New Law Transforms One of the Worst States into One of the Best
With the enthusiastic support and assistance of Governor Mike Huckabee, the General Assembly enacted House Bill 1157 as Act 400 of 1997, revolutionizing the law governing home schools in Arkansas. Home schoolers have lobbied their legislators for several years to grant them relief from the burdensome requirements of the Arkansas law. The new law enacts several changes favorable to home schooling families, although it includes some changes which were not sought by home school supporters and which may be eliminated in a future legislative session.
The following is a summary of Act 400's significant provisions. The new law:
- authorizes parents to begin a home school for their child at any time during the school year by giving written notice to the local public school superintendent;
- requires parents to deliver the written notice in person to the superintendent the first time notice is given;
- eliminates the requirement that the written notice include any information about a child's need for special education services;
- requires parents to sign a waiver authorizing the release of the State of Arkansas from any future liability for the education of their child;
- eliminates the former annual testing program but requires that home school students be tested at the same grade levels as public school students when they are required to take norm-referenced tests selected by the State Board of Education;
- prescribes testing by education service cooperatives, except in the school districts of Little Rock, North Little Rock, and Pulaski County, where local superintendents are responsible for administering the testing;
- eliminates the requirement that parents pay for tests administered by the state, except when alternate testing procedures are approved by an education service cooperative;
- eliminates any minimum test score which must be achieved by a home school student;
- prescribes a testing procedure for determining grade placement of students transferring from a home school to a public school; and
- eliminates the requirement that a child needing special education services receive them only from a state-certified special education teacher.
The new law went into effect when it was signed by Governor Huckabee on March 7, 1997. Thus, parents who desire to begin home schooling even this late in the 1996-97 school year may do so.
State tests will not be administered to home school students in Arkansas this school year. Families who have already registered and paid fees for state testing can expect a refund of the test fee from the department of education.
Another part of Act 400 amends the driver's license requirements for home school students. Under the revised law, students no longer have to provide documentation indicating that they have achieved any particular score on a standardized achievement test in order to obtain a driver's license. The only documentation a student must provide to the state is a notarized copy of the written notice of intent to home school filed with the local school district.
Arkansas home school families' interests were tremendously advanced through the passage of H.B. 1157. With this legislation, Arkansas was transformed from one of the most restrictive states in the nation into one of the most favorable.