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July 29, 2005

Ohio Cyberschools Face New Tests

Homeschoolers across the country are cautiously watching the growth of "cyberschools," which offer public funding for electronic courses delivered at home. HSLDA treats students enrolled in publicly funded virtual charter schools as "public school students," and will not accept a family for HSLDA membership if all their children at home are enrolled in these types of programs. HSLDA will defend families, however, who are educating their own children independently. New provisions in Ohio law reveal some of the reasons for our concern about the ability of cyberschools to regulate your education program.

Under a new state law, some Ohio charter schools will have to begin testing their students at the start and end of each school year. These charter schools, which include most virtual programs, will also have to complete the state assessments that must be given in all Ohio public schools. Cyberschools who miss the new testing benchmarks consecutively for two years will lose all aid for all students. Students who fail or refuse to take the state test will no longer be funded by the state.

Under federal law, homeschoolers cannot be forced to take the new "performance standards" tests, which are required for all public school students in certain grades. Federal law, however, does not prohibit states from imposing traditional standardized testing as a condition for receiving public benefits. Therefore, the mere fact that students are educated in their own homes does not bar the state from requiring them to take standardized tests if they want to receive publicly funded benefits. Government money always comes with strings attached.

Homeschoolers who prize their freedom have long argued that cyberschools would lead to increased regulation. At this point, the new rules for cyberschools are not taking away the freedom of independent home educators, but that is a possibility in the future. HSLDA encourages every family to seriously consider the costs as well as the benefits of publicly funded programs. In our opinion, freedom is worth the price.