Sunday, May 1, 2011

About the money...

Home learning families often limp along on one income. It's the reality of choosing to have your children with you 24/7: someone needs to be available to be the caregiver for the children, to give them support and attention as fits their developmental and emotional needs. Often, depending on the ages of the kids, that's a full-time job right there.

Families have different ways of making it work, but it often comes down to figuring it out on a penny by penny basis.

This is one of the reasons why Distributed Learning (DL) schools, especially with the current cornucopia of choice, are so popular among home learners. Many parents cannot walk away from difference that $1000, $3000, or even $5000 (in large families!) can make in the lives of their children. I have often heard of children who would not be able to afford to pursue passions like music or dance or sports if it wasn't for the money provided through a DL school. UPDATE: As of 2014, DL programs are only able to provide $600 (or less) towards direct-access resources.

It's also a fact that there are home learning families who, if not "for the money", would gladly choose registration and the freedom from government oversight over enrollment. And, from time to time, people in this situation may feel that it's unfair that DLs appear to be receiving financial preferential treatment from the government, almost as though the registration option is not worth notice. These parents may wish to rattle some cages and ask the Ministry of Education to provide more money for registered families.

But that's because they may not understand this one vitally important thing: the money is never for the family.

School Funding

No DL or registering school in this province is required to give any home learning family any money in any form. In fact, they do not have the legal right, in the case of DL, to provide direct reimbursement, in the form of a cheque or cash, to parents.

Why? Because the money is not for the child or the family. It's for the school.

DL schools are obligated to use school funding to provide an educational program to a child (and that includes children eligible for a special education grant). It's up to them to determine how they will deliver that, including materials, resources, instruction, and support. Because home learning families are a choosy crowd, many DLs do the same thing -- they figure out a way to provide materials and services of a family's choosing through purchase orders or a reloadable Visa card or direct payment to a community-based service provider (like a dance school or music teacher). No money is to land directly in a parent's hand.

Why is that? In 2006, Bill 33 changed the School Act and made it legally clear that DL enrollment is not the same as section 13 registration.

Because, according to law, schools can reimburse section 13 families for home education related expenses--at their discretion. They don't have to, but they most certainly can.

Incentive-Free DL

Earlier in the 2000's, DL schools were competing for students by means of reimbursements. More learners means more money for their programs (and school districts).

Bill 33 clarified that money cannot go to parents by legally identifying Distributed Learning (DL) as a regular school program, bound by the requirements and expectations of every other school in the province. In addition, the DL school contracts with the Ministry clarified that no DLs are allowed to use funds as an enrollment incentive. The Independent DL school agreement, which covers the majority of K to 9 DL enrollment in this province, states that a DL "may not provide financial payments or reimbursements to students or the parents or guardians of Students" and "may not use any of the funding... as an incentive to have a Student enroll."

It's pretty clear. There is no money, not officially, for families enrolling in a DL program. The money is for the school alone. If they choose to supply materials or classes or resources and have figured out a way to pay for those things in a way that fits the law and their MinEd contract, then that's the way it currently works. And, as things currently stand, it means it works for a lot of families.

By the way, the law also says:
82 (1) A board must provide free of charge to every student of school age resident in British Columbia and enrolled in an educational program in a school operated by the board,
      (a) instruction in an educational program sufficient to meet the general requirements for graduation,...
      (c) educational resource materials necessary to participate in the educational program.
(I suspect this means your child should never have to pay additional fees to participate in a class or program offered by your child's DL, but you could check with the Ministry of Education to clarify.)

Registration and the Law

We often get as far as sections 12 through 14 in the School Act when it comes to registered home education in BC and that's where we stop. But there is a lot more there, including "the money" and what a school's responsibilities are to a registered homeschooler.

But there is nothing written that suggests that registered learners are entitled to any money at all.

In fact, as it stands, the Minister of Education, as per the School Act, has the jurisdiction to make orders:
168 (1) (j.2). establishing, for the purposes of section 168.1, the amount a student or a child registered under section 13 may be reimbursed, including
          (i) setting the maximum amount that may be paid,
          (ii) establishing a limit on the number of educational activities or categories of educational activities for which reimbursement may be made, and
         (iii) setting different amounts and different limits for different educational activities or different categories of educational activities,
It's all in the Minster of Education's hands.
168.1 The minister may reimburse a student or a child registered under section 13 for expenses incurred for instruction, examination or certification with respect to an educational activity or a category of educational activities designated by the minister, in the amount established by the minister, if the student or child
      (a) is of school age,
      (b) is resident in British Columbia, within the meaning of section 82 (2), and
      (c) demonstrates a standard of achievement, satisfactory to the minister, in the designated educational activity or category of educational activities.

Fees for Students Registered Under Section 13

Here's an interesting tidbit. According to the School Act, all schools, including those providing registration under section 13 of the School Act, can charge fees.
82 (6) A board must publish a schedule of the fees to be charged and deposits required and must make the schedule available to students and to children registered under section 13 and to the parents of those students and children before the beginning of the school year.
82 (4) A board may require a deposit for educational resource materials provided to students and to children registered under section 13.
     (5) If a board requires a deposit under subsection (4), it must refund all or part of the deposit to the student or child on return of the educational resource materials.

What Must Schools Offer as Part of Section 13 Registration?

It's all in the School Regulation.
3. (1) A school or francophone school that registers a child under section 13 of the Act must offer
         (a) evaluation and assessment services sufficient to enable the parents of the child to determine the educational progress achieved by the child in relation to students of similar age and ability, and
         (b) the loan of educational resource materials that are authorized and recommended by the minister,
                  (i) which, in the board's opinion, are sufficient to enable the child to pursue his or her educational program, and
                 (ii) which will be offered to the child on a similar basis to the offer of such educational resource materials to students.

(2) With the permission of a board, a child registered in a school or francophone school under section 13 of the Act may audit educational programs offered by the board subject to any terms and conditions established by the board, including the payment of any fee.

(3) A child in grade 10, 11, or 12 registered in school francophone school, or independent school under section 13 of the Act may enroll in all or part of an educational program that is
         (a) offered by a board or an independent school, and
         (b) delivered through distributed learning.

Note: If your child in grade 10, 11, or 12 enrolls in a class in a Brick and Mortar school, he will lose his registered status. Your child in those grades can, however, take as many DL courses as she likes without losing her registered status.

There is additional Ministry of Education policy about the responsibilities of Registering Schools (although policies are much easier to change than statutes).

Bottom Line

The government does not want to directly give DL families financial compensation for learning at home.

DL money is for the DL school, so the school can provide an educational program to the enrolled students.

Why? Because it's not fair to the Brick and Mortar families. The Ministry doesn't want to differentiate between the two types of enrollment in terms of services, administration, or relationship to families. The only difference is mode of delivery or "venue".

Unlike DL, however, registered families can receive compensation for educational expenses. But only to a point. When Sections 12 and 13 became part of the School Act in 1989, public schools received $1200 for each registered homeschooler and independent schools received $600. By 1994, that number had been decreased to its current levels of $250 per learner for a public school and $175 per learner for an independent school. Why?

Registration money is for the registering school so it can do the administrivial tasks required and be compensated for the time involved.

I suspect that public schools were not providing much in the way of access to resources to home educating students, so the amounts were dialed down to cover administration costs only. It may also have been that the government was thinking that more money required greater accountability and, instead of increasing oversight, decided to decrease funding. I don't know for sure.

The Alberta government, however, minces no words on the matter. As per the Alberta Home Education Handbook: "The Alberta government uses public dollars to fund education. Funding varies according to the level of public accountability in the program. School authority programs are subject to a higher level of public accountability than home education programs and so receive a higher level of funding."

I'm always amazed at registering independent schools in BC who, at their own discretion, provide up to $150 to compensate home learning families for materials and resources. I'm very grateful to them. And I know that independent schools offer this reimbursement to families as it then takes care of their obligation to loan materials (a headache to administer). Money, however, is not something that registered homeschoolers are entitled to receive. In fact, independent schools, unlike public schools, don't even have to register anyone if they don't want to. They provide this service as a kindness.

No More Money

Most currently registered homeschooling families would balk at "more money". Here's why.

More money for registering schools would very likely mean more oversight for registered families. Money always requires increased accountability to government and to tax payers -- not just for how the money is used, but how effectively the money is being used.

We don't want that.

We don't want to go the way of Alberta where even the least intrusive option (where parents do not follow the Alberta Programs of Studies) requires two home visits a year from certified teachers who "measure progress" based on parent developed learning outcomes as well as basic provincially determined learning outcomes.

This is not even the "online learning program" option, which would be the equivalent to DL in our province. This is the equivalent to our sections 12 and 13, and is much more intrusive than many BC DL options. Sure, home educators get more money per child, but is it worth the price?

It's the same in the Yukon, which once had laws similar to ours that were changed in 2002... and where there is no financial compensation for home educators in any form. Now, "as part of registration, parents are required to submit an education plan. The plan includes the methods of teaching and the resources you will use for the subjects of literacy and numeracy [including "the skills of literacy, listening, speaking, reading, writing, numeracy, mathematics, analysis, problem solving, information processing computing"]. There is no requirement to provide this information for other subject areas." In addition, the children are subject to testing and "the Minister may, in writing, terminate the home education program if the Minister is of the opinion... that the student has failed to meet standards of student achievement, as measured by achievement testing, comparable to schools operated by the Minister or a School Board."

This is very different from BC where it's stated in both law and policy "The school has no authority to approve or supervise the educational program of a homeschooled child."

This is the beauty of registration in BC. This is why our legal status under sections 12 through 14 of the School Act is so precious and deserves to be protected as is. Parents truly are in charge of their children's learning without having to submit plans and learning outcomes to schools or Ministry officials. Our children are not poked and prodded with respect to what and how much they know (and neither are their parents). It is educational freedom at its best.

If preserving our statutory rights to educate our children free of government oversight and involvement means not taking "the money", so be it!