Home School Court Report
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No. 2

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HSLDA Helps Pell Grant Applicant

When the graduate of a home education program sought federal financial aid in the form of a Pell Grant to attend Delaware County Community College this past fall, the school’s financial aid office responded that his credentials did not qualify him for this assistance. According to the documentation provided by the college, homeschooled students seeking Pell Grants were required to submit a high school diploma from an approved homeschooling organization or pass the GED test and thereafter obtain a Commonwealth Secondary School Diploma. In this case, the applicant had already provided the college with a transcript indicating that he had completed high school graduation requirements in a home education program under Pennsylvania law.

After the family contacted Home School Legal Defense Association for help in November 2011, senior counsel Dewitt Black sent a letter to the college’s director of financial aid and pointed out that the college was applying the wrong law to the applicant’s request. Black told the official that instead of applying federal law to the request for the Pell Grant, the college was attempting to apply requirements established by the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency for state financial aid.

The federal Higher Education Act Amendments of 1998 prohibit colleges receiving federal funds from requiring an accredited high school diploma or GED in order for a student to be eligible for federal financial aid if “the student has completed a secondary school education in a homeschool setting that is treated as a homeschool or private school under state law.” According to the U.S. Department of Education regulations, a student fulfills this requirement if he was homeschooled and either (1) obtained a secondary school completion credential as provided by state law or (2) has completed a secondary school education in a homeschool setting under state law. Under federal law, homeschooled students may self-certify their completion of a secondary school curriculum. After being provided with this information, the community college approved the application for the Pell Grant.

—by Dewitt T. Black

Public School Standards for Homeschoolers

In late fall 2011, while conducting a portfolio review for a homeschooled student from the 2010–11 school year, an elementary school principal in the Brandywine Heights Area School District determined that the student failed to meet “the requirements for a fourth grade regular education program in reading and math.” As a result, the principal notified the teaching parent that she had 20 days in which to submit additional documentation that an appropriate education had taken place. According to Pennsylvania’s homeschool law, once the parent receives such a notice from the school district, failure to provide additional documentation will result in a termination of the home education program.

The family immediately contacted HSLDA for assistance, and senior counsel Dewitt Black sent the principal a letter on their behalf. Black’s letter stated that according to state law, the evaluator of the home education program selected by the parent and the superintendent of the public school district must determine whether an “appropriate education” is occurring in the home education program. This is the legal standard for students in a home education program, not whether they have met any standards established for public school students. The term appropriate education is defined as “a program consisting of instruction in the required subjects for the time required in this act and in which the student demonstrates sustained progress in the overall program.” The determination of whether an appropriate education is occurring is not dependent on performance in individual subjects such as reading and math, but rather on sustained progress in the overall program. Black reminded the principal that the evaluator of the home education program had made a finding that the student was receiving an appropriate education by applying the statutory criteria.

Apparently HSLDA’s intervention was effective to resolve this difficulty, as the family has received no further contact from public school officials regarding the sufficiency of the portfolio.

—by Dewitt T. Black