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Senate Bill 276: Legislation Threatens Homeschool Freedoms
Senator Don Ryan
Senate Bill 276 was introduced by Senator Don Ryan (D-SD 22) would have required homeschool students to take state tests adopted by the Montana Board of Public Education. This bill threatened the freedom from testing that Montana home educators have enjoyed since the homeschool law was first enacted in 1983.
It is not an exaggeration to say that this bill would have effectively destroyed homeschooling in Montana. While state assessments now in use for public school students are nationally-normed standardized achievement tests, the state must develop new tests to measure achievement of state content standards to comply with the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. Since the state standards are derived from the public school curriculum, parents conducting home instruction will be forced to use public school textbooks in order to teach the same content. Home education in Montana would have essentially become public school at home.
On February 12, 2003, the Senate Education Committee voted 9 to 1 to "postpone indefinitely," effectively killing the bill. The bill has now missed the deadline to be transferred to the Montana House. Since the Montana Legislature adjourned sine die on April 26, 2003, the bill is now dead.
Reasons we Oppose Senate Bill 276:
- State testing would be imposed on homeschool students for the first time in the history of homeschooling in Montana.
- Only eight states require testing as the only means of evaluating a home instruction program, and no state requires homeschool students to be tested on state content standards.
- Studies have shown that increased state oversight of homeschooling does not result in higher academic achievement.
- Enactment of this legislation will result in a violation of the federal law when homeschool students are required to take the same tests by which the state complies with the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.
- This bill will have the effect of requiring parents to teach the public school curriculum in order to prepare for the state assessments, thereby violating the parents' constitutional right to direct the education of their children.
- Forcing homeschool students to be tested on material they have not been taught is fundamentally unfair and, therefore, unconstitutional.
On January 8, 2002, President Bush signed into law the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. Among other things, this federal law requires states to test public school students in the areas of mathematics, reading or language arts, and science at certain grade levels in order to measure their achievement of state academic content and achievement standards. However, HSLDA added into this federal law a provision which specifically excludes homeschools from the testing requirement:
"Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to affect a home school, whether or not a home school is treated as a home school or a private school under State law, nor shall any student schooled at home be required to participate in any assessment referenced in this chapter."
Montana Office of Public Instruction plans to change the testing of public school students are intended to meet the new federal testing requirements. Beginning in the 2004 school year, the Montana Office of Public Instruction intends to implement state testing to measure achievement of state content standards. These tests will be approved by committees of Montana public school teachers based on the content of the public school curriculum.
Senator Ryan's effort to include homeschool students in the state assessments will place Montana in violation of federal law and should result in the loss of all federal funding for education.
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