Some Kentucky home-schooled students could be truants in disguise, new report says

From left, David Wickersham Bart Liguori, and Deborah Nelson, all of the Kentucky Office of Education Accountability, present research on homeschooling in Kentucky to state lawmakers on September 18 in Frankfort.
From left, David Wickersham Bart Liguori, and Deborah Nelson, all of the Kentucky Office of Education Accountability, present research on homeschooling in Kentucky to state lawmakers on September 18 in Frankfort. Kentucky Today

While acknowledging there’s quality education in many home schools, state public school officials worry that some families “who claim to be home schooling” are actually trying to hide truancy.

Eighty-two percent of state pupil personnel directors — those responsible for enforcing attendance laws — told researchers with the Kentucky Office of Education Accountability, they have observed families they believe are taking advantage of flexibility in home school laws to avoid legal consequences of truancy, Deborah Nelson, an analyst for the OEA told state lawmakers Tuesday.

Attendance verification was just one of the multiple issues with home schooling accountability that made an OEA report.

In Kentucky, parents are required to tell local districts annually if their children are being home schooled and they must maintain attendance and grade reports, but the OEA report said there is little guidance in how they should be monitored.

Home school parents have to teach the same subjects as public schools and to hold classes for the same duration of time as the public school term, but the teaching is not monitored, the report said.

And those charged with enforcing attendance are confused about the criteria they should use to monitor whether parents are providing adequate information to districts because there is no legal guidance or minimum standards, Nelson said. They often don’t know what to do if they are concerned about the quality of a home school, she added.

Some school district officials told OEA researchers about isolated cases of home school parents who had no instructional materials in the home, had no electricity or were living in their car. The report also found that there was some correlation between students who were chronically absent from the public school system and those who had transferred to home school.

Among the other findings in the OEA’s report:

State law authorizes the Kentucky Board of Education to establish criteria required for attendance and grade reports that apply to all schools, but the state board has not proposed regulations for keeping grade reports.

State law requires home schools to keep attendance in a register provided by the state board, but the state board does not provide home schools with an attendance register.

State law allows the Kentucky Department of Education to play a role in inspecting attendance and grade reports, but the Kentucky Department of Education does not currently play such a role, the report said.

Although accountability ultimately rests with local courts and state social workers investigating educational neglect, there is little legal guidance for state caseworkers and judges, Nelson said.

Statewide, there were substantial increases in high school students who transferred to home school after districts changed the age of compulsory school attendance from 16 to 18 in 2015. And statistics show that home school enrollments are increasing in Kentucky with 26,500 students home schooled in 2017. Of those, 1, 378 are in Fayette County, according to the report. There were an estimated 20,385 home school students in 2015-16, 1,253 in Fayette County.

After the legislative panel he co-chairs heard the findings in the OEA report, state Rep. Daniel Elliott, R-Danville, said, “It’s our job to figure out where the law needs to be. I’m struck by the level of information that we don’t know” about home schools.

After hearing the report, Kentucky Interim Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis said that he would “see if there is anything we can do to provide greater clarity or guidance” to pupil personnel directors. But, Lewis added, his department and the OEA have different interpretations of the state home school law and further regulating home schools is not in his plans.

Lee Watts, a board member of the Christian Home Educators of Kentucky who lives in Lexington, said home school students trying to escape the consequences of truancy was “an incredibly small percent.”

He said he was encouraged by the findings in the report that said home school graduates who enroll in Kentucky colleges outperform public school graduates, doing better on ACT scores and in grade point averages.

“That, In our opinion, proves that home school is doing very well in Kentucky,” he said.

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