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Homeschool parents mobilize to fight Michigan efforts to add oversight

people sitting at a table
Homeschool advocates are fighting suggestions for a registry in Michigan. At a recent event in Madison Heights, speakers included state Rep. Jaime Greene, R-Richmond, Michigan Christian Homeschool Network Vice President Israel Wayne, Salt & Light Global Executive Director and COO Katherine Bussard, Citizens for Traditional Values President Eileen McNeil, and Michigan Leaders Unite Founder/President Lisha Kilgus. (Bridge photo by Brayan Gutierrez)
  • Parents who homeschool their children are not required to report they are homeschooling their children to the local district or state
  • Proponents of a homeschool registry say it will help state leaders understand where students are going to school 
  • Opponents of the registry say it’s unnecessary government interference

MADISON HEIGHTS — The fight for homeschool freedom began with a prayer recently inside a trade school in an industrial park in this Detroit suburb.

About 30 parents gathered as speakers called on them to mobilize against what they view as government overreach and interference in their ability to teach and raise their children. 

Their call to resistance: suggestions by Michigan’s state superintendent and others to count homeschooled children. Michigan is one of 11 states where parents don’t have to tell anyone they are opting out of traditional education.

“There's absolutely no benefit to (a registry.) I mean, it doesn't help students academically. It doesn't keep any student safe. It's needless government red tape,” said Israel Wayne, vice president of the Michigan Christian Homeschool Network that represents 11,000 families and helped organize the event and others like it in recent weeks.

Israel Wayne posing for a photo
Michigan Christian Homeschool Network Vice President Israel Wayne is helping organize opposition to suggestions that Michigan start a registry of homeschooled children. (Bridge photo by Brayan Gutierrez)

Meenakshi Simmons, a homeschooling parent in Lansing, said she worries the debate is becoming so emotional it will “turn into another culture war.”


The backlash follows concerns among state officials that there is no monitoring of homeschool children. In December, Attorney General Dana Nessel called for increased oversight after announcing the arrests of two Clinton County couples accused of abusing and profiting from nearly 30 children they adopted and homeschooled.

Nessel said in a social media post that “the homeschooling environment” in the home of one of the couples allowed abuse to “go unnoticed,” and that “implementing monitoring mechanisms is crucial to ensure that all children, including those homeschooled, receive necessary protections.” 

people sitting in chairs
Audience members sit in seats during a homeschool forum in February in Madison Heights. (Bridge photo by Brayan Gutierrez)

“Abusive parents are taking advantage of that to avoid being found out,” state Rep. Matt Koleszar, D-Plymouth, wrote on social media. “It’s time to support all Michigan students and change that.  Michigan cannot allow this loophole to continue.”

While no legislation is pending, the threat of regulations has coalesced a loose confederation of homeschool advocates, including groups like Citizens for Traditional Values, Liberty Leaders Unite and Salt & Light Global.

Some fear that a crackdown is more likely now that Democrats control the Michigan Legislature and a registry could be just the start.

A former city manager of Flushing, Clarence Goodlein, told Bridge Michigan  he suspects that a registry would lead to testing or other regulations that would “force those families’ children into public schools or legislate homeschool standards that most families could not meet, regardless of the quality of education that they deliver.”

In Michigan, homeschool students aren’t required to take proficiency tests that are standard in public schools. But the law states that homeschool students must be taught in an education program that includes “reading, spelling, mathematics, science, history, civics, literature, writing, and English grammar.”

Nationwide, rules vary widely, with New York and Massachusetts among the states requiring standardized tests for homeschool students, according to the Home School Legal Defense Association

That lack of standards worries some like James Murphy, who lives in Hemlock in the Upper Peninsula. He noted that teachers undergo years of training and are evaluated regularly.

“Does Michigan even know if (homeschool) parents are teaching anything?” he asked. 

“Some parents may persist in teaching theories long since disproven, notably on evolution, climate science, and many laughable conspiracy theories.”


A pandemic increase

Calls for registrations come amid a belief that homeschooling increased significantly because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Nationwide, the National Home Education Research Institute estimates there were about 3.1 million home school students in 2021-2022, compared to 2.3 million in spring 2016. 

A Washington Post analysis of thousands of school districts’ data found that in schools with comparable enrollment figures, homeschool student counts increased 51 percent between 2017-2018 school year and the 2022-2023 school year. The analysis found no correlation between a school district’s performance on standardized tests and homeschool participation. 

In Michigan, parents needed a teaching certificate to homeschool children until a 1993 state Supreme Court decision. While the lack of registry makes estimates difficult, state and federal data appear to indicate an increase.

The state is home to roughly 1.7 million school-age children, and 1.36 million are in public schools, while 182,000 are in private schools, according to 2022 Census data.


That would leave about 150,000 students who are either homeschooled or have dropped out.

That’s a bigger gap than in 2018, when there were an estimated 134,000 school-age students who were neither enrolled in public or private schools. The dropout rate during that time has remained relatively stable, at 7 percent or 8 percent.

“In recent years, our understanding of private and parochial school student enrollments has grown,” state Superintendent Michael Rice wrote in a letter that asked the Legislature to prioritize a registry of all school-aged children, ​​including homeschooled ones.

“Having a record of all children enrolled … would allow a clearer understanding of the children not currently enrolled in any learning environment. There is a history in Michigan and across the nation that some children do not receive any education, which is unacceptable,” Rice said in a statement to Bridge.

That is a “horrible” idea, said Fadwa Gillanders, who lives in southeast Michigan and attended the recent event in Madison Heights.

people picking up papers on a table
About 30 people attended a forum recently in Madison Heights to learn about potential laws in Michigan to register homeschoolers. (Bridge photo by Brayan Gutierrez)

She told Bridge she previously homeschooled her daughters and wants to help ensure other parents have the same opportunities to homeschool as she did. 

“I want to fight for freedom,” she said. 

‘There’s no missing children’

State Rep. Jaime Greene, R-Richmond, is a homeschool parent and told Bridge that any registry would require time and money from state officials. She predicted Rice’s proposal would prompt a huge pushback from homeschooled parents.

“There’s no missing children. They’ve gone to parochial school, a private school or are being homeschooled,” Greene said. “They’re just not choosing government school right now.”

Koleszar, the Plymouth lawmaker who supports a registry, said he rejects such talk, noting that parents already interact with the government with birth certificates and taxes.

“To say that it’s government overreach, I would push back on that,” he said.

Koleszar said a counting system would show that “somebody has had to vouch for them and say ‘this is where they are, this is where they are being educated.’” 

Simmons, the homeschool parent from Lansing, did not attend the recent event in Madison Heights. She said she worries the “temperature around these conversations is heating up” and the debate won’t protect children from being abused or neglected. 

Meenakshi Simmons headshot
Meenakshi Simmons is homeschooling her two children in Lansing. She said she worries the debate over creating a homeschool registry will distract leaders from taking steps to improve student safety for both homeschool and public school students. (Courtesy photo)

She homeschools both her 5-year-old and 8-year-old because of concerns about their safety. She said she didn’t feel like local schools had a strong plan or communications process for an active shooter.

“I still believe in public education and public education as an American institution, but I don't believe that it should be at the expense of a child's health or safety or spirit,” she said. 

Simmons said she would like to see more “robust research” on homeschooling and keeps a portfolio of her son’s work, curriculum and state standards to ensure he is on track. She said she and her husband are taking homeschooling “year by year.”

“I recognize that …I'm not a professional teacher,” she said. “I’m researching constantly. I’m an educated individual. But this isn’t easy … and I don’t know what’ll happen in the future.”

She said she doesn’t doubt some homeschooled kids are being neglected, but would support other policies that would make a bigger difference than a registry. 

For example, she said she would support a policy where a registered sex offender or someone with credible abuse allegations were not allowed to homeschool their child. 

“I just don’t quite know what they are aiming to monitor or fix with the registry,” she said.

—Mike Wilkinson contributed

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