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January-February 2006 Selected Content

Ask Carol - Carol Narigon

Looking for Money in All the Wrong Places
Logging in Pennsylvania

Looking for Money in All the Wrong Places

I am the mother of two girls, grades one and four, now in public school. We are considering homeschooling them beginning this fall. My sister is a teacher, but currently a stay-at-home mom, and we will pay her to do the teaching. Are there any vouchers or grants available to us? We live in Michigan.

In a word, no. There are no vouchers or grants for parents to pay a relative to teach their children. Definitions of what constitutes homeschooling vary from state to state, and definitions of homeschooling vary from homeschooler to homeschooler in increasingly heated debates, but what you're proposing is not homeschooling. It may be an acceptable practice under your state law for you to pay someone to tutor your children in her home, and you may even be able to do it under Michigan's homeschool law, but homeschooling is when children receive their education in their home largely from a parent or parents.

What you're asking to do is set up a private school with a staff of one and you'd like it to be publicly funded. I don't know of any state that does that.

In most states, a publicly-funded, private school or charter school would have to provide the state with a detailed plan for educating a number of children using public-school funds. In addition, the school would have to follow certain guidelines for testing, attendance, student/teacher ratio and all those other things that the state requires in return for tax dollars. Most homeschoolers would not welcome that kind of oversight taking place in their homes.

You may be able to find a publicly-funded charter school that allows you to keep the kids in the home. Online public charter schools work that way. They get the funds the state would have given your local public school to educate your child, skim half or more off the top for administrative costs, and then provide educational materials, teaching support, and testing according to state regulations. Again, it isn't homeschooling so it probably wouldn't be covered under the homeschool code or law in Michigan.

The Network of Michigan Educators ( has a Web site and an email list to support Michigan homeschoolers of all varieties. There are a number of e-mail lists, too. Just do a search with the words "Michigan" and "homeschool" at, and you'll find a pretty good selection, probably with one in your area.

Logging in Pennsylvania

Dear Carol, I am a new homeschooling mother from Pennsylvania. In the requirements for homeschooling in our area it says I need to keep a log. What exactly needs to be in this log? I also would like to know where I would find out about tax advantages? Any suggestions? - Donna

Homeschooling offers many advantages to families, Donna, but tax advantages aren't one of them. And many of us wouldn't support legislation that did give us tax money for homeschooling. On the surface, getting back or keeping more of our tax money seems like a good idea, but the actual practice would be a nightmare for those of us who want to guide our children's education in our own way. Just as the state has to follow its own, and now the federal government's, guidelines for achievement in the form of grades and testing, so would we. In addition, we would probably be required to allow home visits and other forms of supervision. Once the state "gives" us our money back, somebody would be obliged to make sure we spent it in a certain way and produced a certain result at a certain time. Most of us homeschool so we have more freedom, not less, so tax credits for homeschoolers is an idea that doesn't get much support.

As for your second question, the log required in the Pennsylvania law is part of your portfolio. The log is just a list of reading materials which should be created as the materials are being read. (The law says "contemporaneously," a word that's trying a little too hard to impress us.)

In addition to the log, the portfolio contains samples of "writings, worksheets, workbooks, or creative materials used or developed by the student." In other words, any educational paperwork samples you'd like to include to show progress or educational activity during the time period. You also have to include "nationally normed, standardized" test scores for grades three, five and eight.

There are many ways to put together a portfolio. Some homeschoolers make elaborate scrapbooks, others put a few samples in an envelope. Some keep track on their computers, others in a three-ring binder. I've always just kept a folder that I tuck things into from time to time -- event tickets, brochures, programs, certificates of achievement, letters, special stories or poems, artwork, and photos of field trips, science fairs, projects, recitals, or any special events. I also include a chronological list of all the special events, trips, field trips, and activities we've done with our homeschool group, scout troop, or family. I like going back through my calendar and remembering all we've done together throughout the year.

A portfolio doesn't have everything your child did during the year, just samples that represent what she did. From what I understand about your law, you show your portfolio to your evaluator to show your child's progress and the evaluator then writes a letter saying she's seen it and your child is progressing according to the law. You may have to give the portfolio to the superintendent for evaluation, as well.

Some people might mistakenly think the log is a way to keep track of what you do each day, but it's not. You are not required to keep track of your hours and how you spent them. The log is just a list of reading materials and nothing more. Frankly, I find it a strange requirement.

It's important to find an evaluator who understands your educational philosophy and work with her so you know what she expects to see in your portfolio. Some evaluators interpret the law differently from others. If you're an unschooling family, you probably won't want an evaluator who insists on seeing workbooks and lists of textbooks.

While the portfolio is a hoop to jump through for your state law, I've also found it's a wonderful way to make a record of the year that you can keep and look back on. My son is 21 -- long past homeschool age -- and I still keep a folder where I stick special things I think he might like looking at someday; programs from concerts his band plays in, photos, college grade letters.

One more thing to remember about your portfolio is that you shouldn't give more than you're asked for. Give the minimum required by law and no more. You may want to include more in the portfolio you show your evaluator than you do in the one you give the superintendent just so she gets a good idea of all you're doing. You don't have to include samples from every subject area. The law states that you include "samples of any writings" in addition to the test scores, the log, and the letter from your evaluator.

You can get more good information at the Pennsylvania Home Education Network website at or the Pennsylvania Home Educators website at As always, your best information will come from experienced homeschoolers in your own state.

Pennsylvania isn't the only state to require portfolios. Many states do, and if you haven't been doing it all along, now might be a good time to put some things together. It's a big job if you wait until the week before you meet with your evaluator. I find it's easiest to stick things in the folder as they happen so my portfolio is almost done when the time comes to show it off.

[Editor's note: For more on logs see "Learning Logs," page 24]

If you have questions you'd like answered, you can email Carol at or send a letter to our office at Home Education Magazine, PO Box 1083, Tonasket WA 98855-1083.

© 2006, Carol Narigon


Read more about Homeschooling, Tax Credits for Homeschoolers, Greater Regulation of Homeschooling and the Government Tax Breaks


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