Bulletin #15 How College Bound homeschool students might be affected by legislation like HR2732/SB1562  12/08/2003

 

Did you know: The federal government is considering legislation that effects homeschooled students bound for college. That legislation will have profound affects on our freedom to homeschool.

 

Scholarship money

Your homeschooled child is bound for college. Attending college costs a lot of money. Scholarship money can help defray the costs of higher education. Some scholarships, like the Byrd Scholarship,

 

http://www4.law.cornell.edu/uscode/search/display.html?terms=byrd%20scholarship&url=/uscode/html/uscode20/usc_sup_01_20_10_28_20_IV_30_A_40_6.html

 

are offered by the federal government. Proposed Federal Legislation like HR2732 and SB1562 will give homeschoolers the ability to apply for these federal scholarships. Up until now, homeschoolers have had total autonomy from federal government education mandates because homeschoolers have not accepted federal funding of any kind. Homeschoolers have been totally independent. Yes, it is very attractive to be able to be awarded $1500 towards college, but for homeschoolers this becomes the point at which they also now become eligible for federal regulation and oversight. The homeschoolers that apply for or accept this kind of scholarship money will be jeopardizing their children's right to freely homeschool.

 

In order to apply for these scholarships, what will homeschoolers have to show to "demonstrate outstanding academic achievement? How will homeschoolers have to define "being enrolled as a full-time student, and maintaining satisfactory academic progress"? What selection procedure will the US Secretary of Education decide will be appropriate for homeschoolers? Is $1,500 worth the cost of homeschool freedom?

 

Federal legislation that is being considered (HR2732/SB1562) to revise to the Byrd Scholarship program will only invite further reporting requirements and regulation for homeschoolers and the risk shown here outweighs the benefit!

 

Remember, when the government gives away money, it will want accountability, and accountability inevitably leads to regulation. There are many public and private scholarships available that contain certain criteria for eligibility. Students in public schools do not qualify for all scholarships. If homeschoolers do not qualify under the particular criteria of any one scholarship, they should seek funding elsewhere. Taking the extra time and effort to seek out funding elsewhere is far more preferable than to accept funding from the government and risking potential regulation.

 

Admittance to college

A letter was written in November 2002 by the Department of Education to clarify the issue regarding college admittance and homeschoolers. The letter "Eligibility of Home-Schooled Students – Institutional and Student Eligibility" can be found at http://www.ifap.ed.gov/dpcletters/GEN0211.html

In summary, this letter states that an institution can admit most home-schooled students as regular students without jeopardizing its eligibility to participate in the Title IV, HEA student financial assistance programs. The Department considers that a home-schooled student is beyond the age of compulsory school attendance if the State in which the institution is located does not consider the student truant once he or she has completed a home-school program. Enrollment of these students would therefore not jeopardize the institution’s eligibility. The Department of Education explains Title IV, HEA program institutional and student eligibility issues, but emphasizes that decisions regarding admission standards and requirements for students, including home-schooled students, are generally matters of individual institutional policy. Additionally, this letter was accepted and understood by the people who are introducing changes to the Higher Education Act with HB2732/SB1562, and in fact they have stated it in their own issue analysis document of June 19, 2003; "Furthermore, institutions of higher learning that receive federal aid can admit homeschool graduates, at any age, without endangering their institutional eligibility. For federal financial aid, homeschoolers need only self-certify their homeschool diplomas." http://www.hslda.org/docs/news/hslda/200306/200306190.asp With regard to federal legislation that is being considered (HR2732/SB1562) the following section revision is totally unnecessary! The fact that more federal legislation will include the words "home school" will only jeopardize our children, and their children, from homeschooling in freedom.

 

Education Savings Accounts

Briefly, the Education Savings Accounts may be used to pay for elementary or secondary educational expenses related to enrollment or attendance at an eligible school for a designated beneficiary (child) such as tuition, books, tutoring, special needs services, room and board, uniforms and transportation. Computer equipment is included if it is used for educational purposes. The educational institution should be able to tell you if it is an eligible educational institution. Up to $2000 may be added to each child’s account each year by qualifying parents and relatives and the money then belongs to the child. It is counted as the child’s asset and income when applying for education loans. If it is not used by the time the child is 30 years old, it becomes theirs. It should also be noted that trustee fees to manage the account may exceed the tax-free interest earned and in order to access this type of tax benefit, parents are required to file a tax return.

 

Parents are not able to take advantage of the Education Savings Account unless they comply with the federal rules that established the account. While it may sound laudable to include homeschool families under this section of the IRS code, with the statement ‘if such school is treated as a home school or private school under State law' , it would be problematic for homeschoolers in states which do not currently ‘treat’ them under state law. In order to qualify for a small tax benefit, states would need to enact laws which would ‘treat’ homeschoolers as a home or private school, thereby removing any independence homeschoolers in those states now enjoy. A change in Federal legislation regarding the Coverdell Education Savings Accounts is simply one more way that homeschoolers will be included in a category of parents who must endure federal regulation. Until now, the Internal Revenue Service had no ability to review anything regarding homeschooling. With implementation of this bill, this agency of the federal government will be authorized to intrude on and regulate the activities of a homeschooling family. With implementation of this bill, the IRS will have to implement a new definition of homeschooling. They will have to qualify what constitutes an "eligible homeschool" and what homeschool expenses are "legitimate expenses" under IRS code.

 

If families want to use their own money to pay for the education of their own children, they can do so right now with no government rules attached. Another alternative to a government program would be to open a tax-free no-load mutual fund to save for your child’s education. To learn more about this type of investment program visit: http://www.troweprice.com/mutual/fixed/investingTaxFree/0,3285,lnp=10094&cg=910&htmlid=39,00.html

 

Because these are private mutual fund investments, none of your fellow homeschoolers would have their freedom threatened by federal regulation so you could qualify. No state would have to institute homeschool laws to treat homeschools "as a home school or private school under State law" in states which currently do not regulate them as such. Additionally, you and your family members would be able to save for your child without any limits on the amount you set aside and your educational choice will not have to be approved by the government. Homeschoolers need to assess whether this small tax benefit is worth trading for legislation regulating homeschools in those states which do not currently do so. To learn more about Coverdell ESA’s (Educational Savings Accounts) either request IRS publication 970 - Tax Benefits for Education – or visit their web site at http://www.irs.gov/publications/p970/index.html

 

Tax Credits

HR 615 (the `Hope Plus Scholarship Act of 2003’) seeks to amend the IRS code of 1986 to allow the HOPE Scholarship Credit to be used for elementary and secondary expenses. Language in there also includes homeschooling families. Here again the IRS will have to get involved in determining definition and applicability of homeschoolers for this tax credit. They will have to qualify what constitutes an "eligible homeschool".  For more information about the bill you can see if at http://thomas.loc.gov/ and general information about the Hope Scholarship Credit as it is established now is at (http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p970.pdf).

 

Conclusion

After legislation is adopted and becomes law, the government agencies responsible for enforcing the law will write rules and regulations that will determine how the law will be enforced. These regulations will also have the force of law. Some provisions in this kind of legislation will require that the federal government define homeschooling. Right now, the federal government has no authority over homeschooling because the authority in education resides within each individual state's statutes. The only way for the federal government to gain authority over homeschoolers is if homeschoolers give the federal government the authority to do so by asking for money or funding through this kind of legislation. Current bills being considered by congress, that do this, are HR 2732, HR 282, HR 612, HR 615, SB1562 and SB1793.

 

The issue of admittance to college has already been acknowledged and resolved. As you can see, the attempt to control homeschooling through government purse strings is apparent. Scholarship money, tax credits, and Education Savings Accounts are directly related to college costs. While it may be attractive to have the government "help us" with the expense of college - who will really be paying that expense? Our children and their children may be saddled with the regulation that comes with those purse strings. Remember, there is no such thing as a free lunch.

 

Attorney Deborah Stevenson - Executive Director of National Home Education Legal Defense. – www.nheld.com or email : info@nheld.com

Judy Aron - Director of Research, NHELD – imjfaron@sbcglobal.net