TESTIMONY OF DEWITT T. BLACK, III, BEFORE A SUBCOMMITTEE OF THE SOUTH CAROLINA SENATE EDUCATION COMMITTEE REGARDING HOUSE BILL 3364
May 8, 2002
Mr. Chairman, members of the Subcommittee, ladies and gentlemen:
My name is Dee Black. I am a lawyer with Home School Legal Defense Association, a non-profit association whose primary purpose is the protection of the right of parents to educate their children at home. Our office is located in northern Virginia within in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. Our association presently has over 70,000 member families in all 50 states and the District the Columbia, with over 1,600 member families in South Carolina. I am a member of the South Carolina Bar and practiced law in Beaufort County for 11 years before joining Home School Legal Defense Association.
Thank you for permitting me to testify today before this Subcommittee concerning House Bill 3364. Our Association opposes this bill because it could present home school graduates from being admitted to college, getting a job with a state agency, or receiving a license to practice a vocation. Actually, the potential for unfair discrimination is much more far-reaching than just the areas I mentioned. The language of the bill makes it clear that it is intended to apply to any "other procedure or process" by the state requiring the person to have a high school diploma or the equivalent.
In discussions with state legislators, we have been told that the intent of this bill is to address problems with correspondence diplomas. However, in our opinion, the language of the bill is unclear and ambiguous to the point that it is subject to various interpretations. For example, in subsection (A) of the proposed statute, it states as follows:
If any state licensing, appointment, election, admission, employment, or other procedure or process requires the applicant, candidate, official, or individual to possess a high school diploma or its equivalent, no such correspondence diploma or certificate shall be acceptable for purposes of that process unless: (Emphasis added)
What "such" correspondence diploma or certificate? There is no previous reference in the bill to any correspondence diploma or certificate. The only previous reference to a high school diploma is not limited to a correspondence diploma. It just says high school diploma. Therefore, subsection (A) could be interpreted to apply not just to a correspondence diploma but to all high school diplomas. In this case, the diploma or its equivalent would have to be received from either (1) a correspondence program approved by the state board or Department of Education in the state where the school is located, (2) a school or entity accredited by certain accrediting associations named in the bill, or (3) a school or entity approved by a local school board in South Carolina.
These requirements would effectively eliminate all forms of nonpublic education in South Carolina, because the state would control the curriculum and establish graduation requirements for parochial schools, denominational schools, church-related schools, and home schools. We believe this would be an unconstitutional extension of state power over private education.
Even if the bill were interpreted to affect only correspondence diplomas, many home schooling families are enrolled in academically-sound correspondence programs which could not meet the requirements of this bill. Such nationally-recognized programs as Christian Liberty Academy Satellite Schools, A Beka Home School, and Bob Jones University would not qualify to issue diplomas under this new law.
Enactment of this bill would be a significant departure from South Carolina's historical recognition of diplomas earned in a nonpublic school setting. No one would question that the state may establish curriculum, grade point average, and SAT or ACT test score requirements for college admission, but it is quite another thing to require that the high school diploma be earned through a state-approved program. Likewise, a person's eligibility to obtain a license to do business or to be employed by the state should not be dependent upon having received a diploma from a state-approved school. Many citizens are qualified for these important choices in life without having a state-approved high school diploma.
No other state in the nation has a law requiring state-approved diplomas. If South Carolina passes House Bill 3364, it would be the first state in the nation to have such a law.
I urge the members of this Subcommittee to vote against House Bill 3364. In our opinion, this is a bad bill which cannot be fixed. It should be defeated altogether.
Dewitt T. Black, III