Oops! Publicly Funded Homeschool “Partnership” Owes $1.2 Million
by Mike Donnelly • August 27, 2019
State education officials have asked a Michigan public school district to return $1.2 million that was previously awarded for students enrolled part time in their homeschool partnership program. The district also stands to lose an additional $700,000 in anticipated funds.
The request, which came at the end of July, places the program’s future in doubt.
The Record-Eagle reported that the Northern Michigan Partnerships program, operated as a part of Traverse City Area Public Schools (TCAPS), has been ordered to return the funds over a dispute regarding how the district tallied enrollment in the virtual program.
Michigan’s homeschool partnerships have raised questions in the past.
A few years back, I wrote an article exploring whether the programs were permitted under the Michigan Constitution, or if they could withstand a serious legal challenge. I also raised the broader issue of whether any program that offered public funding for home education would ultimately prove good for the movement.
It seems the programs are now attracting further scrutiny.
According to the Record-Eagle, the state deputy superintendent said that the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) is looking at 10 similar programs. Apparently, the MDE believes that local schools have pocketed extra funds by over-calculating the partnership programs’ enrollment.
MDE officials suggest that each student enrolled in a virtual program should count as .15 of an equivalent full-time public school student (FTE). The Traverse City homeschool partnership program had counted each student as .75 FTE.
Michigan’s FTE per pupil funding is set at just under $10,000. The difference is significant—over $5,000 per student. Some schools have used this gap to generate additional income for their districts even though the partnership programs do not consume the entire amount of the .75 FTE.
TCAPS Superintendent Paul Soma was reported to have said that these efforts are “governmental overreach” and “state-sanctioned bias” against homeschool students.
Scrutiny and Change
The audit findings may force other districts to alter the nature of their homeschool partnerships.
As TCAPS Board of Education President Sue Kelly told the Record-Eagle: “We’re going to need a few days to figure out what our path is. We’re going to lay out what we can do, whether it’s virtual school or bringing them in to our existing schools, whether it’s offering non-core classes—I don’t know.”
HSLDA encourages its members who are involved in the partnership programs to be fully informed about the situation.
HSLDA and Michigan Christian Homeschool Network (MiCHN) have always encouraged families to avoid government funding as part of their homeschooling program. Government funding inevitably brings government control through regulation. The unique character of home education provides parents greater liberty for directing their children’s education. Read MiCHN’s position paper on public school partnerships.