You asked that we review materials you sent to determine whether Christian Liberty
Academy (CLA) qualifies as an educational institution under Michigan law. You indicated
you need this information to determine whether R~ , a home-schooled CLA student, qualifies
for student benefits on the account of G~ . We believe that the first of CLA's two
programs we discuss is an educational institution (EI), but recommend you contact
our office for questions concerning the EI status of the second program CLA offers.
Further, we conclude that R~'s CLA program is an EI.
The CLA of Arlington Heights, Illinois, is an independent, non-denominational Christian
education program which provides curriculum materials and support to parents who desire
to home school their children via CLA's satellite services. CLA provides two options
for home-schooled students and their parents. They may subscribe to either the CLASS
administration plan or the family administration plan. Students who enroll in the
CLASS plan obtain academic credit for their work and, upon graduation, receive a diploma.
For CLASS-plan students, the CLA provides services which include grading tests, keeping
academic records, and issuing report cards, diplomas, and transcripts.
CLA provides fewer services to families who choose to enroll in the family plan. These
families may have experience with home schooling and do not require academic support
services. Parents of family-plan students grade and keep students' work, keep their
own records, assign academic credit, and issue their own report cards, diplomas, and
transcripts. These students receive no official course credit from CLA.
R~ is a Michigan student who is being home-schooled in one of the CLA plans — it is
unclear from the materials you provided which program R~ is enrolled in. She turned
eighteen years old on November XX, 1999. During the relevant school year (September
7, 1999 to June 30, 2000), R~'s mother instructed R~ for at least 20 hours a week
in courses CLA provided. These courses were algebra, English literature, world history,
grammar, and economics. CLA certified that R~ was considered to be in full-time attendance.
The Social Security Act provides for the payment of child's insurance benefits (CIB)
to certain unmarried children of individuals who are entitled to old-age or disability
insurance benefits. 42 U.S.C. § 402(d). Under the provision pertinent here, an eligible
child must be under the age of 19 and a full-time elementary or secondary school student.
42 U.S.C. § 402(d)(1). For purposes of entitlement to child's benefits under this
section, a full-time elementary or secondary school student must be in full-time attendance
as a student at an elementary or secondary school, as determined by the Commissioner.
42 U.S.C. § 402(d)(7)(A). Section 202(d)(7)(c)(i) of the Act states that an "elementary
or secondary school" is "a school which provides elementary or secondary education,
respectively, as determined under the law of the State or other jurisdiction in which
it is located."
The regulations at 20 C.F.R. § 404.367 provide that a child may be entitled to benefits
as a full-time elementary or secondary school student if she is instructed in elementary
or secondary education at home in accordance with a home school law of the State or
other jurisdiction in which the student resides. 20 C.F.R. § 404.367 further states
that eligible students must be in full-time attendance in a day or evening non-correspondence
course of at least 13 weeks duration for at least twenty hours per week, and carry
a subject load which is considered full-time for day students under standards or practices
set by the State or other jurisdiction in which the student resides. Further, eligible
students may not be paid by an employer who has requested or required that they attend
school; must be in grade 12 or below; and must not be subject to provisions precluding
payment of benefits to certain prisoners and other inmates of publicly funded institutions
pursuant to 20 C.F.R. § 404.468. 20 C.F.R. § 404.367.
In addition to the statute and regulations, the Program Operation Manual System (POMS)
provides additional guidance for determining certain students' eligibility for child's
benefits. POMS section RS 00205.275 states that student benefits are payable if the law of the State in which the home
school is located recognizes home schooling as an educational institution (EI), the
home school the student attends meets the requirements of State law, and the student
meets all the other necessary requirements.
Thus, the statute, regulations, and POMS all indicate that whether CLA is an EI and
whether R~ is eligible for CIB turn on Michigan law.
Michigan law recognizes that home schooling may satisfy the State's compulsory education
law. Michigan law sets out the State's compulsory education requirements for students
between the ages of 6 and 16 and requires them, with certain exceptions, to attend
public school during the entire school year. Mich. Comp. Laws Ann. § 380.1561. Subsection
(f) states an exception for a child who "is being educated at the child's home by
his or her parent or legal guardian in an organized educational program in the subject
areas of reading, spelling, mathematics, science, history, civics, literature, writing,
and English grammar." We sought clarification from the Michigan Department of Education
of the implications of the statute for home-schooled students. Officials there provided
information which indicates that, for home-schooled students operating under exemption
(f), "intermediate and local school districts are responsible for interpreting and
enforcing the Compulsory School Attendance Law."
Under these rules, CLA can be considered an EI for students in Michigan enrolled in
CLA's CLASS plan. According to CLA's materials, CLASS-plan students are instructed
in a curriculum which encompasses all of the subject areas the State of Michigan requires.
Accordingly, the CLA CLASS plan satisfies the state's compulsory education law and
would be an EI under the agency's guidelines and Michigan law.
For students enrolled in the CLA family plan, whether their educational program complies
with Michigan's compulsory education law and constitutes an EI will turn on how a
student's local school district interprets Michigan law. The information CLA provided
indicates that family-plan parents educate their children in the same curriculum and
course materials CLA offers its CLASS-plan students. These programs will likely satisfy
the State's compulsory education law and the agency's EI requirements. Nonetheless,
there is no oversight of whether parents in CLA's family plan are providing the full
curriculum. If they are, it would be and EI. If not, it may depend on how the local
school board interprets Michigan law. Therefore, we suggest you fully develop information
about the curriculum for students enrolled in CLA's family plan. If necessary, you
can send these to the RCC for review.
Finally, it is unclear from the materials you sent us whether R~ is enrolled in the
CLASS plan or the family plan. If she is enrolled in the CLASS plan, she satisfies
the agency's requirements for benefits as a full-time student because, as discussed
above, CLA can be considered an EI for its CLASS-plan students.
If R~ is enrolled in CLA's family plan, whether she is in full-time attendance depended
on her local school district's interpretation of Michigan law. We contacted R~'s local
school district to determine under what circumstances, if any, officials there would
investigate or pursue a home-schooled student like R~ for noncompliance with the State's
compulsory education law. We note that R~'s 1999-2000 curriculum lacked courses in
reading, spelling, science, and civics (although reading and spelling seem inappropriate
for R~'s age and educational level). See Mich. Comp. Laws Ann. § 380.1561(f). School district officials informed us that once
they learn a child is being home-schooled, they do not generally investigate the child's
educational program for more specific compliance issues. In particular, once local
school district officials ascertain that a student is being home-schooled, they generally
do not undertake further investigation or enforcement action concerning the particulars
of the student's curriculum. Even if R~ is enrolled in CLA's family plan, R~'s home
school program is an EI under the agency's guidelines. The information you sent indicates
that R~ satisfies the remaining requirements of 20 C.F.R. § 404.367, set forth above,
for eligibility for student's benefits.
In summary, we conclude that CLA is an EI for its CLASS-plan students in Michigan.
Whether it is an EI for its family-plan students will depend on the particular coursework
offered and the local school district's enforcement of the law. Here, however, R~
is in full-time attendance regardless of which CLA plan she is enrolled in.