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Idaho

May 1, 2012

New Rule Ends College Admission Controversy


Scott Woodruff answers questions and assists members with legal issues in Idaho. He and his wife homeschooled their children. Read more >>

Last week the Idaho State Board of Education (ISBE) adopted a new rule that should quell the recent controversy about whether homeschoolers need a GED for college admission. Effective immediately, all Idaho public colleges should cease asking homeschoolers for a GED because of the new rule, Idaho Administrative Code 08.02.03.118.

Refusing Aid

Here’s some background on how the problem arose in the first place.

Several years ago, some colleges refused to believe that homeschoolers were eligible for federal financial aid (and colleges don’t want to admit students who are not eligible). They asserted that a homeschool student could only qualify by obtaining a GED or by the “back door” route of getting an adequate score on a standardized test to prove he had the “ability to benefit” from a college education. These colleges refused to acknowledge that a graduate of a homeschool program was eligible for federal financial aid in his own right.

HSLDA asked Congress to pass a new law to protect homeschoolers. But we were concerned that if the law only referred to “homeschoolers,” it would not protect families in the many states where a homeschool is a private school. For example, in Kansas, Illinois, Indiana, Texas and others, state law acknowledges private schools, but nothing called a “homeschool”—even though that’s what they are called in everyday conversation.

So the law Congress passed to cover homeschoolers in all states referred to “a home school setting that is treated as a home school or private school under State law.” (20 U.S.C. §1091(d)) Problems with college admissions virtually disappeared.

Problems Arise

Then last year Congress repealed the “back door” option for qualifying for financial aid as part of its effort to quash diploma mills. Homeschoolers should not have been affected, since a homeschool graduate is eligible without proving his ability to benefit from a college education.

But two surprises popped up. First, we learned that a number of colleges—in defiance of federal law—were treating homeschoolers as if they had to prove their ability to benefit. And second, an influential organization erroneously told college admissions officials that if their state’s law did not use the precise phrase “home school,” a homeschooler would not be eligible as a homeschooler.

This was obviously preposterous. Congress used the term “homeschool” because it is quite well understood in common usage, no matter what nuance of language is used in each state’s law.

In Iowa, homeschooling is technically known as “competent private instruction.” In South Dakota, it’s “alternative instruction.” In Virginia, it’s “home instruction.” And so on. But it’s all homeschooling, as Congress understood very well.

But admissions officers—fearful that they might be personally on the hook for any mistake—grabbed the erroneous guidance and treated it like gospel. Regrettably, the herd instinct took over.

Soon many admissions officials were afraid to admit homeschoolers if their state’s law did not use that exact term “home school”! HSLDA immediately went to work to solve the problem at the national level, and collaborated closely with Idaho Coalition of Home Educators (ICHE) on the state level.

Clearing up the Language

The ISBE’s new rule solves Idaho’s problem by connecting the phrase “home school” to the Idaho statute under which families educate their children. There can no longer be any doubt—if there ever was a plausible reason to doubt—that what we have called “homeschooling” for decades in Idaho is truly “home schooling!”

Some Idaho colleges had drafted revised favorable new homeschool policies in anticipation of the new state rule. We now expect them to quickly pivot and apply the new rule. However, students whose college admissions have been in limbo should contact the relevant admissions official to make sure they are following the new rule.

The new rule is not yet readily accessible on the internet. If you encounter a still-confused admissions official, promptly contact us with their name and phone number, and we will follow up.

Our thanks go to ICHE for their excellent work on this issue.