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May / June 2005

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Bills would reduce parental authority

On February 17, 2005, the Alabama House Education Finance and Appropriations Committee approved House Bill 50, which, if enacted, would gradually lower the state compulsory attendance age from 7 to 5 years old. The bill provides that during the 2006-07 and 2007-08 school years, the compulsory attendance age would be lowered to 6. During the 2008-09 school year, the compulsory attendance age would be lowered to 5. At press time, HB 50 was awaiting a vote by the full house of representatives.

Home School Legal Defense Association opposes lowering the compulsory attendance age because it erodes the authority of parents, who are in the best position to determine when their child's formal education should begin. Further, many education experts have concluded that beginning a child's formal education too early may actually result in burnout and poor scholastic performance later.

Another bill being considered by the Alabama legislature is HB 492, which would raise the compulsory attendance age from 16 to 18. Although a child and his parent would be able to terminate school enrollment at age 16 by filing a declaration of intent with the local board of education, the parent would be required to ensure that the child's education be continued in an "alternative educational or training program approved by the State Department of Education." This bill would also delete from current law the exemptions from compulsory attendance that are presently allowed for children whose physical or mental condition prevents or renders inadvisable their attendance at school. Such children would have to be enrolled in school or taught by a private tutor, even though a physician or county health officer had determined that they were physically or mentally incapacitated for schoolwork. At press time, this bill was being considered by the House Committee on Education Finance and Appropriations.

For parents conducting home instruction through a church school, raising the compulsory attendance age from 16 to 18 would mean extending enrollment in the school for an additional two years. Statistics indicate that such an expansion of attendance requirements does nothing to increase the graduation rates of high school students. Additionally, experience has shown that it is counterproductive to require students over age 16 to continue in school unless they are motivated to do so. HSLDA opposes this unnecessary expansion of state control over education.

- by Dewitt T. Black