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Senate Bill 55: Expanding Compulsory Attendance
Sen. O'Hearn, Dist 12
Sen. Johnson, Dist 2
Sen. Green, Dist 6
Rep. Carson, Rock 75
Rep. S. L'Heureux, Merr 37
Rep, Crane, Hills 59
Passed Senate Education Committee on 3/13/03. Voted down on the Senate floor 4/10/03.
We oppose all attempts to expand the compulsory attendance age since it would increase the years the state has jurisdiction over our children.
Raising the compulsory attendance age will not reduce the dropout rate. In fact, the two states with the highest high school completion rates (Maryland, 94.5% and North Dakota, 94.7%) compel attendance only to age 16, but the state with the lowest completion rate (Oregon, 75.4%) compels attendance to age 18. (Figures are three year averages, 1996 through 1998.)
Most states (29) only require attendance to age 16. Older children who are unwilling to learn can cause classroom disruptions and even violence, making learning harder for their classmates who truly want to learn.
When California raised the age of compulsory attendance, unwilling students were so disruptive that new schools had to be built just to handle them and their behavior problems, all at the expense of the taxpayer.
This bill would require homeschool families to submit to another 2 years of governmental red tape and threat of legal action in the event of an alleged violation.
It would restrict parents' freedom to decide if their 16 year old is ready for college or the workforce. Some 16 year olds who are not academically inclined benefit more from valuable work experience than from being forced to sit in a classroom.
On March 20, the full Senate took up S.B. 55, amended it, and then referred it to the Finance Committee because of its anticipated financial impact. (The amendment is discussed below.)
The Finance Committee considered the bill and voted it "inexpedient to legislate" and sent it back to the Senate where we anticipate final action on April 10.
The amendment the Senate added before sending the bill to the finance committee is an attempt to try to answer the opposition of homeschoolers. The amendment tries, ineffectively, to exempt home schoolers from the higher age of compulsory attendance that this bill would create for every other New Hampshire student.
The Senate's amendment to S.B. 55 states:
"The provisions of this act shall not apply to children who are homeschooled pursuant to a home education plan established under RSA 193-A. The provisions of this act shall not be construed to alter, modify, or affect in any way the provisions of RSA 193-A."
The reason this language fails to exempt homeschoolers is that only a "child" can be under a home education plan under RSA 193-A, and "child" is defined under 193-A:1.I as someone under 16. As soon as a child turns 16, he cannot by law be under a home education plan under RSA 193-A. Therefore, the senate's amendment only exempts those under 16, who do not even need the exemption!
Furthermore, even if the age problem were resolved, the exemption would still only benefit those being homeschooled in compliance with ("pursuant to") RSA 193-A. This is tantamount to saying, illogically, that you will be exempted from the law as soon as you comply with it.
A principal advantage of keeping the compulsory age at 16 is that parents have complete liberty after a child reaches that age to decide what is best for the child, whether to enter a vocational path, continue their secondary education, move forward to college education, or some other alternative. Under the Senate's amendment, homeschool families would still be required to comply with Chapter 193-A even after their child was 16 or 17.
Even if the amendment exempted students who were in a homeschool program prior to reaching age 16, we would still oppose the bill. We do not believe any such special exemption would last long. Such exemptions could be subject to court challenge. Also, once every private and public student in the state is subject to the higher compulsory attendance age, it would be easy for a special exemption just for homeschoolers to be criticized and subsequently removed.
In response to highly effective homeschool opposition to raising ages of compulsory attendance across the country, we are seeing a growing trend for state lawmakers to "exempt" homeschoolers from higher compulsory attendance ages. We oppose bills that take away parental freedoms even if they seem to create a special exception for homeschoolers.
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