|Adding up the cost of home schooling
Home schooling makes it possible for Jennifer Lawler,
a martial arts expert and single mother of a developmentally delayed
7-year-old daughter, to maintain her nationwide consulting business
while feeling confident that her daughter is getting a good education.
Lawler employs a full-time companion to travel with
her and her daughter and help oversee daily lessons and therapy.
She also hires a college student to offer additional help when the
family is at home.
A speech therapist comes twice a week to work with
Lawler's daughter. The $70 per hour charge is partially covered
by insurance. It would be fully paid for if her daughter were enrolled
in public school, but Lawler is unenthusiastic about public schooling
in the small Kansas town in which she lives: "They're just
not equipped to teach my daughter."
And she's unwilling to consider a special boarding
school in another state. "That alternative is just too expensive,
plus we don't want her to leave home," Lawler says.
Public help for personal education
Other parents have figured out ways to dip into public money
to relieve some if not all of the home schooling cost burden.
In fewer than 10 states, laws permit virtual charter
schools that allow students to be taught at home using resources
provided by the public school system. A number of companies have
sprung up to facilitate these kinds of arrangements: K12
Academy are two of the largest.
In California, Kris Bordessa relies on Horizon Instructional
Services, a local virtual charter school, to provide instructional
materials so she can teach her two sons, ages 9 and 11. Bordessa
receives a $1,000 stipend annually to purchase materials and pay
for lessons -- her sons are studying piano and rock
She is also eligible for a loaner computer and Internet
access, but Bordessa prefers to use her own computer equipment.
The remainder of the $6,000 Horizon receives from the school district
pays for books and teachers who assist Bordessa in structuring the
curriculum. And it covers other administrative and educational expenses
Bordessa estimates that she spends an additional $1,000
to $2,000 each year to augment the charter school resources. That
money goes for convenience and commuting costs. The Bordessas live
in a remote location so having a home library is important, and
getting the kids to lessons and get-togethers with other students
eats up gas money.
The most-expensive time in a home schooling parent's
life is when the children reach high school.
Christopher Klicka, senior attorney with the Home
School Legal Association, home schools his seven children, including
two daughters (ages 14 and 16), who are following a rigorous college-prep
course. This semester, they are taking English literature from a
teacher who charges each of them $300 for the course. They recently
completed an advanced-placement (AP) American history class, which
was taught by a teacher certified by the College Board, which administers
the AP program. That cost Klicka $400 per daughter.
He's recouping some of the expense by teaching a class
in world history himself to his own daughters, plus five other children,
through the local home-schooling association in northern Virginia.
He's charging a bargain rate: $200 per child.
Additional home schooling resources
If you're thinking about home schooling, enthusiasts say there
are ways to reduce costs and get an educational bang for your buck.
Get involved with a local home-schooling association.
Fellow members will help you learn all about available resources,
including books swaps, which can cut textbook costs enormously.
Check out the National
Home Education Network for links to all kinds of home schooling
But don't look for federal tax help in defraying the
cost of teaching your children at home, at least not yet. Bills
have been introduced periodically to clarify the tax-break standing
of home schools, but so far none has made it into law. Currently,
home-schooling costs cannot be claimed under the educator's
deduction. Home-schooling costs, says the IRS, "are nondeductible
personal, living, or family expenses."
And although money from a Coverdell
Education Savings Account can be used to pay for more than just
higher-education costs, tax experts say that home instruction doesn't
meet IRS school eligibility standards: "Any public, private,
or religious school that provides elementary or secondary education
(kindergarten through grade 12), as determined under state law."
Klicka is deeply involved in lobbying for federal
legislation favorable to home schoolers and he's hopeful that legislation
will pass in the next session, making Coverdell money more accessible
for home schooling expenses.
"We expect the law to be expanded to specifically
include home schoolers," Klicka says.
Jennie L. Phipps is a contributing
editor based in Michigan.