How and where their children will be educated is one of the more significant decisions that parents make on their children’s behalf. And an increasing number of parents in Maine are opting to teach their children at home.

Homeschooling can work in children’s favor when their parents are committed and motivated instructors. But Maine’s regulations, like those in most states, fall short of fully protecting children’s basic educational interests.

About 5,500 Maine children were home-schooled last year, up 36 percent from a decade earlier; over the same period, public school enrollment dropped by 8 percent. The Maine Sunday Telegram’s Noel K. Gallagher recently talked to several homeschooling families, and while each had its own motivations – from deep Christian faith to skepticism about organized education to their commitment to a cooperative, sustainable lifestyle – all said they appreciated being able to tailor curricula and lessons to their children’s interests and learning styles.

The Telegram article presented parents who seem sincerely invested in homeschooling and equipped to meet their children’s needs. But Maine law doesn’t do much to help ensure that all home-schoolers live up to this standard. In fact, it’s lacking in several areas, according to the pro-oversight Coalition for Responsible Home Education.

Parental qualifications: There’s no minimum education requirement for parents who choose to home-school. Homeschooling parents don’t have to have a high school diploma or a GED certificate, even if they’re home-schooling through 12th grade.

Parental accountability: While homeschooling parents in Maine are required to teach specific subjects, there’s no way to hold them accountable if their children fall behind. That’s because the state’s annual assessment requirement for home-schooled students doesn’t stipulate official intervention if the child isn’t making progress.

Child well-being: Maine’s vaccination mandate covers home-schooled children, but only some homeschooling parents have to show proof that their child has either been immunized or has received an exemption. Maine is also one of the 48 states that has no background-check process for parents who home-school.

The academic gaps can be addressed by offering support where needed to homeschooling families. Mandating that each child be at grade level in each subject would be unfair and unreasonable – but if a child’s portfolio or assessment test shows that they’re truly having trouble learning, they would get time to improve, and their parents would have access to resources and advice.

Similarly, parents who don’t have a high school education would be able to keep teaching as long as they’re being supervised by a certified teacher or are studying toward a GED diploma.

When it comes to students’ health and safety, homeschooling families should have to meet the same standards as other parents and teachers, including providing proof of child immunizations and passing a criminal history records check.

Every child is entitled to a sound and well-rounded education. With the input of the state’s large homeschooling community, Maine policymakers should work to tighten homeschooling laws here so that they continue to allow for innovation while also ensuring greater parental accountability.

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