In Michigan, there are no missing homeschool students

Without evidence, state superintendent has used bully pulpit to target homeschool families

Michigan has a school attendance problem. About one-third of our students don’t show up to class regularly. Last year’s absentee number approached 40%.

Yet when State Superintendent Michael Rice penned his 2024 priorities, boosting attendance was a notable omission. A registry of every homeschool in Michigan, though, did make the list.

Without evidence, Rice has used his bully pulpit to allege that some students in Michigan are getting no education at all.

For the sake of those students, and of public safety itself, Rice insists the state must know where they’re attending school.

“For the safety of ALL students,” Rice wrote, “it is important to enroll students in the following four ‘buckets:’ public schools (including charter schools), private schools, parochial schools, home schools.”

Something changed during the pandemic, Rice said.

“The need to count homeschooled students pre-pandemic was minimal since we assumed that those students who weren't educated in public, private, or parochial settings were being homeschooled. That was a pretty good assumption pre-pandemic,” Rice told the State Board of Education earlier this year.

“During the pandemic however, there was considerable movement of students and families both within and across states,” Rice said. “This is a national phenomenon. The need to count homeschooled students and to get a better understanding of the number of students who weren't being educated at all, who were missing, became apparent.”

How does “considerable movement of students and families” lend to the assumption that some kids aren’t getting an education? An educator writing for educated policymakers knows the burden of proof is higher than that. Yet that argument made the letter anyway.

It doesn’t take many peels of the onion to see Rice’s real concern: Students are leaving the public school system.

This is a good time to note Rice’s full job title: “Superintendent of public instruction.”

Rice’s job is not to promote the education of all children under 18 in Michigan. Nor would a homeschool registry help with that goal.

His job is to promote the interests of the traditional public school system.

Across America, homeschools are the fastest-growing alternative to that system. This is a national phenomenon, indeed.

On that national landscape, Michigan is a homeschool-friendly state. Senate Bill 285, sponsored by Sen. Dayna Polehanki, D-Livonia, is the first attempt to crack that foundation.

The bill requires kindergarten enrollment at age 5. In offering an opt-out provision for homeschoolers, the bill still opens the door to someday curriculum checks and a homeschool registry.

Other, more direct efforts at a registry are expected. Though Polehanki says the regulation of homeschools would stop there, it’s tough to see how it could.

The same logic that says families should register would also require curriculum checks and could eventually demand home visits. For the student’s sake, of course.

Rice didn’t say what changed over the pandemic, but I have a theory.

Public school enrollment is down 5% from 2018-19. That year, the last one before Covid, 20% of students were chronically absent. Now it’s 31%.

Zoom school, once favored by teachers unions, offered parents a window into their children’s education. After hearing for themselves what their children were being taught, parents pulled their kids from public schools at high rates. The two are related.

Burdensome regulations might push a few homeschool kids back into public school classrooms, but it won’t improve education in Michigan.

Homeschool students aren’t “missing.” And they’re not missing out on anything.

They know exactly what they left behind, and they know why, should Rice think to ask.

James David Dickson is managing editor of Michigan Capitol Confidential. Email him at

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.