Education committee discusses potential changes to state funds for homeschoolers

Kentucky’s homeschooling parents and students are advocating alongside lawmakers for better access to state sponsored college scholarships.

Sen. John Schickel (R-Union) was joined by a homeschooling parent, two homeschooled students and Mark Messingschlager, director of financial aid at Thomas More University, at the Interim Joint Committee on Education on Tuesday. Together, they asked lawmakers to consider potential legislation that would give Kentucky’s homeschooled students more access to Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship (KEES) funds. 

Homeschooled students are not currently eligible to earn KEES money through their GPA like students who attend a certified public or private school, despite most homeschooled students being at the same level academically as certified school students, Schickel said.

“All the data shows that children that are homeschooled on average, and there’s always exceptions, but on average are some of the best prepared students for college in the state,” Schickel said.

Laura Edwards, a homeschooling parent, said homeschooled students are only eligible for up to $2,000 of KEES funds while certified students can earn up to $10,000 in KEES funds. In her presentation, Edwards shared with the committee her thoughts on where the current law is not fair to homeschooled students.

“Kentucky says that college readiness is earning at 3.0 in high school or higher and an ACT of 18 or higher,” Edwards said. “Currently, our state scholarship gives KEES awards to students that have a 2.5 and higher for their GPA and a 15 or higher on their ACT.

“So the concern here is that we’re awarding state scholarships for college to students who are not college ready, whereas we have a population of high school students that have proven college readiness and cannot get the GPA award.”

Edwards proposed several methods to increase eligibility for homeschooled students. One proposal includes creating a formula using a student’s GPA from dual credit college courses or standardized test scores.

Messingschlager said homeschooled students “routinely excel” in dual credit courses.

As for potential legislation, Schickel recently filed Draft Bill Request 226 for the 2023 Regular Session related to KEES awards for high school students who graduate from a nonpublic secondary school not certified by the Kentucky Board of Education. He said, however, he’s not currently “tied to any bill.”

Rep. Tina Bojanowski (D-Louisville) asked about the potential cost if homeschooled students were eligible for more KEES funds.

Messingschlager said the potential cost has not been calculated, but since statute dictates that KEES is funded first through the Kentucky Lottery, the scholarship would remain fully funded.

Several lawmakers, including Sen. Adrienne Southworth (R-Lawrenceburg) and Sen. Jimmy Higdon (R-Lebanon) expressed support for a bill to give homeschoolers more access to KEES funds even as the details are still in the process of being worked out.

“It’s time that we discussed this. It’s a very worthy cause,” Higdon said.

Southworth said as a homeschooled student in Kentucky, she had better options to attend college out of state.

“But if this kind of stuff was around when I was a homeschool senior, I sure would have even taken a look at Kentucky schools. But at that time, it wasn’t even on the table for me. And so I didn’t even look at it. So I think it’s gonna be a really good opportunity for our students,” she said.

During the interim, the Kentucky General Assembly cannot take any action on legislation. The 2023 legislative session begins Jan. 3.

The next Interim Joint Committee on Education meeting is currently scheduled for 11 a.m. Oct. 18. 

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