Posted: 4:18 am ET
An umbrella school is an alternative education school which serves to oversee the homeschooling of children to fulfill government educational requirements. Umbrella or cover schools can provide options that homeschoolers might not have on their own, including field trips, resources, team sports opportunities, and tutoring. They also have widely different requirements regarding curricula, record-keeping, and even religious affiliation.
On May 15, the State Department issued an “Educational Allowance Home Study Payment Guidance” which says “indirect or third party service provider fees, such as umbrella school/cover schools not providing direct instruction, course, or accredited virtual education, are not reimbursable fees or recognized as advisory fees.” Any supplementary or gifted and talented instruction fees are included in this restriction.
The new guidance further states:
An educational provider receiving payment as a result of an education allowance must be providing the course teaching and evaluations directly to the student. The course of study provided by the educational provider may be online, by correspondence, or through other appropriate materials. Indirect or third party service provider fees, such as umbrella school/cover schools not providing direct instruction, course, or accredited virtual education, are not reimbursable fees or recognized as advisory fees (this also applies for any supplementary or gifted and talented instruction). However, a parent can elect to pay them as a personal expense. Third party service providers billing for the direct educational providers’ fees may only be paid directly by the FMO or reimbursed to the officer as described below. Agreements, rules, procedures, or contracts (if completed) between the officer, third party service providers, and/or the school must be made available to Post as part of any claim for reimbursement or request for direct payment.
Prior to this guidance, the State Department pays the homeschooling allowance for the Foreign Service child to the umbrella school. The school can then use it for school items for the child or reimburse parents for the school items they purchased. By restricting the use of umbrella schools, post’s Financial Management Officer (FMO) now becomes the “decider” for the FS child’s homeschool allowance. Foreign Service families can still homeschool but the FMO at post has to okay each and every purchase expenditure. Parents have to take their receipts to the FMO and hope that he/she will reimburse them for that specific math curriculum.
We don’t know how much the State Department is saving by going after umbrella schools. At some posts, homeschooling may be the family’s only educational option. And at other posts, there may not be an FMO and this could become one more collateral duty for the Management Officer.
We should note that Foreign Service families can only choose from three educational methods for their kids: 1) school at post, 2) school away from post, and 3) home study/private instruction. Guess which one is the cheapest.
So a hiring freeze for family members with very few exceptions, and now, we’re asked why the State Department is picking on homeschoolers? What should we make of this? They’re absolutely not saying parents can’t homeschool their kids. They’ll just make the process burdensome enough, as a way to rein in the cost?
In late April, Bloomberg reported that “Tillerson was taken aback when he arrived on the job to see how much money the State Department was spending on housing and schooling for the families of diplomats living overseas.”
When we look back at that reporting and then look at this new guidance, we get a sense that this is just the opening salvo in a one sided fight projected to inflict deep cuts at the State Department. This is just the first cut but the axe is out.