HB 1414 Testimony — Homeschool Freedom Act
January 28, 2016
To: House Education Committee
From: Michelle Levell, representing School Choice for NH and NH Liberty Alliance
Re: HB 1414 with amendment 2016-0184h, a bill that would sunset the Home Education Advisory Council and remove the Board of Education’s rule-making authority re home ed programs.
You may recall that I am a former homeschooler, myself. I started in 2004 and this is how I got started as a school choice advocate. I served one term on the NH Homeschool Coalition board. I only mention this because I am very familiar with the issues, organizations, and history that are involved with the bill and I take homeschool advocacy very personally as a parental right.
I expect that the committee will hear from many homeschoolers who have reservations with this proposed change. I can appreciate that; previous deregulation efforts were initially met with hesitation. But I’d like you to consider a few things after reviewing my testimony.
1. Is HEAC an organization that is open, transparent, accountable, and representative of today’s homeschool community?
- HEAC has been represented by the same three organizations since its formation in 1990.
- Members of the public are not allowed to speak at HEAC meetings unless given special permission, and people have been denied that permission. Minutes are not posted in a timely manner. I’ve been told that is the DOE’s responsibility, but it doesn’t happen.
- The NH homeschool community, support groups and resources, much like the movement itself, have grown exponentially since first legally recognized more than a quarter century ago. It is very diverse and decentralized, making it difficult for statewide support groups, or a single state-level council, to represent them.
2. Some within the community were apprehensive when other homeschool bills were passed over the past 10 years. They were concerned that homeschoolers would be more vulnerable to educational neglect charges or investigations by DCYF. Did that happen?
- In the January 2012 HEAC minutes, there is a report that DCYF does not get involved if the complaint is only about the education of a child and that “the number of cases dealing with homeschoolers is extremely small.” In fact, the DCYF representative recalls only one then-recent case that involved a homeschooling family, and the charges “did not pertain to homeschooling.”
- There is also September 1999 documentation about the basis for which any DCYF investigation would handle suspected educational neglect. It references discussions between HEAC and DCYF going back to 1993. This is in the very early years of NH homeschooling and shows the valuable role HEAC played in those formative times. However, I found nothing to indicate significant cases of homeschoolers charged with educational neglect, particularly since the 2006 or 2012 statute changes.
3. The DOE and BOE were concerned that homeschoolers need accountability to a third-party and children’s education would diminish from a lack of government oversight. Did that happen?
- When HB 406 (2006), HB 1571 and HB 545 (2012) were proposed, the DOE said “children would fall through the cracks.” There is no evidence to suggest that has happened.
- Extensive or widespread conflicts between homeschoolers and SAUs have not been reported, either through HEAC or within support groups. This is a testament to homeschooling becoming more understood and accepted, as well as the proliferation and quality of resources available to homeschoolers when challenges arise. Problems and miscommunications are diffused before they rise to a state level.
The amendment, 2016-0184h would eliminate the Board of Education’s rule-making authority over home education programs. This does not change the existing statutory requirements for homeschooling. Homeschoolers are still required to follow the law. This amendment also includes a sunset provision for the Home Education Advisory Council. As mentioned, this council once served and represented the community, but their function has greatly diminished, and even more so, with the change proposed in this amendment. The provision includes an opportunity to reinstate HEAC if appropriate. This should satisfy most in the homeschool community who feel more secure with HEAC in place as well as those who no longer want this advisory group.
I urge an Ought to Pass as amended recommendation. Thank you.
For additional information, read The Past and Future of NH Homeschooling.
Also, Rep. JR Hoell was on the Girard at Large radio show on Friday, January 29, 2016 to discuss the amendment and implications for homeschoolers.
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