Home-school population an unknown quantity
In Kansas, and in Leavenworth County, nobody seems to know how many home-schooled children there are.
According to Kansas Department of Education statistics, 377 home schools are registered in Leavenworth County.
"Some of those that are registered may be home schools that are no longer active, but we don't know that because they don't have to notify us when they stop," said Terry Cleveland, administrative specialist in school improvement and accreditation with KDE.
And, according to state law, parents are asked to register their home schools, but there is no penalty for failing to do so.
Richard Erickson, Tonganoxie school superintendent, said he didn't know how many home-schooled children live in the Tonganoxie school district.
"The last time we checked three or four years ago there were about 129 students," Erickson said. "I don't think anybody keeps records of home school kids. I don't think we're following those folks very closely and probably not monitoring those students the way they should."
Kevin Ireland, a staff attorney with the state education department, said when home schools register with the state they do not have to specify the number of students.
"The registration law was never intended to do that," Ireland said. "It's really not unlike a deed recording statute where you go down and file your deed. Nobody's checking the validity of the deed you're simply filing, or recording, the deed."
And Ireland said, just because a school is registered, doesn't mean it's accredited.
"This is because in Kansas you do not have to be accredited as a private school by the state department of education," Ireland said. "There is no requirement to participate in state assessments or anything else that is considered to be monitoring what is going on."
Ireland said he thinks the state's statute is misleading.
"I think people believe that when they fill out the form that they are somehow being approved as a school, and that is absolutely not the case," Ireland said.
To be accredited as a private school in Kansas, Ireland said, schools must meet these criteria:
They must be in session for approximately the same number of hours as public schools.
Teaching must be done by a competent instructor.
There must be planned scheduled instruction which includes lesson plans and record keeping.
"If you can meet those three factors and you comply with ADA, you can have a school in a tree house in your back yard," Ireland said.
Ireland said it's likely there are a lot of home schoolers who are likely doing a fine job of educating their children. But he expressed concern that there are others who may not be teaching adequately.
"I think there's steps that need to be taken," Ireland said.
He noted that at one time under Kansas law, all schools were required to teach minimum core subjects. In 1968, he said, the law was amended so that the mandatory core subjects only apply to public and private accredited schools.
"Amending a statute that we've had for years that would simply require all schools, whether they're accredited or not, to teach the basic courses," Ireland said.