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Homeschool families in Clinton County, Kentucky, were surprised to see themselves mentioned in their local paper as a topic of discussion during the recent school board meeting. On May 18, the Clinton County News reported that local school officials intend to conduct random audits of area homeschool families this summer because they want to “ensure that all children in our county are getting a rigorous and effective education.”
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Home School Legal Defense Association opposes any such audits as unconstitutional. We are also troubled by what appears to be the underlying motivation for this proposed meddling by school officials: money.
During the school board meeting the district did acknowledge the constitutional right of parents to teach their children at home. But they said they intend to audit homeschool programs to “ensure that all children in Clinton County have access to the best education possible.”
It appears that this scrutiny of homeschool programs in Clinton County is driven by two factors. According to the district, Clinton County has seen a 10–15 percent increase in homeschooling over the past few years. Dr. Julie York, the district’s director of pupil personnel (DPP), indicated that she believes this trend will continue and that “it is still the school district’s responsibility to make sure that the student is educated.”
The district’s finance director, Mike Reeves, also spoke at the May 9 school board meeting and estimated that the district will lose almost $300,000 in Support Education Excellence in Kentucky (SEEK) funding. (Given that there are approximately 85 homeschool students in Clinton County, HSLDA estimates that the actual amount of SEEK funds that the district will not receive would be closer to $435,000.) While Kentucky spends approximately $9,316 per pupil from federal, state, and local funds, the Kentucky Department of Education estimates that Clinton County’s SEEK funds will be $5,118 per pupil for the 2016–2017 school year.
It is obvious that Clinton County sees the increase of homeschoolers as taking money away from the district, and this is likely a significant reason in officials’ desire to increase scrutiny of homeschooling families. Interestingly, the Clinton County News reported that Dr. York “noted that there was something of a misnomer in that the funds that are received from the state are, in turn, spent on students.”
As soon as we learned of the article and the school board meeting, HSLDA Staff Attorney Tj Schmidt notified homeschool leaders and groups across the state.
A Challenging Law
Schmidt also wrote a letter to Dr. York pointing out that many years ago the Kentucky Directors of Pupil Personnel (KDPP) and several statewide homeschool leaders, including representatives from Christian Home Educators of Kentucky (CHEK), acknowledged the challenges of applying Kentucky law to individual homeschooling families and drew up a Best Practices Document.
In Kentucky, parents who teach their child at home are operating a private school. As such, they are required to provide instruction in various subjects for at least 1,062 hours over a minimum of 170 days each school term. Parents also maintain attendance and scholarship records (i.e. report cards) for each child.
Under the Best Practices Document, as long as parents provide their notice that they are operating a private homeschool program within the first two weeks of the beginning of each school year (generally by the second week of August), they are presumed to be operating a bona fide school. No records should be demanded unless the school district has evidence that parents are not educating their children.
Schmidt reminded Dr. York of this state policy and pointed out that school officials cannot simply show up at a homeschool family’s home and demand records as they might of a more traditional private school. We hope that Clinton County will respect the Best Practices Document. Since our letter, the District has appeared to drop their intent to randomly audit homeschool families in the county.