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LD 160: Creates Less Restrictive Homeschool Procedures
Senator Carol Weston
On Friday, May 16, Governor John Baldacci signed into law Legislative Document (LD) 160.
LD 160 completely overhauls Maine's homeschool law, adding the option for notification of homeschooling intent.
This new legislation would be an amazing improvement for Maine's homeschooling families. Under these new requirements, parents would only be required to provide a notice to the Commissioner of Education 14 days before the beginning of the home instruction program. The notice must contain the parent's name, signature address, the child's name and age, the date home instruction will begin, assurance that 175 days of instruction will be provided in the required subjects (same as currently required). Parents must send a letter to the Commissioner before September 1 every year thereafter, stating whether they intend to continue home education for the child.
LD 160 creates this new option, but does not remove any option currently available.
Special credit goes to Senator Carol Weston, a primary sponsor of the bill, for her ceaseless, untiring, and highly effective work in support of this bill. Please consider taking a moment and sending Senator Weston a letter telling her how much you appreciate her work on behalf of the homeschool community.
We support LD 160 because:
- At a time when homeschooling was still an unknown factor, the legislature delegated the responsibility to regulate homeschooling to the Department of Education. Many burdensome, needless regulations were adopted because homeschooling was not well understood.
- LD 160 creates a homeschool option that is directly subject to requirements the legislature imposes, bypassing the hopelessly complicated and outdated red tape in Department of Education regulations.
- The Department of Education has often been insensitive to homeschoolers, placing unlawful demands on them, mishandling important documents, attempting to adopt a regulation in an area where there is clearly no authorization, and adopting a regulation opposed by the overwhelming majority of citizens.
- Legislators, our elected representatives, should determine the requirements for home education, not appointed officials. The right of citizens to the free exercise of fundamental constitutional rights is at stake. Regulation impacting fundamental rights should not be left to unresponsive bureaucrats.
- LD 160 creates an option that does not require the costly "approval" process, a failed process rooted in old prejudice against innovative methods of education. The "approval" process is now used in only 3 other states (MA, UT, RI).
- The "approval" process is tremendously expensive for the state to administer because it requires administrative action multiple times per year for every single home schooler.
- Under Maine's "approval" process, homeschoolers may languish months before they know if they can homeschool legally. If the Department does not respond, they will never know! While waiting for the Department to act, homeschoolers may face significant legal problems.
- LD 160 would put Maine in the mainstream along with such states as AL, AR, AZ, CA, KS, KY, MD, MS, MT, NE, NE, NM, NV, WI, WY which offer a home school option under which parents file a simple written notice in order to home school. In 11 other states (AK, DE, ID, IL, IN, MI, MO, NJ, OK, SC, and TX), parents can home school without providing any written notice at all.
LD 160 represents a significantly different philosophy toward home education. The current rules reflect the philosophy that the state knows best. Those who hold this view believe that it is the job of the state to control home education. This is an impossible task. If it were possible, it would require so much interference in the life of the citizen and his own home as to be undesirable.
Public schools have huge full-time staffs, institutional enforcement abilities, and thousands of rules, but these controls still do not produce success. Studies have shown, however, that homeschoolers in states with little or no regulation score 20 to 30 percentile points above other students on standardized achievement tests, the same level as homeschoolers in states with heavy regulation.
LD 160 stands instead on the philosophy that once parents solemnly and unequivocally declare their responsibility for the educating their own children, responsibility leaves the government and resides with the parents.
The current system is a substantially failed attempt to assert state control over activities that occur within the walls of a citizen's private residence that simply cannot be controlled. LD 160, on the other hand, is a fully successful establishment of educational responsibility where it belongs, with the parent.
The current Maine homschooling regulations contain too much needless red tape not in LD 160. For instance:
- Support system "assistance". Back when homeschooling was an unknown factor, this provision could perhaps be justified. Homeschooling in the last 20 years has been the subject of many studies, however, none of which justifies requiring a support system. "Assistance" is undefined, and is essentially meaningless and unenforceable. No other state in the country mandates such a requirement.
- Length of day. Homeschool families now are required to affirm that they plan to provide "an instructional day of adequate length of time to accomplish the proposed educational program." This is so vague as to be meaningless and unenforceable.
- Sample of typical weekly schedule. Families now must submit a sample typical weekly schedule. Home school families do an excellent job educating their children, but there may be few "typical" weeks. There is no definition of "typical", which renders the requirement so vague as to be unenforceable.
Furthermore, does a child really need a "typical" week? While some children thrive on routine, others thrive on continual surprises, where every day holds new and unexpected adventures in learning as they are led along by their innate curiosity.
- List of Books. Families now must list or describe the instructional materials and textbooks they plan to use. However, there is no standard for determining which books are acceptable. Since the government (quite sensibly) does not intend to tell families which books they are permitted to use, it is pointless to ask for the list.
- Four annual assessments. Families now must submit a plan for accurately and adequately assessing the student's progress at least four times during the school year. Although a public school teacher with 25 students may need formal assessments to determine the progress of her students, a mother with a handful of children knows exactly where her students are on every subject every day. The four formal assessments simply are not necessary outside the institutional setting.
- Year-end assessment. Families now must submit an annual assessment of progress. Fewer than half of the states require any sort of annual assessment for homeschooled students.1 Of those that do, many do not require it every year. Some require it only every second or third year.2 The number of states requiring assessments has been dropping.
Children are different. We would never dream of randomly picking one child out of a public school classroom, giving that child a test, and then judging the teacher's ability to teach based only on that one score. We understand it is unfair to judge the success of a teacher by looking at only one student. When homeschool parents are required to submit an annual assessment, however, this is precisely what is happening.
- Plan for record keeping. Families now must implement a plan for "record-keeping which charts the student's academic progress and records other pertinent information." While this makes sense for a teacher with 25 students, it does not make sense for a mother who works with her children daily and is intimately familiar with their progress.
The vague phrase "other pertinent information" is undefined, making it meaningless and unenforceable.
If a government official were to review the record-keeping charts, the rules give him no authority to make any judgment or take any action based on the data. It is of no purpose.
1. 24 states require some sort of assessment: AR, GA, MN, NC, ND, OR, SD, TN, NY, CO, FL, IA, LA, HI, ME, MA, NH, NY, OH, PA, VT, VA, WA, WV. In GA and MN, the assessment is not submitted to any official. The other 26 states require no assessment.
2. States that require assessment, but not every year: AR, ND, OR, SD, TN, NY.
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