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Michigan makes it easy for families to homeschool. Some say that puts children at risk.

stack of children's books

In recent years, the number of American families choosing to homeschool their children has been on the rise. Federal data estimate that the number of homeschooled students more than doubled between 1999 and 2012. 

Michigan is one of 11 states that does not require parents who are homeschooling their children to have any contact with state or local education officials.

Listen to our conversation with Mike Donnelly, an attorney with the Home School Legal Defense Association, about why he thinks increasing state oversight of homeschooling won't make children safer, and what he thinks would.

While many homeschool advocates believe that fewer state regulations give parents the freedom to develop a learning environment that works best for their children, some groups are drawing attention to the potential for abuse in that system. 

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Rachel Coleman is the executive director of the Coalition for Responsible Home Education. She says under Michigan law, parents who want to homeschool their children are supposed to provide “an organized educational program" that covers a wide variety of subjects.

But parents are not compelled to alert local school districts to their decision to homeschool, and the state does not track the educational progress of homeschooled children.

“There is no form, there is no list, and nobody checks in,” she says.

Coleman says this lack of regulation can lead to safety risks. Children who attend school interact with a range of adults — teachers, coaches, guidance counselors — who are mandated by law to file a report if they have reason to believe a child is being abused. But Coleman says since homeschooling parents have total control over who their children see, it's easier for abused children to slip through the cracks. 

Historically, legislation aimed at improving the state’s ability to regulate homeschooling has not fared well in the Michigan Legislature. Lawmakers who oppose new regulations have argued that they place undue burden on loving, law-abiding homeschooling families.

But Coleman says increasing the state’s oversight of homeschooling is not meant to inconvenience the many families who actively and compassionately educate their children at home — it’s meant to provide support to the children who don’t have that infrastructure.

“We’re not talking about making life harder for the responsible homeschooling parents, we’re talking about catching the cases where parents are abusing the homeschool law and using it to harm children.”

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Listen to Stateside’s conversation with Rachel Coleman to learn more about homeschooling laws in Michigan, and the changes she would recommend lawmakers make in order to better protect children. 

This post was written by Stateside production assistant Isabella Isaacs-Thomas.

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