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Updated June 19, 2017
What about Michigan’s “homeschool partnerships”?
Home School Legal Defense Association has recently received an increasing number of inquiries regarding public school–homeschool “partnership” programs operated by certain public school districts in Michigan. Families who participate in these programs receive financial assistance for certain classes or educational materials, while schools can count participating homeschool students as at least partly enrolled. This results in increased state funding to the school district; and the difference then helps fund the school district’s total operations.
HSLDA’s mission is to defend the rights of parents to homeschool their children. HSLDA has always sought to protect homeschooling as an essentially private activity which works best without government interference. HSLDA does not advocate or support government funding for home education. However, many states have equal access provisions which allow homeschooled students to access public school resources. Michigan is not one of them. In fact, Michigan’s constitution contains one of the nation’s broadest “Blaine amendments” (see endnote), ratified in 1970, which prohibits the funding of “nonpublic” education. The amendment reads:
“No public monies or property shall be appropriated or paid or any public credit utilized, by the legislature or any other political subdivision or agency of the state directly or indirectly to aid or maintain any private, denominational or other nonpublic, pre-elementary, elementary, or secondary school. No payment, credit, tax benefit, exemption or deductions, tuition voucher, subsidy, grant or loan of public monies or property shall be provided, directly or indirectly, to support the attendance of any student or the employment of any person at any such nonpublic school or at any location or institution where instruction is offered in whole or in part to such nonpublic school students. The legislature may provide for the transportation of students to and from any school.” (Michigan constitution of 1963, amended 1970, article VIII, §2.)
Where does this leave the public school–homeschool partnerships? These programs appear to be a product of the Michigan Supreme Court’s interpretation of what would otherwise appear to be a prohibition against public funding going to any non-public programs. However, in 1971 the court held part of the second sentence of the constitutional amendment to be invalid as a violation of the free exercise of religion, as well as the equal protection of laws, guaranteed by the United States Constitution. The court’s decision in Traverse City School Dist. V. Atty. Gen. (384 Mich. 390), stated that “shared time” classes and auxiliary services were part of the right to education maintained in the first sentence of Article VIII of the Michigan Constitution.
The court further clarified and upheld this ruling in 1984’s Snyder v. Charlotte Public School District (421 Mich. 517), where it held that, in spite of the amendment’s broad proscription of public funding going to nonpublic schools or students’ education, “the statutory right to public education is not conditioned on full-time attendance,” and that “allowing . . . non-public school students to participate in public school classes will not place an unreasonable burden on the public school system.” The court also found that such funding did not violate the Establishment Clause test as imposed by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Further, the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) has published a chapter in its Pupil Accounting Manual “5-E: nonpublic and home-schooled pupils” available online here. This document sets forth the state’s criteria for allowing nonpublic school students, including homeschooled students, to enroll on a part-time basis in “nonessential elective courses provided by a public-school district.” The document references several statutes, regulations and cases for authority, including Snyder and Traverse City.
In other words, these public school–homeschool partnerships do not appear to violate Michigan’s Blaine amendment as interpreted by the Michigan Department of Education. But is that the end of the story? Not necessarily. Because these homeschool partnership programs are relatively new, they have never been tested in a court challenge. Concerns have been raised by some in the homeschool community about the impact these partnerships may have on home education. Some have raised questions about whether the partnerships as structured comply with the guidelines relating to the site of instruction, who are the teachers, and what kinds of program can be funded by the district. It isn’t clear how the Michigan Supreme Court would rule, if asked to, on the constitutionality of the homeschool partnership program.
With this in mind, parents who choose to participate in the Michigan public school partnership programs should understand that these partnerships are public school programs. When a family participates in a public school program, the enrolled child must abide by the public school’s rules for that program and often must provide personal information to the school district. Before committing to any program, parents should carefully consider a program’s specific expectations regarding reporting, data sharing, or testing. Likewise, any homeschool co-ops considering further involvement with such programs should carefully evaluate what policies they would be required to adopt if they accept state funding.
One concern about increased homeschool participation in public school partnership programs is the potential for increased regulation of all homeschooling families, not just those enrolled in a partnership. However, increased reporting requirements would necessitate a change in state law which HSLDA would oppose vigorously.
When it comes to making educational decisions for children we believe that parents are in the very best position to determine what is best for each of their children. We agree with the U. S. Supreme Court that parents possess the fundamental right to direct the education and upbringing of their children. That understanding is at the core of our mission to advocate for the right of parents and families to direct the education of their children with maximum freedom. When parents are free to choose home education, children are free to flourish.
HSLDA’s website has more general information on the pros and cons of participation in public school activities and accepting public funds for education.
Michigan’s Information Network for Christian Homes (INCH) has also expressed their concern about public school–homeschool partnerships and their potential to impact homeschool freedom. You can learn more and get involved at inch.org.
“Blaine amendments,” nicknamed for Representative James G. Blaine, who in 1875 introduced a failed U.S. constitutional amendment of the type, are aimed at prohibiting public funds from use in religious schooling (or private schooling more broadly).