While on the campaign trail, President Donald Trump promised to include home-schooled students in his school choice voucher program. Now that he’s in the Oval Office and Betsy DeVos, an outspoken advocate of school vouchers, has been confirmed as his secretary of education, more students may be utilizing this tax money for their education, should a divisive bill recently introduced in Congress, H.R. 610, be passed. Using vouchers for public or private schools is pretty straightforward because it’s essentially state-granted money that can be used to use on tuition at schools outside a family's district. But can school vouchers be used for home-schooling to pay for things like teaching supplies, textbooks, and other educational resources?
First things first: School vouchers are designed to give low-income families more options for their children if they decide not to send kids to their assigned public school district. However, when it comes to home-schooling, under Trump's voucher plan — he's pitched the idea of repurposing $20 billion in federal education dollars for it — the funds can only be used by families making less than $20,000 per year. In 2012, out of the nation's 11 million students who live in poverty, only 5 percent of homeschooling families made less than the required income, according to ProPublica.
Currently the majority of home-schoolers reportedly pay for any educational supplies out of pocket because a lot of families oppose using school vouchers as they might come with regulations and limitations that could affect the freedom of teaching the curriculum they'd like. “Government, after all, isn’t in the business of handing out money with no strings attached,” Jessica Huseman of ProPublica wrote last September.
It’s not clear if new home-schooling plans will come with any strings attached. At the moment, the level of regulation of home-schooling varies across the nation and is primarily based on location, meaning that some states have little to no regulation, while others have strict sets of rules. The program currently exist in 14 states.
However, if families are willing to comply with federal education regulations — like Common Core curriculum and annual standardized testing — and make less than $20,000 a year, school vouchers can indeed be used by parents to fund resources like textbooks, school supplies, and educational activities. Voucher laws essentially "reimburse parents for the amount of money that would have otherwise been used to educate their child in a public school" and the figures range from $2,000 to $5,000 depending on the state, according to GreatSchools, a national nonprofit organization that provides information for parents.
School vouchers are a hot-button issue for many when it comes to education. The idea is noble as it's meant to help the nation's most impoverished students go to school of their choice, but many fear Trump's voucher program won't work and will leave existing public schools without funds. There's also still a lot of general debate over whether or not voucher programs actually work and people still have plenty of uncertainties about Trump's education plan, DeVos' intentions, and the pending H.R. 610.
How all of this will affect home-schooling and the freedom to learn whatever families choose is best for their children remains up in the air for the time being. But for those who qualify and are seeking vouchers immediately, there are options.