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.

Alumni Group to WA: Foster Kids Should Not Be Homeschooled

For Immediate Release: Foster children need access to mandatory reporters

Canton, Ma., 02/23/2019—The Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE), a national nonprofit founded by homeschool alumni to advocate for homeschooled children, is urging lawmakers to oppose House Bill 1760, which would overturn a department of social and health services rule preventing foster parents from homeschooling foster children in their care.

“Foster children are uniquely vulnerable to abuse. It is in their best interests to have regular access to multiple mandatory reporters as they do at school,” said Dr. Rachel Coleman, executive director of CRHE. “Because homeschooling can limit children’s access to mandatory reporters, it can remove these needed safeguards for foster children.”

CRHE maintains a database of severe and fatal child abuse and neglect cases that involved homeschooling. “We created the database in order to identify common themes,” said Coleman. “These themes in turn point to potential solutions. One of the themes we found is the use of homeschooling by foster and adoptive parents to isolate children and hide abuse.”

“It’s clear from cases we have catalogued, such as the Hart and Schumm cases, that abusive parents of foster children who attend school may begin homeschooling as soon as the adoption is finalized in order to better conceal their abuse,” said Dr. Chelsea McCracken, a research analyst who administers the organization’s database. “This Indicates that school attendance is serving as a protective function for foster children prior to adoption.”

In 2014, a researcher at the University of Wisconsin found that 47% of the school-age child torture victims she studied were removed from school to be homeschooled; in 2018, a state official in Connecticut found that 36% of children removed from school to be homeschooled lived in families that were subject to at least one prior child abuse or neglect report.

Officials in a number of states have become concerned about the role homeschooling can play in hiding child abuse and neglect. This year alone, officials in four different states—Iowa, Illinois, Tennessee, and Louisiana—have proposed measures designed to provide homeschooled students with greater protections against abuse.  

“We urge Washington lawmakers to maintain the status quo and leave the department and social health services rule against homeschooling foster children in place,” said Coleman. “Homeschooling can have many benefits, but not every population is well served by being homeschooled. Foster children need access to mandatory reporters and safe adults.”

The Coalition for Responsible Home Education is a national organization founded by homeschool alumni and dedicated to raising awareness of the need for homeschooling reform, providing public policy guidance, and advocating for responsible home education practices.

Katrina B.: “My parents sincerely tried their best”

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“I believe oversight of homeschooling is a necessary starting point. I also encourage parents who are homeschooling to actively distinguish their roles as teacher and parent. I encourage them to learn about the effects of social contact on children’s brain development, and follow the recommendations of mental health professionals for each age group.”

Despite how hard homeschooling was for me, my parents sincerely tried their best. My mother sought external resources to supplement her teaching as I got older. I attended some classes offered privately for home schooled students. In what would have been my freshman year I attended two classes at a public high school. Unfortunately my mother was not comfortable with me making friends there, and though people asked me to hang out I never could. I started to avoid these situations so I wouldn’t have to come up with an excuse why I couldn’t. My two closest friends were both homeschooled girls like myself. We liked doing crafts and listening to the radio, picking our favorite bands.

Let me start by telling about the nearest success in my home schooled years. My craft of choice was beadwork—stitching tiny glass seed beads into fabric-like pieces. I made jewelry and small pouches out of these. After learning a new bead stitch from one of my homeschooled friends I started using beads to cover tiny glass bottles, the kind homeopathic remedies came in. For several years I’d participated in a holiday craft fair. One year I was placed next to a woman who sewed, crocheted, and beaded bags, purses, and amulet pouches. She had a full-time business and made her living selling what she made. We got along well even though she was middle-aged, and my mother asked her to mentor me.

We met once a week at my mentor’s house for about six months. She taught me how to contact the buyers of local stores and show them my beaded things. A New Age bookshop ordered a dozen beaded remedy bottles and I set to work filling the order. It took longer than I expected, and I was happy to deliver them and pick up a check. The bottles quickly sold out and the store contacted me to place another order. I wanted to fill the second order but I didn’t know if I could. My eyes were red and strained from so much tiny, focused work. I did not know what a business plan was and had not been taught to pay myself for my time. When I calculated my profits I turned out to be making less than $2/hour. No one talked to me about the possibility of raising my prices—or how to figure out what a reasonable price might be. My mentor was unable to advise me because her own business was in trouble as well as she faced competition from cheap imported goods. 

None of the adults around me were able to discuss the challenges or issues that I encountered. My mother praised me but it fell flat because the problems hadn’t been addressed. She was unable to teach me to set goals, value my time, regroup, or look at the bigger picture. I did not learn case studies of successful companies. I was told only that overseas factories were both bad and run by bad people. It is not reasonable to expect parents or someone undergoing major business challenges to put the global economic situation in perspective for a teen. I don’t fault anyone for not having done this,  but I do note that home schooling had no way of defining or rewarding success outside our family bubble.

At the time I was more concerned with finding social opportunities than running a business. My two homeschooled friends had gone to a concert of a favorite band and that I hadn’t been allowed to attend and I was devastated. I began pressing my mother to let me do more social things. She felt I did plenty already. I could not make her understand that I wanted a larger social life, and she decided my insistence was rebellion. I spent a lot of time alone in my bedroom. I imagined I’d be a cheerleader if I went to high school, but later I imagined I’d be one of the girls who cut class and looked cool smoking cigarettes in the parking lot. I didn’t have the opportunity to do either, or get any sense of my personality around others.

Although what bothered me most was the lack of social life, the business attempt and failure seems more significant. I was dejected about all of this. My mother tried to teach me both self-help and spiritual methods for dealing with it. While she had the best of intentions, her misapplication of self-help and spirituality was not appropriate. The problems I faced were real and solvable in the world. They did not originate inside of me.

The roles of parent and teacher are extremely different. I do not believe these roles should be the same. I am thankful to have had parents who cared about me and tried their best. Truly great parents know they can never be outgrown, and are secure in this. Truly great teachers enable their students to surpass them, they understand that a student who outgrows them is a sign of success. I did not realize this until I was an adult struggling to understand why my parents treated me as much younger than I was. It’s easy to write off high school traditions such as prom or graduation as meaningless, as I was taught they were, but I wonder if my parents would have benefited from these moments of growing up, and showing up, as I would have.

My parents started homeschooling me partway through first grade. My mother felt she was protecting me by homeschooling me. When I was seven and eight years old I asked to go to school and finally my mother agreed to let me “try” it. I spent the last few months of third grade and all of fourth grade in public school in Seattle. I sat in the front of the class with three other girls and we all did well: we raised our hands all the time, we got good grades, and we played at recess together. However my mother wanted to homeschool me again. Neither of my parents valued school, they saw only the negatives of their own experiences and were unaware of they ways it had benefited them or could have benefited me. My mother gave me a choice: I could get a puppy and home school to learn how to take care of it, or I could continue in public school. We had given away a dog when I was young and I’d wanted a puppy ever since. I chose the puppy.

My parents called themselves “liberal,” and while religious (Buddhists), they did not homeschool for religious reasons. If anything, a tension with and distrust of American society motivated my parents to keep me at home until my late teens. There was more emotion than politics in the way they talked about their views. Sometimes my mother would say we were “unschooling” when questioned, but this was incorrect. I was not directing my own learning; I was trying to manage my mother’s needs and my own.

She wanted me to succeed but she didn’t know how to prepare me for success. I was allowed to “try” school again for seventh grade, as a sophomore, and as an early college entrant at 17 years old. Fourth grade remained the only year I finished. Sometimes leaving school was my mother’s choice and sometimes it was mine. I was never encouraged to stick it out, but rather my decision to leave was always met with relief. The world outside our family made my mother uncomfortable. When I got to college I had no sense of time management or how to prepare for a test. Finishing things was difficult for me (when I finished things as a kid my parents and I would have to address what came next, a difficult question for everyone). I left the early entry college by choice—I was completely unmotivated to do anything but socialize. Several years later I applied to a college that specialized in art. I filled my first transcript ever with a year of good grades and then transferred to a general college that welcomed non-traditional students.

I feel lucky when I consider the opportunities I was afforded despite being home schooled. My parents had me take standardized achievement tests to keep up to my grade level in math and English, and they encouraged me to attend college. I believe oversight of homeschooling is a necessary starting point. I also encourage parents who are homeschooling to actively distinguish their roles as teacher and parent. I encourage them to learn about the effects of social contact on children’s brain development, and follow the recommendations of mental health professionals for each age group. Lastly, I encourage parents to do healthy and honest self-assessments of their own reasons for homeschooling at least once a year. 


Katrina was home schooled in Washington State from 1988 to 2000. For additional thoughts and experiences of homeschooled alumni, see our Testimonials page.