There are a handful of bills that impact homeschoolers this year. We are tracking some of them, but want the community to be aware of the others.
Front and center is House Bill 1263, a bill that would reinstate the annual year-end assessment reporting requirements for all home-educated students. **Update 1/10/18: The bill will have a public hearing in the House Education Committee on January 25th at 1:00pm in room 207 of the Legislative Office Building (LOB). The room location could change if they anticipate a large turn-out. ** The bill requires home-educating families to submit their year-end assessments 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. It also restores the Participating Agency’s authority to place a home education program on probation if a child does not meet the performance standards — 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 these expectations a second consecutive year, the program is terminated and the child must enroll in a public, charter, or private school the following school year. This is a much higher standard and severe consequence than our public schools face. There is more information and background on the bill available here and here.
Obviously, Senate Bill 193, the Education Savings Account bill, will have a huge impact on prospective homeschool children. This bill has a public hearing in the House Finance Committee on Tuesday, January 16th at 1:30pm in rooms 210-211 of the Legislative Office Building (LOB). Education Savings Accounts are funds that children receive to a designated account that are used for specified educational purposes selected by their families. Approved uses may include online classes, tutoring, textbooks, AP classes, testing, special-needs services, dual-enrollment courses, private-school tuition, homeschool expenses, and other education-related fees. They benefit the most vulnerable in our communities — those of lower-economics means and children with special needs. SB 193 includes several academic and financial accountability mechanisms that are reported to the legislature and state Department of Education. ESAs allow families to make educational decisions for their children based on their individual needs using funds that are already allocated for the child’s education. Even if 5% of eligible students participate in the ESA – this is double the utilization seen in other states with existing ESAs and what opponents project – local districts will retain 98.5% of current funding, including local property taxes and any federal grants. This is not a hardship to districts and within normal enrollment fluctuations. This shift recognizes that the state has an obligation to fund each child’s education, not only one possible provider of that education. ESAs in states with discriminatory Blaine Amendments have passed constitutional muster; the NH Attorney General’s office indicates the proposed ESA is consistent with NH’s Constitution. It is time for NH to value each child’s education over protecting a system that may not work for them. This bill is not finalized and likely to change as it continues through the legislative process. Read more about ESAs and SB 193 here. Email the entire committee at HouseFinanceCommittee@leg.state.nh.us.
Another bill high on the list is HB 1650 that would remove education as a component of neglect and a responsibility of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). This bill has a public hearing on Tuesday, January 30th at 2:00pm in room 206 of the Legislative Office Building (LOB). As written, educational neglect can unfairly target home-educating families. Under existing law, RSA 169-C, who else in addition to homeschoolers could be charged with educational neglect? Would a family with a child enrolled in a public school be charged with educational neglect? Would a private school family be investigated? Likely not. If the child was not in school, it is considered truancy which is handled by the state DOE and local SAU offices, and the presumption is that public and private schools provide a satisfactory education. Primarily homeschooling families would need to prove the quality of their educational program. If HB 1650 becomes law, concerns about homeschool education would default to truancy investigations under the jurisdiction of the state Department of Education. Individual families would have the opportunity to provide evidence that they satisfy NH’s compulsory attendance laws per RSA 193-A. It takes away a big fear home-educating families face – that their children could be removed from their home by DCYF. It allows DCYF to focus on higher priority investigations. The bill also removes education-only investigations from DCYF which is poorly equipped or trained to evaluate education concerns, and places it in the hands of the state DOE. Further, it places homeschoolers on a level playing field with families who choose public or private schools. Finally, if a home-educating family is investigated for educational neglect beyond truancy concerns, current statute requires them to maintain the Letter of Intent acknowledgement letter from their Participating Agency, reading log, work samples, and year-end assessment which provides evidence against such charges. The entire committee can be emailed at CFL@leg.state.nh.us.
Additionally, there is a bill regarding youth employment that is favorable to home-educated students, HB 1321. This bill has a public hearing on Wednesday, January 17th at 10:30am in room 307 of the Legislative Office Building (LOB). The current youth employment law, RSA 276-A, includes several restrictions in section four regarding the hours a teen may work during the traditional school day and school year. However, homeschoolers are not required to follow the local school district schedule or calendar. This simple bill removes the limitations that are tied to traditional school hours and days. This is important because schools recognize Extended Learning Opportunities (ELOs) for course credits and it can impact students’ work-study opportunities. The NH Department of Education encourages district schools to offer ELOs to students as a way to gain “knowledge and skills through instruction or study outside the traditional classroom methodology.” Increasingly schools recognize the value of learning through apprenticeships, community service, internships, and other alternatives. Traditional public and private schools are increasingly offering ELOs as school-day educational options; the current hourly restrictions unfairly limit home-educated students. Email the entire committee at HouseLaborIndustrialandRehabilitativeServicesCommittee@leg.state.nh.us.
Finally, there are three bills regarding driver education. This is obviously not directly a homeschool issue, but many families have expressed interest over the years. None have public hearings yet in the House Transportation Committee. HB 1442 looks especially family-friendly as it would allow parents to provide “classroom instruction and behind the wheel training that is equivalent to an approved driver education course.” This bill also has a long list of supporters in the House and Senate. There were efforts in previous years to approve online driver education that failed. The common arguments by opponents were identical to those against homeschooling – students won’t respect parents, parents don’t know how to teach the subject, how do we know students are learning, etc. If families are interested in these bills, we highly recommend attending the public hearings and providing testimony, in person or via email, to the committee before they vote on the bills. The committee’s email address is HouseTransportationCommittee@leg.state.nh.us.
We will continue to monitor the major bills listed above and report as appropriate.