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A View From Home
by Cyndy Rogers
 

In the months since my last column, the world has been filled with a lot of angry words and images. Although the public debates and the attention to events in the Middle East are certainly worthy of our primary focus, I would like to shift your view for a little good news . . .

First I found this article in The Washington Times and thought this information may be of interest to some of you.

Homeschoolers’ Honor Society
It seems Homeschoolers nationwide have created their own honor society to give above-average home-schooling students an equivalent academic recognition. Local chapters of Eta Sigma Alpha, the home-schooling movement's first honor society, are being founded in Pennsylvania, Ohio, California, Iowa, New York, Oregon, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. The group has more than 20 chapters nationwide, with more opening every month.

This is important for students who wish to highlight their academic achievement when applying for college. The National Honor Society and the National Beta Club do not accept home-schooled students because they only allow chapters which are associated with accredited educational institutions. Organizers of Eta Sigma Alpha established the new society to reflect the increasing recognition of high academic achievement by students educated at home. They site standardized test scores of home-schoolers that often times beat their public school counterparts. (For more, see these websites: www.iedx.org or www.washingtontimes.com/national)

This is the part where we get to brag . . . Last year, homeschoolers taking the SAT had an average score of 1092 compared with the national average score among public and private schooled students of 1020. (This data is according to statistics compiled by the Home School Legal Defense Association.)

Another reason sited for establishing an honor society is the list of home-educated students winning or scoring high in national competitions, like the National Geographic Bee and National Spelling Bee. In 2002, twelve of the 55 finalists at the National Geographic Bee were home-schooled. In the 2001 Geography Bee, eight home-schoolers were among the finalists, with four finishing in the top 10. Back in 1999, David Beihl became the first home-educated student to win the geography bee.

The National spelling Bee shows a similar story. In 2002, a home-schooler placed third. The previous two years, 27 of the 248 finalists were home-schoolers. In 2000, a home-schooled student won that contest. Eta Sigma Alpha has been established as a way to recognize outstanding home-schooled children and give their applications an equal stance.

I don’t know if our wonderfully bright and charming homeschooled children have wowed skeptics or if the political climate has forced some to re-evaluate their priorities, but there are some government officials who are creating legislation in support of home education.

For example, in Maine, Legislative Document 160 is being celebrated as the biggest improvement in that state’s homeschool law in 20 years. On February 20, the Joint Education and Cultural Affairs Committee voted unanimously to pass L.D.160. The bill now moves on to the House and Senate, where if it is approved as expected, the bill will eliminate most of the red tape that entangles homeschool families.

It is thanks to Senator Carol Weston’s work on behalf of homeschooling families that government interaction will be greatly reduced. Previously, at the start of each school year many Maine home-schoolers found themselves in a legal limbo waiting for the State Commissioner of Education to give them approval. This bill eliminates that department’s power to approve homeschooling. Instead, the requirement for families wishing to homeschool is replaced with a one-time notice that includes the name and address of the parent and child, age of child, the date home instruction will begin, and a parent’s signature assuring that 175 days of instruction will be provided and that the required subjects will be taught.

In subsequent years, families who continue to homeschool will simply file a letter by September 1 informing the commissioner and local superintendent of their intent and provide an assessment. Thank you Ms. Weston.

Good news is also coming out of Oregon, where on April 15th the Senate voted 20-9 to pass Senate Bill 761. This piece of legislation repeals the notice and testing requirements in Oregon’s homeschool law. The passage of S.B. 761 changes the law in the following ways: 1) It expands the educational options for homeschoolers by providing that a child may be educated by the parent or legal guardian or "at the direction of" a parent or legal guardian. 2) It repeals the requirement that parents notify the public school officials of their decision to homeschool and repeals the testing requirements, except for students participating in interscholastic activities at a public school. 3) It removes the stipulation that the school districts will determines if a child under 18, who is being homeschooled, is eligible to get a driver's license.

Parents are now free to teach their children at home without any contact with public school officials. Senate Bill 761 represents a major victory for homeschooling families in Oregon. It means freedom.

Isn’t freedom from government intervention what we all desire? A battle for this freedom is now being fought in my home state of California. A legislation action, Senate Bill 950 authored by Senator Richard Alarcon seeks to define truancy as child abuse and neglect.

Mr. Alarcon believes California social workers should decide if a child is receiving an education, not their parents. This bill may be designed to rescue children from bad parents; however, the potential for government abuse is very strong. It allows Child Protective Services to investigate homes where a child is not enrolled in a public or private school. This bill is gives power to CPS opening the door to legal proceedings that could result in loss of custody of your children unless you meet all the conditions CPS and the Juvenile Court dictate, including enrollment in the school of their choice (not yours). This legislation is another attempt to erode homeschooling freedoms without challenging the state law. This bill adds another government agency to the mix when dealing with truancy. Truancy law is outlined in the Education Code, Welfare and Institutions Code, Vehicle Code, and Penal Code. Asking Child Protective Services to address truancy law isn’t necessary.

This bill discriminates. It could force families into a situation where they will be forced to hire an attorney, placing an unfair burden on low-income families. Homeschooling families are often one-income families. More than half of the calls received by CPS alleging abuse prove to be false.

While CPS is focused on an alleged truant child how many truly abused children will be at risk as this bill stretches an overburdened CPS system? The last time I heard, Child Protective Services had plenty on their plate dealing with the thousands of foster children in their program! This bill adds more work to an already-taxed agency. CPS deals with allegations of physical abuse, sexual abuse; abandoned and neglected children who lack food, clothing, or medical treatment. This bill puts lack of enrollment or attendance in an education program at that same level.

SB 950 is scheduled to be heard in the California Senate Health & Human Services Committee on Wednesday, April 23, 2003. Home education advocates are optimistic that any attempts by the California legislature with be futile. They site a 1925 U.S. Supreme Court ruling Pierce v. Society of Sisters, (268 US 510, 535) where the court struck down an Oregon compulsory education law requiring parents to send their children to public schools. The court held that "the child is not the mere creature of the State; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations." We will be watching and hope the outcome is the same as in Utah . . .

In February of this year, the efforts of homeschoolers across Utah paid off when the Senate killed House Bill 76. H.B. 76 was designed to make it a crime to refuse to "cooperate" with school officials investigating truancy. This victory squashed one more attempt by Senator Duane Bourdeaux to make truancy a crime. Over the last several years he has filed similar legislation stating it is a crime to refuse to "cooperate" with school authorities who are investigating truancy. This was a very important issue for Utah home-schoolers, many who have never been "approved" by their local school district, and could be accused of "truancy." Utah's "approval" law is the next fight because any additional penalties on truants are a threat to many homeschooling families. But this victory represents a first step toward freedom.

A positive note is also coming out of New York. On April 17, the Senate Education Committee Okayed Senate Bill 2060. This legislation is now in the Senate awaiting passage. The Assembly is considering a similar bill Assembly Bill 4598. Both these legislative acts make the following changes to New York’s homeschool laws:

  1. Eliminate the requirement of an Individualized Home Instruction Plan (IHIP)
  2. Eliminate the requirement of quarterly reports;
  3. Eliminate required subjects at all grade levels;
  4. Permit the alternative method of evaluation (instead of standardized testing) every year;
  5. Permit parents who wish to test their children to choose any nationally-normed standardized achievement test, in addition to a State Education Department test or another approved test;
  6. Eliminate the requirement that the local superintendent consent to the person who administers a standardized achievement test or who conducts the alternative method of evaluation;
  7. Lower the minimum standardized test score from above the 33rd percentile to above the 23rd percentile; and
  8. Eliminate the provision for home visits while a home instruction program is on probation
Homeschooling advocates in the state of New York are applauding the probable passage of Senate Bill 2060 and Assembly Bill 4598. This legislation rids the state of the majority of its legal obstacles for homeschooling families, making New York my kind of town.

Down South, homeschoolers are experiencing a bit of good luck as well. In Tennessee, the legislature introduced House Bill 1982 and Senate Bill 1734 in February. These bills expand the definition of "home school" to permit other family members to conduct a homeschool. These bills are now in committee so we will see if any changes are made. As they stand H.B.1982 and S.B. 1734 appear to support homeschooling.

The Tennessee legislature, however, has not fully embraced home education. Legislation titled “A college scholarship bill for homeschoolers” -- House Bill 1178 and House Bill 475 -- along with Senate Bill 144, are far from perfect. H.B. 1178 would use lottery money to create college scholarships, but the bill would require homeschool students to score higher on the ACT or SAT than other students. H.B. 475 and S.B. 144 also offer scholarships to home-schoolers but a provision in the bill makes them not eligible until after their freshman year, whereas other students can apply prior to their freshman year. There seems to be a stepchild mentality to this “gift.” Home education advocates in Tennessee are fighting against the bill until it treats home-schooled students equally. These scholarships may be a gift horse.

Another gift horse may be in New Hampshire’s House Bill 754. This bill establishes a Voucher System that allows the parent of a child in grades kindergarten through 12 to receive an educational certificate to be used to pay for educational programs at a nonpublic school or for a home education program. Homeschooling families need to be cautious when accepting government monies. There are always strings attached. Most often the conditions require a loss of freedom. Currently, H.B. 754 is in the House Education Committee awaiting further study. Don’t be surprised if terms like “mandatory assessment” or “ meeting graduation requirements” are tied to the money.

For example, in Minnesota, Senate File 760 and a companion bill, House File 743, try to use tax breaks as a way of controlling private education by making home education and private schools claiming the deduction, subject to the state's high school graduation requirements. This bill is presently in an education committee.

Driver Education Changes

Next-door in Michigan, legislators know how to give a tax credit. Senate Bill 56 provides for an income tax credit for the cost of driver education programs. The credit may be claimed for the cost of driver education programs offered privately or through a public school. S.B. 56 is currently in the senate finance committee. Driver’s education is a topic being discussed in other states.

Virginia, and Montana legislators are addressing driver’s education as well. Senate Bill 295 in Montana authorizes a parent to become a certified instructor for teaching driver's education to his own child. The Bill passed the Senate 31-19, paving the road for parent-taught driver's education in Montana.

Home-educated students in Virginia will also learn to drive with their parents. On March 24, Virginia’s Governor Mark Warner signed into law House Bill 2404 allowing parents to teach the behind-the-wheel portion of driver education. The law goes into effect July 1, of this year.

All of these victories represent the opportunity for families who choose to educate their children at home to do so without outside influence or intervention. Each may seem small but sometimes a few small battles won, eventually equal a significant change in the homeschool climate.

Restoration of Freedom

This is happening in North Carolina. A bill that speaks to the foundation of why many chose home education is now working its way through the house. House Bill 403, The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, strengthens religious freedom as a fundamental right.

This act helps reinstate freedoms lost six years ago when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled a 1993 (RFRA) Religious Freedom Restoration Act unconstitutional. This present-day RFRA puts the burden on the state to, “Prove, with evidence, that its regulation is essential to fulfilling the State’s compelling interest.” The Act goes on to state: “If the state fails to carry the burden, the regulation must give way to the individual's religious freedom.”

Religious freedom is one of the core issues for which our Founding Father’s fought. This legislation places not only homeschoolers on the path to freedom, but everyone. This is great news! So if you are looking outside your window and only see words of war. I hope all the good news outlined here gives you hope.

All of us who have chosen this path for our families have the best interest of our children at heart. When the rhetoric begins to fly and the differences in our beliefs begin to emerge, we must remember that at our core is the same value: The right to sovereignty over our families. When we find our common ground, I think peace will have a chance. C.R.

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