For years, homeschooling and public education have been separate and sometimes at odds. But changing attitudes and technology have meant a merging of sorts.
Now, many school districts are using the internet to reach out to homeschooled children. The families get curriculum and support, while the districts receive state funding they otherwise might not get.
In 1998 Basehor-Linwood School District became the first district in Kansas to link homeschoolers and public schools with online education through the internet.
At least four other Kansas school districts have followed suit, including Wichita, Elkhart, Moundridg, and Haven, and others are thinking about it.
“It definitely reflects a change of attitude by educators toward homeschooling,” said Brenda DeGroot, director of Basehor’s Virtual Charter School.
“Educators want what is best for children and so do parents, so we should be able to work together to accomplish this and not send [homeschooled children] out to pasture,” she added.
Topeka attorney Kent Vincent, who has homeschooled his children for more than two decades, sees another reason.
“It appears they have come to the point where they see that homeschooling is here to stay,” he said of the Basehor district. “They are trying to figure how to get [students] back into the public system in some way.”
For parents, homeschooling can be daunting, and there are many times when help from professional educators can be well received, even by hardcore homeschoolers. That’s where the Basehor program comes in handy.
DeGroot said there are no plans to dismantle homeschooling with the program.
“The parent is the teacher in the home, and we are providing a structure [a parent] can fall back on,” she said.
DeGroot said Basehor’s programwith some 375 students statewidecouldn’t have existed a decade ago because the technology wasn’t there.
The coursework is provided by teachers, and homeschoolers get the use of a computer and textbooks when they register. A homeschooler enrolls for as many courses as he or she wants and can earn a high school diploma from the school district.
After registering, each student gets an eMail address and password to a site. At that site, lists of teachers and available courses are posted along with the requirements and textbooks needed.
The school district benefits because it receives state pupil aid money it otherwise wouldn’t get. DeGroot said the funding helps pay for the program’s expenses, including teacher salaries and supplies.
Melanie Dearing, of Overland Park, Kan., is in her fourth year of homeschooling four children ages six to 16. Skeptical at first, Dearing now serves as the program’s parent liaison.
“It’s a safety net of ideas. I’m still clearly as much the teacher as I was the first year I did it,” she said.
There’s a philosophical debate among homeschoolers over blurring lines between them and public schools.
“We have our liberties in home education in Kansas because we haven’t taken public support,” said Vincent. “Those who receive taxpayer money in any form are in a sense taking away that status of total independence that has protected homeschoolers up to this point.”
But Dearing, a one-time public school teacher, disagrees.
“That’s a misconception,” she said. “I have all the freedom in the world to be a homeschool mom.”
Basehor Virtual Charter School
Kansas Department of Education