A Kentucky family’s adoption subsidy came under threat when state officials argued a homeschool program didn’t qualify because it wasn’t “accredited.”
Although this term doesn’t exist in the state’s Adoption Assistance Handbook or any relevant statutes, it didn’t stop the Kentucky Department for Community Based Services from trying to stop subsidy payments from continuing.
“They said it’s impossible,” said Marian Jackson, who had adopted three brothers placed in her home when she was a foster parent. “If he’s homeschooled, you might as well not even try.”
Jackson is not alone in facing possible termination of adoption subsidies just for homeschooling. The Home School Legal Defense Association, which took Jackson’s case, is advocating for other families across the nation.
“Marian’s case is one of many in which HSLDA is working to restore benefits that have been wrongfully terminated because of homeschooling,” the nonprofit wrote on its website. “We are currently involved in three additional cases involving adoption subsidies and 53 cases involving Social Security payments.”
‘Invented new law on the spot’
Adoption subsidies typically continue for children until they turn 18. However, the government can extend payments if the 18-year-old is still in school – until the child turns 19 or graduates high school.
About 30% of students attend school beyond their 18th birthday, according to a 2014 Rutgers University study.
“Kentucky law allows individuals to receive a publicly funded education up to the age of 21, an implicit recognition of the fact that students progress at different rates,” HSLDA wrote.
Because one of her adopted sons had turned 18 in January, Jackson asked state officials to extend his subsidy payment until the spring when he would graduate from his homeschool program.
When they refused, Jackson contacted HSLDA, which requested an administrative hearing on her behalf.
As the nonprofit’s staff members prepared for the hearing, they noticed patterns between Jackson’s case and another one in Virginia, where a public school district threatened to charge homeschool parents with truancy unless they submitted proof of residency.
“Officials in the public school district may have felt they had good reasons for wanting the homeschool family to prove they were legal residents,” HSLDA wrote. “But by insisting on that proof, they essentially invented new law on the spot. This meant that HSLDA and the parents were fighting for a much higher principle than whether or not to hand over a few documents.”
The nonprofit presented its case based on a plain reading of Kentucky adoption law. The hearing officer agreed, concluding the subsidy should continue until Jackson’s son graduated high school.
“In a three-page opinion, he noted there was no evidence that Kentucky law limited adoption subsidies to ‘accredited’ schools,” HSLDA wrote.
Jackson welcomed the decision to restore the subsidy, saying it sets a precedent for other homeschool families who qualify for adoption subsidies in Kentucky.
“This is an injustice, and it needs to change,” she said.
Meanwhile, her son is thriving in his last year of homeschool. He plays the guitar, sings in the church choir, and plays volleyball.
In addition to his academic studies, he is apprenticing with Jackson’s husband to learn the auto body repair trade.
“He really loves it,” she said. “He hopes to help run the family business someday.”