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Out-of-state business ‘profiting’ from funds intended for homeschooling

Outschool LEGO classes, 3D printers, routers, computers, Disney+ and Hulu subscriptions, ballet lessons and model trains. These are just some of the items that home schoolers are buying with state funds through a new program run by a Utah-based company in collaboration with an Indiana public school district.

Here’s how it works, as reported by Chalkbeat Indiana and education blogger Steve Hinnefeld. Tech Trep, the Utah company, advertises its services to home schoolers. Cloverdale Community Schools, the Indiana public school district that partners with Tech Trep, receives tuition support from the state for each kid who enrolls. Cloverdale keeps 20% of the state funding and passes the rest to Tech Trep. Of that, families can use a point system to order up to $1,700 worth of educational items — including curriculum — or services per child.

Meanwhile, Indiana’s refusal to fund public school textbooks means that parents of children in public school must pay to “rent” basic curricular materials such as books and technology. For a family with three children in public school, that can mean an annual expenditure of over $500. And, public school teachers routinely pay out of pocket to decorate their classrooms and to provide books, Kleenex, snacks and writing utensils for their students.

Yet, somehow Indiana has money to spare when it comes to private educational expenditures, even when “educational” is loosely defined.

A recent discussion in a private Facebook group for Tech Trep families and others interested in joining Tech Trep made it clear that some enrollees are there just to make purchases with state money. Speaking of other Tech Trep services, one commenter said, “I use NONE of TT resources. It’s nice that they are there if I need them but I don’t.” The parent continued, “I school my children on my own and at home. I consider that homeschooling. Tech Trep calls it distance learning and that works legally for them … ”

Why is this legal?

Resources invested in public schools benefit all the kids in a community across years. Whether such dollars pay for online textbooks, school playgrounds or science labs, an elected board has the responsibility of making sure resources are fairly distributed across school populations.

A state handout to home schoolers is different. A model train or Netflix subscription may benefit one child, but does Indiana really want to pay Cloverdale, a rural school district, to launder state funds with which home schoolers can then purchase Hulu subscriptions and trips to the zoo, while many public school districts struggle to pay and retain teachers, maintain and repair school buildings and offer high-quality curricular materials that they hope parents and caregivers will pay for?

How long will one small rural school district and an out-of-state business be able to profit off sending state money to homeschooling families for private purchases? For shame, Indiana. It’s time to shut this “program” down.

Jenny Robinson, Vice chair, Indiana Coalition for Public Education | Monroe County, Ind.