Hostile Homeschool Bill Confirmed

Last week David Solomon, a reporter with the Union Leader, contacted us about Representative Robert Theberge’s filed bill about homeschool evaluations, House Bill 1263. He confirmed through one of the co-sponsors that the intent is to reinstate the pre-2012 annual reporting requirements; meaning home ed families would need to submit their year-end evaluations to their local SAU superintendent, a private school that serves as their Participating Agency, or the state Department of Education. The results could no longer be kept private by the family.

This is what we expected and reported in our article, Upcoming Homeschool Legislation.

The bill language is not publicly available yet so we do not know exactly what it will propose. However, if it fully reinstates the old home education law, it will also restore superintendents’ authority to put homeschool programs on probation if a child does not meet performance requirements – a composite score at or above the 40th percentile on a standardized test or “progress commensurate with age and ability” on a teacher evaluation. If a child does not meet those expectations a second consecutive year, the home education program is terminated and the child must be enrolled in a public, charter, or private school the next school year. This is a much higher standard and consequence than our public schools face.

Update 11/8/17 — The bill is now available online here.

This is an unbalanced expectation given that the New Hampshire 2017 statewide assessment scores were recently released, showing public-school students achieved only 59.29% proficient or above in English and a meager 48.00% proficient or above in math. Per the NH Department of Education proficient is defined as “demonstrates minor gaps in the prerequisite knowledge and skills needed to perform successfully in instructional activities at the current grade level.” In other words, less than 60% of all NH public-school students demonstrate the knowledge and skills to perform at their current grade level in English. Fewer than half of NH public-school students can do so in math. This should be an embarrassment to districts across the state.

As determined by the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the successor of No Child Left Behind, public schools and districts labeled Level 1 or Level 2 (scores below proficient) based on statewide assessment results are considered failing.

If we apply a comparable accountability standard to NH public schools, is the state closing Level 1 and Level 2 schools or districts if they have poor scores two consecutive years? Are students in failing schools required to enroll in a successful public school, charter, or private school? No. In fact, legislators and superintendents argue that they need more funding to improve these failing schools.

The reporting requirement is also a presumption of “guilty until proven innocent” which is completely counter to the values of our society. Homeschoolers would again have to prove that they provide a satisfactory education to their own children. Current home ed statute, without the reporting requirement, allows school districts to investigate suspected instances of home educational neglect. They can approach the individual family and review evidence including but not limited to the child’s year-end assessment and portfolio. Instead of approaching this on an as-needed individual basis, this bill imposes a review and approval requirement upon the entire NH homeschool community without any charges or grounds for investigation.

We are told that the bill was filed at the request of the Berlin district superintendent. There are two interesting things to note.

First, Berlin’s statewide assessment proficiency scores were well below the state averages in 2015, 2016 and 2017. They cannot meet the same standard they would impose upon all NH homeschoolers.

Berlin School District Statewide Assessment Results

 English 2015Math 2015English 2016Math 2016English 2017Math 2017
Berlin44%26%47%27%44%29%
State Avg58%46%61%49%59.29%48.00%

Secondly, Berlin is a district that reportedly “pushes out” students, meaning they strong-arm parents to homeschool children the district no longer wants enrolled in their schools. This is not an unfamiliar practice and has been discussed at several Home Education Advisory Council (HEAC) meetings held in December 2011, October 2012, May 2014October 2014April 2015, and May 2015. We suggested “push outs” a possible underlying reason for some of the phantom home educational neglect instances discussed at HEAC meetings. (Note that the NH Department of Education recently removed HEAC minutes that predate September 2013. We are looking to have them restored.)

While it may not be a direct cause, HEAC’s last two annual reports – 2016 report and 2017 report — overstating home educational neglect and encouraging involvement with the NH Division of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) to the state Board of Education exacerbates the perception of widespread problems within the NH homeschool community. We reported on it in Threat to Homeschoolers and Is HEAC Ignoring Rules.

Regardless of the reasons for this egregious bill, home educators must be prepared to defend their educational freedoms and oppose the imposition of needless and unfounded requirements.

The bill will have a public hearing scheduled sometime in early 2018 and we encourage homeschooling families and proponents to attend. We will continue to monitor this closely and report updates as needed.

In the meantime, concerned people can contact the bill sponsors urging them to withdraw the bill.

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 Tuckeredithtucker@ne.rr.com(603)466-5425

 

This article is updated on 11/8/17 to reflect that the bill now has an assigned number, HB 1263, and available online.

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