Homeschool families are better protected in Ohio following an overhaul of the state’s education law this summer—and they will have to file a lot less paperwork going forward.
The budget bill passed in July spelled out the rights of homeschoolers in the law for the first time, and simplified the legal process for homeschooling families by reducing the amount of paperwork they have to file with local officials.
“I think it’s going to be great for Ohio families,” said HSLDA Staff Attorney Amy Buchmeyer. She worked with lawmakers and homeschool advocates to press for the changes. “I’m really excited.”
The biggest difference delivered by the new law for Ohio homeschoolers is the elimination of the need for an attendance excuse letter from their local public school.
Instead, homeschool parents will now file a much shorter notice of intent to exempt their child from the state compulsory school attendance law. Local public school superintendents will have 14 days to acknowledge receipt of the notice, but cannot interfere with the decision.
No More Excuses
The former requirement that homeschool parents obtain a letter of excuse is a result of regulations developed by the State Board of Education decades ago. Melanie Elsey, legislative liaison for Christian Home Educators of Ohio, worked closely with Buchmeyer on the changes this year.
Elsey recalled how the state board worked with a committee that included homeschool parents when it first devised regulations for home education in 1989. The challenge these rule makers faced was finding a way to comply with the statute which simply stated that all Ohio children must attend school unless otherwise excused. The letter of excuse was their solution in 1989.
“Ohio owes a debt of gratitude to those parents who helped draft those original regulations,” Elsey said. “They have provided a lot of stability for homeschool families.”
She added that the State Board of Education’s ongoing sensitivity to concerns expressed by homeschool families made that stability possible. (The board is composed of both elected and appointed members).
The tenure of Sarah Fowler-Arthur, a homeschool graduate who served on the state board for several years, is a good example. She is now a member of the state House of Representatives and was a key figure in shepherding the new homeschool law through the legislative process.
One Change Leads to Another
But that status quo was threatened in 2022, when a plan to change the structure for managing education policy was put in motion. Legislators introduced a bill to shift much of the board’s authority to the newly renamed Ohio Department of Education and Workforce, where appointees rather than elected officials would have the final say. The measure was passed in this year’s budget bill.
Anticipating this move, advocates began pressing for change in the education statute itself. They were concerned that appointed officials might be less attentive than elected state board members to the needs of homeschoolers, and saw an opportunity to simplify homeschool law.
For example, explained Buchmeyer, removing the excuse requirement should end the confusion that sometimes arose when public school officials wrongly assumed they had the authority to approve or disapprove a homeschool program.
“Under the old law, some superintendents felt like they needed more information before they could issue an excuse letter,” Buchmeyer said. “They might say they needed to know more about the textbooks being used, or extra details concerning the curriculum. Sometimes they asked for documents to confirm a student’s identity if the child happened to have a different last name from the parent or guardian.”
In these sorts of cases, Buchmeyer informed officials that they lacked the authority to request anything more than what was explicitly required by the homeschool regulations. And once parents submitted the requisite documentation, officials were obliged to issue a letter of excuse.
When Language Matters
To minimize future difficulties, Buchmeyer and other advocates worked closely with legislators to ensure the language of the new measure was clear and concise. They also took care to harmonize it with other parts of the law that overlap with homeschooling, such as scholarships, dual enrollment, and access to public school sports.
For example, Elsey said advocates made sure that the new measure removed a clause that would have placed all homeschoolers under the statute covering truancy. Since the point of the new law was to exempt homeschoolers from the compulsory school attendance regulations, “this made absolutely no sense,” she said.
Once the language for the homeschool law was finalized within the budget bill, the provision advanced without any major obstructions.
“There is general support for home education in the legislature,” Elsey explained. “Our elected officials want to make sure they’re providing opportunities for all students.”
Rep. Fowler-Arthur concurred.
“We recognized there was a potential for positive steps as well as the opportunity to make Ohio similar to other states in terms of homeschool protection,” she said. “This is really going to support parents as they direct the education of their children.”
Buchmeyer said the next step is to inform and empower families as they adapt to the new rules.
“The next school year is going to entail a lot of adjustments,” she said. “But there are going to be great benefits as well. I would encourage families to make sure they and their homeschooling friends are aware of these changes.”
“And, as always, HSLDA stands ready to assist our members as they navigate the new processes and if they encounter unexpected or unreasonable obstacles,” she added.