Twelve years ago, Marian Jackson partnered with the state of Kentucky to provide a loving home for three brothers who were in foster care. One of the government agencies she partnered with tried to stop paying a subsidy her family is entitled to—all because of an objection involving homeschooling.
The irony? The state agency based its objection on a point of law that doesn’t exist.
“Too Precious To Miss”
The story begins on a happier note. When Marian and her first husband had children of their own, they decided to homeschool, in part because they so enjoyed being close to their kids and watching them develop.
“Their first words, first steps—they’re too precious to miss,” said Marian.
After observing these milestones, Marian and her husband agreed to be there when their children encountered additional epiphanies and triumphs during the formal education process.
“I wanted to be the one to experience those things,” added Marian.
She said the bond that develops when parents take the lead in educating their children must have resonated with her children, considering that all 13 of her grandchildren are being homeschooled.
Marian continued homeschooling even after her first husband died. At that time, she wanted to employ the skills she’d developed as a mother and home educator, so she decided to become a foster parent.
She went on to adopt the three brothers who were placed in her home. Because she adopted siblings, she qualified to receive monthly payments from the Kentucky Department for Community Based Services.
Typically, these payments continue until the child who qualifies for them turns 18. But if the child is still in school at that age, the payments can be extended until the child turns 19 or graduates from high school.
When one of her adopted sons turned 18 in January, Marian contacted state officials to inform them that he would not graduate from his homeschool program until the spring, and that she needed to ensure his subsidy payment continued until then.
“They said it’s impossible,” recounted Marian. “If he’s homeschooled, you might as well not even try.”
Marian’s case is one of many in which HSLDA is working to restore benefits that have been wrongfully terminated because of homeschooling. We are currently involved in three additional cases involving adoption subsidies and 53 cases involving Social Security payments.
It is not unusual for students to remain in school beyond their 18th birthday. A 2014 Rutgers University study found that although nearly 70 percent of students graduate by age 18, about 30 percent have a different time frame. Some graduate earlier, some later. And Kentucky law allows individuals to receive a publicly funded education up to the age of 21, an implicit recognition of the fact that students progress at different rates.
As a longtime member of HSLDA, Marian contacted us for help. In response, Peter Kamakawiwoole, HSLDA’s director of litigation, worked with a local attorney to request an administrative hearing on behalf of Marian.
In preparing for the hearing, Kamakawiwoole determined that there were two levels of objections being raised by state officials. There was the overt objection claiming that the son’s enrollment in Marian’s homeschool program did not qualify the family for extended adoption subsidies because it was not accredited. In addition, there seemed to be a tacit concern regarding the current status of homeschool regulations and whether these are sufficiently restrictive.
Kamakawiwoole said Marian’s situation reminded him of a recent case in which HSLDA prevailed on behalf of a homeschool family in the Supreme Court of Virginia. In that legal conflict, a public school district threatened to charge the parents with truancy unless they submitted proof of residency in addition to the homeschool documentation listed in the relevant statute.
Granted, the officials in the public school district may have felt they had good reasons for wanting the homeschool family to prove they were legal residents. But by insisting on that proof, they essentially invented new law on the spot. This meant that HSLDA and the parents were fighting for a much higher principle than whether or not to hand over a few documents.
HSLDA President Jim Mason characterized the essence of the Virginia case this way in an article: “Freedoms are eroded when government bodies are allowed to exceed their authority—through fear or complacency or a failure to understand that we the people are sovereign.”
At the hearing, Kamakawiwoole easily countered the argument that Marian’s homeschool needed to be accredited to receive extended adoption subsidies. As a qualification, the term “accredited” does not appear in the state’s Adoption Assistance Handbook, nor in the relevant statute. It simply isn’t there.
He added that the plain reading of the law—which was enacted by elected officials with the authority to do so—trumps any additional regulation concocted by bureaucrats based on their own private concerns about homeschooling.
The hearing officer agreed. In a three-page opinion, he noted there was no evidence that Kentucky law limited adoption subsidies to “accredited” schools. Since no one contested that Marian was homeschooling her son, who was still in high school, the hearing officer concluded that the subsidy should continue until he graduated. Although the Cabinet appealed the Hearing Officer’s decision to the Commissioner, we were informed last week that the Commissioner had decided to adopt the hearing officer’s decision in full.
Marian was delighted to learn that the subsidy would be restored. She added that it means she will have additional resources to apply toward her son’s education.
For example, in addition to academics, her son is apprenticing with her husband to learn the auto body repair trade.
“He really loves it,” said Marian. “He hopes to help run the family business someday.”
He especially loves repairing antique cars and trucks. He plays the guitar, sings in the church choir, and enjoys playing volleyball and hiking. He likes math and is looking forward to graduating soon so he can work full time.
Marian said she is pleased that HSLDA’s advocacy on behalf of her family has also helped secure a good precedent that should assist other Kentucky families whose adoption subsidies are challenged because their children are homeschooling.“This is an injustice, and it needs to change,” she said.