AFHE Addresses Recent Developments in Arizona's Educational Landscape

On June 30, 2022, AFHE published a letter and blog post following the passage of HB 2853.* The title of AFHE’s letter was “Homeschooling in Arizona Has Not Changed” and its purpose was to clarify that the HB2853 expansion of the Empowerment Scholarship Account program does not change anything about the homeschool law. This was in response to the immediate need to combat misinformation, as many broadcast and print media outlets—and even policy makers and think tanks—were not communicating clearly about Arizona’s statutory educational categories and were conflating homeschooling (as defined in ARS §15.802) with other forms of home education.

Since that time, AFHE has been asked to define where we stand regarding the status of homeschooling in Arizona and whether AFHE will be taking a public position regarding the new law. In short, our response to these inquiries is this:

AFHE stands for homeschooling as defined in Arizona law, recognizing that definitions include boundaries.

This statement rests on these considerations:

  • When AFHE was established in 1983, there was not a definition of homeschooling in our state’s law. AFHE’s founders sought to firmly establish the right of parents to educate their children in the manner of their choosing, free from government regulation, oversight, or approval. AFHE steadily worked through the legislature to develop the legally defined category of “homeschool” in Arizona law over the course of about thirteen years in the 1980s and 1990s.* Seeking and protecting this freedom has always been AFHE’s prime directive.
  • Under the original form of the ESA enacted in 2011, which narrowly defined student eligibility, about 15% of ESA contract students were educated at home. With the 2022 passage of the eligibility expansion, and if it eventually goes into effect, there will be families from every educational option who choose to enter the ESA program and sign a contract with the state. Regardless of how these families elect to use the ESA funds, please note:
    • If a new ESA student was previously a homeschool student for whom a homeschool affidavit had been filed with the county superintendent, that student enters a different legal standing vis a vis the State of Arizona and withdraws the homeschool affidavit.
    • Educational classifications are defined and established through the legislature. The word “nonpublic” was added to the statutory homeschool definition in 2011 in order to differentiate this educational classification from various public school options for in-home education. This also mirrored the use of “nonpublic” in the definition of a private school, which at the time received no public funding.

We have all experienced many things over the last couple of years that took our society by surprise. AFHE celebrates that the hard work of our organization, along with freedom-minded parents and policy partners, yielded a non-public school option that tens of thousands of families have been able to utilize.

In fact, during the upheaval of 2020 and 2021 the very existence of homeschooling in Arizona provided an atmosphere of freedom and inspiration for many parents who created and innovated education models that would work for them, including models that don’t fit neatly into any of Arizona’s legal categories. We are grateful that all Arizona parents benefit from the decades of work by AFHE and our freedom-loving friends in the advocacy and legislative spheres to protect homeschooling as it currently exists.

Even while AFHE maintains that preserving the freedom to homeschool must never be neglected, we have always sought to serve any Arizona family in the ways that we are equipped to do so. For example, at our convention there are always attendees whose children are enrolled in private or public school; they are seeking information and inspiration to help them make the choice to homeschool. We have heard many stories of attendees and even service providers whose involvement with our event provided the exposure and persuasion needed for them to begin homeschooling. Anything we can do to move a parent or family closer to parent-directed, privately funded home education will always be considered a win in the life of that family.

AFHE’s mission statement states, in part, that AFHE exists to “support parents who choose a home-based education option for their children.” AFHE believes that with information on our website, with our magazine and other member benefits, with our events, and in many other ways we can support ANY parent and family that wishes to be more intentional about their child’s education, especially those who are educating at home. This in no way dilutes AFHE’s commitment to homeschool freedom.

No matter the changes that have altered the educational landscape over the years, AFHE has been very consistent in expressing how crucial it is to clearly distinguish between educational classifications. We will continue to educate parents, legislators, and the media about the meaning behind the terminology they are using. In Arizona, the word “homeschool” has a legal meaning, and definitions include boundaries. We maintain the importance of these boundaries, as they delineate the maximum-freedom, minimum-regulation space we cherish. To do so is not to cast dispersion on other educational classifications or those who choose them.

This discussion brings up other important questions.

Why is the funding source important to freedom?
 
There are numerous examples throughout America and around the globe where government funding has provided a wedge by which social services, bureaucrats, and elected officials have inserted themselves into the home setting. This statement is not alarmist but is a simple observation: any time taxpayer dollars are provided for a designated purpose, increased regulation is applied and can be justified. In order for homeschooling to remain the educational option of maximum freedom, it must remain independent from government funding. In fact, this characteristic of homeschooling has historically been one of its greatest strengths, allowing families to maintain the utmost independence, flexibility, and personal discretion in their educational methods, priorities, and choices.

Does AFHE believe that government funding diminishes a family’s autonomy from the government in terms of educational freedom? 

In the strictest view, yes.

Do Arizona families have the prerogative to accept government funding for education when they feel it is appropriate?

Of course.

Is taxpayer funding compatible with Arizona’s statutory definition of homeschooling?
 
No.

Does AFHE have a position either supporting or opposing the new law?
 
No.

Does AFHE believe in the right of all Arizona parents to seek out the educational options that are best for their children?

Absolutely.

Will AFHE become a resource for providing information or guidance about the ESA program?
 
There are no plans to do so. This is a program that is subject to legislative oversight and departmental interpretation and execution. There are already several organizations that have been engaging with the ESA since its inception in 2011 and these will be the best sources of information for curious families. Our website’s FAQ page has additional information for those who are investigating these two education options.  Click here to view the FAQ page.

Does AFHE serve families who have an ESA contract?

Yes. AFHE does not have (and never has had) a “show your affidavit” policy for joining as a member, attending our convention or other events, or accessing resources on our website.*
 
AFHE exists to inspire parents to home educate their children; promote parent-directed home-based education; preserve the freedom to homeschool; and support parents who choose a home-based education option for their children.


As always, AFHE encourages parents to do their best research regarding educational options and understand the choice that they make. We believe in your right to do so. The AZ Law and Affidavit page on our website lists laws pertaining to Arizona’s homeschool freedom and protections. We will continue protecting Arizona’s homeschool law and homeschool liberty as our top priority.

AFHE Board of Directors
August 29, 2022


* passed by the Arizona House 6/22/22, by the Arizona Senate 6/24/22, and signed by Governor Doug Ducey 7/7/22
* The home school category was added in 1985, while the defined term “homeschool” entered the statute in 2011.
* In fact, in the early days following the passage of §15.802 there were families who considered the affidavit itself to be an illegitimate government intrusion and refused to file it. AFHE never asked who had done so or who hadn’t.