Thanks to the intervention of the Home School Legal Defense Association last month, a homeschool graduate in Mississippi previously denied a licensing examination for her desired career can now pursue her dream in the field of cosmetology.
In a state that ranks 49th in high school graduation rates (68 percent) behind only Nevada, the Mississippi State Board of Cosmetology (MSBC) maintained that high school diplomas of homeschoolers – who perform significantly higher on average than conventional students in academic performance – are inferior and insufficient compared with public and private school diplomas.
When a homeschool graduate submitted her diploma to the MSBC in order to receive an application to take the cosmetology licensing examination, the board rejected her request with the explanation that her high school diploma had not been issued by an accredited school.
Acknowledging the propensity of state agencies to discriminate against homeschoolers, the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) assisted the homeschool family in challenging the allegedly problematic policy that singled out home learners for discrimination.
Besides being a high achiever in her home instruction prior to graduation, the homeschool graduate from Mississippi – where more than 15,000 students are currently home-educated – proved her viability as a candidate for a successful career in cosmetology.
"In addition to her high school education, this young lady had successfully completed the cosmetology program at Northwest Mississippi Community College as a 2014 graduate," the Virginia-based Christian non-profit organization reported.
Making it difficult for homeschoolers
But despite many pleas to affirm her candidacy to take the examination, the homeschool graduate hit roadblock after roadblock put up by the state.
"After she made numerous inquiries and appeals to the state board, a lawyer in the Office of the Attorney General sent her an email and cited both a state statute and an administrative rule supposedly in support of the state board's policy requiring graduation from an accredited high school," attorneys with HSLDA pointed out.
Little heed was paid by the state to the fact homeschool grads in America have a college graduation rate nearly 10 percent higher than their traditionally schooled peers, according to a study reported by USA Today. Other studies, such as a massive nationwide study conducted by Lawrence M. Rudner, Ph.D, indicates that homeschool students score on average 32 percentage points higher across academic disciplines than conventionally schooled students.
Even though the motive is unclear behind such policies that make it more difficult for homeschoolers to pursue professional careers in the state of Mississippi, some telling statistics about the financial condition of public education in the Magnolia State could provide a clue.
Out of all 50 states plus the District of Columbia, Mississippi ranks 46th in per pupil expenditure in the public schools at just $8,971 – the national average is $12,231. Furthermore, public school teachers' salaries in Mississippi are ranked 50th ($41,814) only behind South Dakota ($39,018), with the national average being substantially higher at $56,103. The relatively low funding for public education in Mississippi could account for the state's maneuvering to making it more difficult for homeschoolers to pursue various careers within the state – in hopes of possibly driving more students back into public schools and bringing in more funds.
Getting to the bottom of things
After repeated rejections, the homeschool grad and her family sought legal counsel from HSLDA to determine whether the state board and attorney general's office were accurate in their interpretation of state law, which precluded homeschool diplomas from meeting the same requirements as accredited high school diplomas from public and private schools. What they found out validated what they had anticipated from the get-go.
"While an applicant to take the licensing examination must have a high school education or its equivalent, there is no provision in the law requiring that the diploma be issued by an accredited school," HSLDA senior counsel Dewitt Black discovered after researching the legal authority used by the attorney general's office to reach its decision.
After examining the legal documentation establishing that the law doesn't require a diploma from an accredited school, Black issued a letter in December to the attorney who had previously determined the homeschool diploma to be insufficient. In the letter, Black requested that the attorney reconsider his earlier assessment of the matter.
Within a week, Black received a written response from the attorney informing him that the application for the cosmetology licensing examination submitted by the homeschool grad he was representing was reviewed by the state board once again. He shared that this time it was approved.