When I think about education, the Bob Dylan song “The Times They Are a‑Changin’” often comes to mind. In the past few years, things have changed dramatically on the education front. Parents are increasingly looking beyond their children’s assigned district school, and states are responding to that demand by adopting and expanding education choice programs that allow some taxpayer funding to follow kids to a variety of education options.
A few years ago, there wasn’t a single state with universal education choice, and now ten have universal or nearly universal programs.
As parents—armed with increased awareness and funding—search for new learning environments for their children, will the supply be there? In many areas, the answer is “yes,” thanks to a growing universe of education entrepreneurs. Parents, teachers, and others are stepping up to create microschools, hybrid schools, homeschool co‐ops, online resources, and more. But a great idea may not make it to fruition if government regulations choke it. That’s why the yes. every kid. foundation. started the Eduprenuer Support Program.
“We saw growth in a new movement of parents and educators who were starting unconventional learning environments,” says Mike Donnelly, vice president at the Yes Foundation, who is heading up the support program. “This was exciting, but we also saw instances of government regulators aggressively enforcing regulations that threatened this new fledgling movement. We believed that these entrepreneurs could use some help to defend themselves, so we stepped in to try to serve that need.”
In many states, the regulatory environment hasn’t caught up with the changing education landscape. My colleague, Kerry McDonald, has catalogued the challenges education entrepreneurs face even in states that are generally business‐friendly. In some cases, existing regulations make it impossible for edupreneurs to move forward. But in others, there are ways to structure a learning environment so it meets the regulatory requirements while retaining flexibility.
“Our Eduprenuer Support Program offers free legal support to help education entrepreneurs confidently navigate regulatory obstacles,” explains Mike. “Many entrepreneurs face questions about how regulatory frameworks like childcare, business formation, zoning, fire and safety codes, and compulsory attendance laws apply to them. We provide personalized support to educate and inform these courageous everyday entrepreneurs so they can move forward and offer more individualized educational opportunities to families in their community.”
Mike says the most worrisome situations are when an edupreneur faces the threat of being shut down by a government regulator. “While this does not happen frequently, it is happening—and as the movement grows it will not surprise me if these incidents become more frequent,” he adds.
His team has offered support in dozens of states, including a microschool in Washington that was told it had to comply with health codes that would have cost tens of thousands of dollars to comply with. In Hawaii, they talked with an edupreneur who was threatened with tens of thousands of dollars in fines by childcare regulators. And they counseled a Maryland edupreneur who was told they needed a childcare license. The Yes Foundation’s legal support team helped these education entrepreneurs understand how to face or respond to these challenges.
“As a new service of Yes Foundation started this year, we have been able to help close to 100 entrepreneurs,” notes Mike. “We expect to see this number increase significantly in 2024 as new edupreneurs start up and existing edupreneurs grow. Part of what makes us different is that we are philosophically aligned with and are totally focused on the unique problems that these education entrepreneurs are trying to solve.”
While no state makes it very easy, Mike says there are some that are a bit more friendly when it comes to starting unconventional learning environments. I was excited to learn that we’ll soon have more solid information about each state—EdChoice and Yes Foundation are planning to release a report in the coming weeks that analyzes and ranks all fifty states on the ease of doing business for education entrepreneurs.
As Mike describes the report, “We examined about ten key indicators across the states to assess the comparative ease of opening and operating unconventional educational settings for school‐aged children. We looked at barriers like compulsory education laws, homeschooling regulations, private schooling regulations and childcare regulations as well as generally applicable regulations such as fire and safety codes. Based on our straightforward ranking system, Idaho, Montana, New Jersey, Oklahoma, and Texas rose to the top. At the bottom were Alabama, Hawaii, Tennessee, and Washington. These four states had barriers that made it more difficult for edupreneurs to open and operate, leaving children and families with fewer options for educational choice.”
Just like education entrepreneurs are stepping up to create new learning environments for children, the Yes Foundation has stepped up to ensure these edupreneurs have legal support to help them navigate regulatory roadblocks. To get help, an education entrepreneur from any state can ask a question at www.yeslegal.org, and they’ll get a response from an attorney that will help them think through the challenges that they are facing.
“Our legal team (and all of us at the Yes family) believe that an environment that empowers families is the way forward,” Mike explains. “By helping education entrepreneurs, designing, advocating, implementing and defending people and policy that puts kids first, we are working towards a brighter future for education.”