some high-profile cases, children whose parents received substantial subsidies for adopting them have been found tortured or murdered (in the latter case, the parents often hide these deaths so that they can go on collecting the cash subsidies). “As difficult as it can be to acknowledge this, the sad reality is that not all parents have their children’s best interests at heart,” says Coleman. “When offering parents unaccountable public funds attached to keeping children out of public schools, lawmakers must be careful not to provide perverse incentives.” Coleman warns that HB 2933 could encourage some parents to take children out of public school to pocket the state handout, and not out of any desire to educate their children at home. 

Coleman warns the state’s homeschool law is already easy to exploit. “State law requires homeschooling parents to have their children assessed each year, but it does not require them to submit these assessments to an educational agency,” she says. “There is little in existing state law to ensure parents who say they are homeschooling their children are in fact doing so.” 

Coleman says her organization frequently receives emails from homeschooling parents who want support and resources from their school districts. “We understand lawmakers desire to support homeschooling families,” she says. “The needs of both homeschooling parents and homeschooled children are best met not by a cash handout, but by more holistic support.” 

Coleman points to Alaska’s district-run homeschool programs and Iowa’s Home School Assistance Programs as examples of public programs that provide holistic support for both homeschooling parents and homeschooled children. In Alaska, districts receive per-pupil state funding for homeschooled students, and provide parents with reimbursement for curriculum, tutoring, and other expenses and access to district-run resource centers, athletics, and enrichment classes. Iowa’s district-run programs operate similarly: they receive state funding, offer homeschooling parents access to homeschool resource centers, and give homeschooled children access to public school programs, classes, and other support services. 

“Homeschooling families benefit most from programs that provide both support and accountability,” says Coleman. “HB 2933 does not do this.” 

The Coalition for Responsible Home Education empowers homeschooled children by educating the public and advocating for child-centered, evidence-based policy and practices for families and professionals.