Double Standard Denies Benefits to Homeschool Students
by Maggie McKneely • January 23, 2019
Homeschool families already face challenges that other families do not, simply because of their choice to educate outside of the traditional options. And if the primary breadwinner passes away, the gaping hole created in these homes cannot be mended by a government check—though federal benefits can provide a lifeline in an otherwise heartbreaking situation.
Yet some students in Michigan and Minnesota are being told they do not qualify for survivor’s benefits because they supposedly aren’t “students” enrolled in ““school.”
That’s why Home School Legal Defense Association sent a letter this week to the Social Security Administration.
Keep it Simple
Laws are often complex, but the eligibility rules for homeschool students to obtain federal benefits are fairly easy to understand. So long as a homeschool student receives 20 hours of secondary school instruction each week and remains in compliance with his own state’s homeschool laws, that student is eligible for Social Security benefits.
But over the years, HSLDA has fought with the giant bureaucracy that is the Social Security Administration over the frequent misinterpretation of this law. In the latest case out of Minnesota, the problem is a newly instated rule that undermines the federal law regarding homeschool eligibility.
Though a federal agency, the Social Security Administration has local offices throughout the 50 states. Each of these determines how to apply federal Social Security rules in light of the laws passed by the state they are located in. To provide some guidance to these offices, Social Security has created district-specific policy manuals (or “POMS”) to help direct them towards the correct decision on a myriad of issues, including when a homeschool student is eligible for benefits.
When Rules Don’t Work
Many times, these POMS are useful. But like any other regulatory tool, POMS do not maintain themselves, and can become outdated as new state laws are passed. In an attempt at modernization, local general counsel can add rules to their district’s POMS.
But in Minnesota, a new rule directly contradicts the federal law regarding homeschool student eligibility. In that state, there are no regulatory requirements for homeschool students who are 16 or older—beyond the upper age limit of compulsory school attendance. Because of that, the local general counsel issued a rule in that district’s POMS claiming that “homeschools in Minnesota are not educational institutions, because they are not recognized as schools apart from the compulsory education ages.”
It’s as if something magical happens to homeschool students, and not public or private school students, when they turn 17. Even though they are still receiving their weekly 20 hours of instruction and are in compliance with the state’s homeschool laws, they are no longer “students” enrolled in a “school.” As a result, homeschool students over the age of 17 are now excluded from eligibility for student benefits.
There is a clear double standard here. If that rule were applied fairly, public and private school students would be deemed ineligible as well. After all, the compulsory school age is the same for every student, regardless of what form of education they receive. But in Minnesota, only homeschoolers are being unfairly denied their federal benefits.
Minnesota is not alone. Michigan has followed suit by including a similar opinion in their state-specific POMS, leading to many students being wrongfully denied the benefits that they have a right to. Other states may not be far behind.
While HSLDA is committed to fighting on behalf of the families affected by these new rules in the court system, legal battles can take years. Our letter urges the Social Security General Counsel to implement a more effective and efficient remedy by clarifying the law and asserting the eligibility of homeschool students. The Social Security Administration needs to affirm that rules such as Minnesota’s contradict federal law and cause unnecessary distress to families in need.