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Home schoolers turn out in force to oppose oversight

State House Bureau

January 25. 2018 9:18PM
Home-school parents with their children sign up to testify at a hearing on a bill that would increase third-party oversight of home schooling in New Hampshire. (Dave Solomon / Union Leader)

CONCORD — Parents who home-school their children filled Representatives Hall on Thursday, many of them with their students in tow, in opposition to a bill that would restore third-party oversight of home schooling.

“This is the future of our state,” said Rep. Edith Tucker, D-Randolph, gesturing to the many children in the chamber. “We want to make sure that future is as bright as possible and that no one is left out of the education process.”

Tucker is a co-sponsor of HB 1263, introduced by Rep. Robert Theberge, R-Berlin, and other North Country reps, at the request of Berlin School District Superintendent Corinne Cascadden, who has doubts about whether half of Berlin’s home-schooled students are getting educated, according to Tucker.

“New Hampshire has a problem at the moment with parents who don’t send their children to school and don’t home-school them in actual fact, the way that parents who are here today do, parents who are caring about how they educate their children,” she told the House Education Committee.

She said adequate supervision of home schooling is even more critical with the continuing opioid crisis exposing more children to the possibility of neglect.

A long line of Republican lawmakers and home-school parents countered that home-schooled students perform better than average academically, that there is no proven problem, and the bill is an unnecessary roll-back of a hard-fought victory by home schoolers in 2012.

“We don’t need the government to continually look over our shoulders as we home-school our children,” said Rep. J.R. Hoell, R-Dunbarton, a home-school parent. “Home-schooled children do phenomenally well in this state.”

Prior to 2012, the state had a fairly robust system of monitoring home schooling. Parents of home-schoolers were required to submit their annual year-end assessment results to their so-called “participating agency.” That could be their local superintendent, a licensed private school or the state Department of Education.

Since the 2012 changes went into effect, the assessment results are private. Those results, along with a portfolio of the child’s work and a reading list, must be maintained for a minimum of two years, but there is no third-party review.

HB 1263 would restore the requirements as they existed prior to 2012, including a provision that home-school programs could be put on probation leading to termination if children fail to perform at or above the 40th percentile on a standardized test or do not meet expectations “for age and ability.”

Several of the speakers described that requirement as unreasonable, given that many public schools are not achieving those benchmarks but are not in danger of being terminated.

“These are not conditions any private or public schools are held to,” said Abagail Belmore of Chester, who presented a petition with nearly 1,400 signatures in opposition to the bill. “Their programs aren’t terminated when children are below 40 percent. There is no such thing as one size fits all. This bill removes parental rights for choosing home schooling and forces our children back into public schools.”

One parent suggested that school district superintendents have a vested interest in getting as many kids as possible out of home school and into the local public schools because federal and state financial aid is tied to student population.

“This superintendent isn’t concerned about her students falling through the cracks, she’s concerned about every dollar she’s losing in state and federal aid for every child who is not sitting in her classrooms,” said home-school parent Kathy Baker of Portsmouth.

Under current rules, the state is not able to collect accurate data on how many children are being home-schooled, according to Ellie Riel, program specialist in the Department of Education.

The most recent data goes back to the last school year under the old rules, 2013-14, when about 6,000 children were home-schooled statewide, compared to 4,500 a decade earlier.

The House Education Committee will soon vote on whether to recommend the bill for passage or defeat, before it goes to the full House.

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