HOME supports the right of all parents to choose the best educational option for their children, whether that is public school (including charter school), private school, or homeschooling. However, it is vitally important for both parents and government officials to understand the differences in these options.
HOME exists to protect the liberty of parents to educate their children without government oversight through homeschooling. Virtual and charter schools, as well as Education Savings Account programs (ESAs) and vouchers, may involve education in the home, but these programs are usually government funded and regulated for the purpose of accountability to the taxpayer.
Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), says this:
"On principle, homeschooling has succeeded as a movement in part by being different. We have not been like typical constituencies asking for our piece of the public-money pie—we have mostly asked to be left alone. This has fostered one of the most dynamic social movements of our lifetime.
The spirit of self-reliance at the heart of private homeschooling has led to a vibrant social network of small groups and statewide groups who depend on each other—not on the government. The homeschooling movement has been a better idea because we built it ourselves."
Homeschooling that is funded by the parent is free from excessive government oversight and regulation, and must continue to remain so to be the effective option that it is today. An environment where publicly funded school choices are the only option is no choice at all.
Public Charter Schools and Homeschooling
Understanding the distinction between virtual charter schools and homeschooling is vital. Charter schools provide parents with another school choice. However, charter schools (virtual or otherwise) are still public schools in every sense of the word.
What is a Charter School?
According to Home School Legal Defense Association, a charter school is “a publicly funded school that is typically governed by a group or organization under a contract or charter with the state.” Each school forms a charter, which is essentially a performance contract detailing the school’s goals, programs, and methods of assessment. In exchange for meeting the set goals, the school is granted an exemption from many traditional public school regulations. Charters typically last for 3–5 years, and at the end of the contract period, the overseeing authority (usually a state or local school board) reviews the school’s performance and determines whether to renew the charter. Although in some ways, charter schools operate similarly to private schools, they are still public schools because they are funded by taxpayer dollars (including both state and federal funds).
Can Charter School Students Be Homeschool Students?
A law passed by the Maine Legislature in 2012 allows the Maine Charter School Commission to authorize as many as 10 public charter schools over the next 10 years. While charter schools provide another educational choice, they are still public schools in every sense of the word, and the students enrolled in them are public school students. It is important to know the difference between public charter schools and homeschools, and the level of freedom and parental involvement available in each.
Homeschools are both legally and fundamentally different from charter schools. The definitions below describe the difference between these two educational choices. In a word, the difference is freedom!
Charter Schools – Charter schools, whether brick and mortar or virtual, are nonsectarian and publicly funded public schools of choice. They operate with some freedom from many of the regulations that apply to traditional public schools. However, charter schools are responsible for the education of the students enrolled, not parents. Students must follow all of the program’s policies and procedures. Accountability in charter schools is based in large part on student performance on assessments, which are aligned to state standards. Curriculum choice is not an option.
Homeschools – By law, homeschools are separate from the public school system. Under Maine law, MRSA title 20-A, §5001-A, sub-§3A.(4), parents must provide a notice of their intent to homeschool their child. Parents take full responsibility for the child while the child is being homeschooled. Parents legally direct the education of the child by choosing and adapting curriculum, facilitating the process, and determining academic needs and goals. Homeschools are funded exclusively by the parent.
For more background, read Charter Schools and Virtual Charter School: “School at Home” not Necessarily Homeschooling by HSLDA (Home School Legal Defense Association) and Virtual Charter School Myths.
What are Education Savings Accounts?
ESAs redirect funding that the state would have spent on a child in public school to an education savings account for the child that is controlled by the parent. Parents can then use that money to pay for a variety of educational options including private school tuition, tutoring, special education services, educational products and virtual education.
Why do ESAs pose a threat to homeschooling?
To maintain freedom from excessive government oversight and regulation, parent-funded, parent-directed homeschooling must continue to be protected and preserved. The lines become blurry when homeschoolers take taxpayer money to educate their children at home. In fact, through ESAs homeschooling simply becomes public education at home.
Here are some simple points to remember:
For more background, read Education Liberty versus School Choice by Barbara Dragon
School or education vouchers provide government-funded scholarships for a student at a school chosen by the student or the student's parents. Schools must meet established government standards in order to accept voucher recipients.
Vouchers are not a free hand-out from the government and will regulate parental freedoms.
For more background, read Reasons Home Schoolers Should Avoid Government Vouchers from HSLDA.
Know the Difference Between Government Funded and Regulated Education and Education Liberty! Read and review the Maine Educational Choice Comparison Chart and an article by Kathi Kearney, M. A. Ed., addressing the differences in Maine educational choices.