Legislatures Consider Lengthening Compulsory Attendance Period
Several states are considering legislation increasing the number of years students are covered by compulsory attendance laws: Georgia, Illinois, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island. Some strengthen penalties against parents; some order school officials to report suspected truancy, and most of the bills propose increasing the compulsory attendance age from 16 to 18. HSLDA opposes these potential changes, including the age increase to 18, since such legislation causes home schoolers to remain under the authority of local school officials for an additional two years. A nationwide study conducted in 1990 by the National Home Education Research Institute found that increased state regulation did nothing to improve the standardized achievement test scores of children being educated at home. In fact, home school students whose parents had chosen not to obtain the approval of public school authorities scored higher in language skills and total reading than students whose parents had fully complied with the law.
Even from the standpoint of public schools, increased age requirements do not help educate children. Professional educators have pointed out that compelling children over the age of 16 to attend school against their will does not convert the children into students. It is virtually impossible to impart knowledge to unwilling children, and their presence can have a detrimental effect on the overall learning environment-diminishing the education of willing students.
Georgia introduced two bills raising the compulsory attendance age. House Bill 1975 died in committee. The Senate passed the Senate Bill 155, but the House refused to concur. S.B. 155 was sent back into committee where the language raising the compulsory attendance age was deleted. In its revised form S.B. 155 passed both the House and Senate in March and was signed into law on May 7, 1992. The compulsory attendance age remains 16 in Georgia.
The Illinois legislature introduced three bills raising the compulsory attendance age from 16 to 18. Two died in committee, but H.3106 is still alive and its second reading is set for April 30, 1992.
New Jersey Senator Ronald Rice introduced S.B.432 to raise the compulsory school age from 16 to 18. Assembly Bill 399, introduced by William J. Pascrell Jr. proposes increasing the criminal penalties for truancy. Parents could be punished by a fine of up to $500.00, 30 days imprisonment, or both. Assemblymen John V. Kelly and Robert C. Shinn are sponsoring Bill 443 which would link the right to operate a motor vehicle to compliance with the compulsory attendance law. At least one of the problems with this legislation is that it makes no provision for home school students who are receiving “equivalent education elsewhere than at school.”
In New York, Senate Bill 5113 expands the compulsory attendance age to encompass any child turning six or 16 within the school year. Any child who turns six as late as June 30, the last day of the school year calendar, would have to be enrolled the previous September. Home schoolers would become subject to all reporting and IHIP requirements at that time. If this legislation passes, home school students who attain the age of 16 as early as September during the school year would be subject to the reporting requirements for the remainder of the school year, plus the annual evaluation due with the fourth quarterly report. Although it may not have been the intent of the framers, S.B. 5113 also requires students of school age to attend school on the same days the public school is in session.
An alternative bill also before the New York legislature would boost the compulsory age from 16 to 18. Introduced by Senator James L. Seward, S.B.7028, is less of a threat to home schoolers because it provides that parents of a minor who is 16 years or older may consent to exempt their child from the higher compulsory attendance age. (This exemption would also apply to minors 16 or older who have been emancipated from their parents by court order).
The Rhode Island General Assembly has also attempted to increase state control of home schoolers. Bill 92-H 8005, introduced by Representatives Paul W. Crowley and Nancy L. Benoit, would increase the compulsory attendance age from 16 to 18.