Upcoming Homeschool Legislation

To date one draft bill regarding home education is filed for 2018. It is Legislative Service Request (LSR) #2329 with Rep. Robert Theberge as the primary sponsor and Representatives Yvonne Thomas, Larry Laflamme, and Edith Tucker as co-sponsors. Note that all of these Representatives received failing grades in our 2017 Report Card.

At this time all we know about the bill is the title and sponsors; the full text will not be published until mid-December or so. However, we strongly suspect it is a hostile bill based on the title, “relative to educational evaluation of home schooled children” and the Report Card grades of the sponsoring legislators. Rep. Theberge has not responded to our numerous attempts to reach him about the bill.

We suspect this bill is an attempt to reinstate the annual reporting of year-end assessments. It would be a reversal of HB 1571 (2012).

Prior to HB 1571 becoming law, homeschoolers were required to submit their annual year-end assessments to their Participating Agency – their local SAU office, a private school that offers these services, or the state Department of Education– by July 1st of each year. Since HB 1571 went into effect, homeschoolers may keep the assessment results private, but they are still required to do some kind of evaluation – standardized test, teacher evaluation, or a mutually agreed upon method with their Participating Agency. This is similar to a third-party audit. These results, along with a portfolio of the child’s work and a reading list, must be maintained for a minimum of two years per RSA 193-A.

At the time HB 1571 was considered in 2012, we argued in support of the bill.

Under the old law, a homeschool program could be put on “probation” if a child failed to perform at or above the 40th percentile on a standardized test or not meet expectations “for age and ability” as determined by a teacher evaluation. This meant the homeschool program must satisfy the requirement the following year or the child must enter a public, private, or charter school the next year. This positioned SAU superintendents, who may be adversarial to homeschooling, as judge and jury over homeschool programs. Back in 2012 only 10 states had the power to terminate homeschool programs and New Hampshire was one of them.

Today some New Hampshire public school students do not test at “proficient” levels on the statewide assessment yet they are not removed from those schools nor are failing schools closed. Read Tests and Accountability, Excuses Excuses, and Guarantee of an Adequate Education to understand the public school system’s failure to meet a comparable expectation. The pre-HB 1571 law was an inequitable standard with a disproportionate penalty.

Also, the old law was a presumption of guilt of all homeschooling children. Every homeschool family was required to provide annual evidence of adequate progress. The presumption of innocence is a basic legal right recognized in many countries and is fundamental to the US and NH Constitutions. Why should homeschoolers forfeit this basic right for the ability to home educate their children?

If a family is suspected of educational neglect, the local SAU superintendent or NH Division of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) may contact the family to verify compliance with the initial notification law (RSA 193-A:5) and review their annual assessments and portfolio (RSA 193-A:6). These investigations can happen on an as-needed basis per current law.

Further, despite comments in the last two annual reports (2017 and 2016 reports) to the state Board of Education by the Home Education Advisory Council (HEAC) that suggest significant problems with home educational neglect, evidence does not support this conclusion.

As we reported in Is HEAC Ignoring Rules and Threat to Homeschoolers, there is no evidence of significant educational neglect problems in the NH homeschool community. The following is an excerpt from the former report.

Based on the most recent report, DCYF compiled data to show that there were 34 cases in 2016, 52 cases in 2015, and 30 cases in 2014. In closer examination of the 2016 cases, 23 were adjudicated. Of those 34 cases, only 16 were solely for educational neglect. DCYF does not track if any involve home educated children, so it is impossible to determine if any of them are relevant to HEAC and the homeschool community.

The report also says HEAC had single home education neglect “contacts” in each year from 2013 to 2015 with an increase to six in 2016 and two so far in 2017. As we revealed in our October 2016 article, these “contacts” were largely not homeschooling issues.

“Going through the last three years of meeting minutes, it appears that there were concerns that one public-school family was suspected of child abuse who then filed to homeschool their child (June 2015). They shortly returned to the public school per the September 2015 minutes. There is one other vague reference in the January 2013 minutes pertaining to concerns with one family. Other than to indicate the family consulted with the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), there is no mention how it was resolved. There was also a brief note in the October 2015 minutes that a district superintendent suspected that a student was withdrawn from public school to babysit a younger sibling. Per the minutes the family was reported to DCYF and they responded that they do not investigate families for educational neglect. While child abuse is abhorrent and not to be taken lightly, how are these homeschooling issues, particularly the spring 2015 case involving a child who was and is again enrolled in the local public school? “

 In the January 2012 HEAC minutes, Lorraine Bartlett of DCYF spoke to the council about the process they use to investigate neglect cases.

 “Ms. Bartlett explained the process by which DCYF investigates complaints of abuse or neglect. Of the approximately 24,000 calls DCYF receives each year, only about 8,000 calls warrant department action. Ms. Bartlett stressed that the primary mandate for DCYF is child safety and that DCYF does not get involved if a complaint is simply about the education of a child. Any claim DCYF staff receives must be sufficiently documented before the department will begin an investigation. The department does not investigate undocumented complaints, but considers them opportunities to provide information and referral. The number of cases dealing with homeschoolers is extremely small. For example, Ms. Bartlett could recall only one case in the last six months that involved a homeschooling family, but the charges did not pertain to homeschooling. Although a record of truancy would be included in the information DCYF reviews, it is the responsibility of resident school districts to deal with lack of documentation for homeschooling programs. Ms. Bartlett said that DCYF would contact the resident school district if complaints of educational neglect were made purely because of homeschooling.”

Given this presentation, it is surprising that HEAC is continuing to pursue DCYF connections to a negligible number of potential home educational neglect cases. However, by including this misinformation in another HEAC Annual Report, it continues to imply that there are significant home educational neglect problems in New Hampshire.

Also, in reports from DCYF to HEAC, they indicated on two occasions, January 2012 and October 2015, that they do not investigate cases of home educational neglect.

While child abuse is abhorrent and should not be tolerated, it is not the same as educational neglect and it is wildly inappropriate to conflate it with homeschooling.

Supporters of school choice and homeschooling are encouraged to contact the sponsors of LSR #2329 to share their concerns about this draft legislation. Contact information is provided below.

We will continue to closely monitor this legislation and any other regarding home education and educational options.

 

Sponsors of LSR #2329

Rep. Robert Thebergerobert.theberge@leg.state.nh.us(603)752-5672
Rep. Yvonne Thomasyvonne.thomas@leg.state.nh.us(603)752-1816
Rep. Larry Laflammelaflamme@ne.rr.com(603)752-1861
Rep. Edith Tucker(603)466-5425

 

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