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by Michael Smith
President of Home School Legal Defense Association
The state of California has taken discrimination against homeschoolers to a new low. A child who had been homeschooled for the first eight grades was placed in public school for the first time in the ninth grade. That year, she took the Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) examination.
The child's parents had done an outstanding job of preparing her. She scored in the top five percent of all children in California who took the test and was ranked number one in her high school for the ninth grade. Students in California who achieve such high scores are eligible for Governor's Scholars Awards, which range from $1,000 to $2,500 to be applied to higher education. She was told she was not eligible for the award, however. Why? She had not been enrolled in a public school for 12 months prior to taking the test. She had been enrolled for just eight months before the test.
Home School Legal Defense Association contacted Governor Gray Davis' office to see what could be done to correct this injustice. We assumed the governor's office would see the injustice instantly and want to change the law for the future. When we brought the matter up with Kerry Mazzoni's office, the governor's secretary of education, we were surprised that her spokeswoman defended the law. She said the scholarship comes from taxpayers' money and the main purpose is to focus on public school students and their achievement.
We certainly agree that it is a good thing for taxpayers' money to be spent on scholarships encouraging student achievement in public schools. What is forgotten here, however, is that homeschooling parents pay taxes too. They pay taxes that go to support public schools even though their children may never be enrolled.
The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) has concluded that the average cost to educate one student in California is $6,300 per year. At least 100,000 children are being home educated in California, which represents a savings of $630 million for the state's taxpayers. The reality is that if students who are being homeschooled now were enrolled in public school, the education establishment in California would be asking for a significant funding increase from the taxpayers.
Yet, many within the public school establishment are concerned that an increase in homeschooling means a loss of revenue for public schools. But they are looking at only one side of the coin. Because funding for much of public education in California - and the rest of the nation - is based upon schools' average daily attendance, it is assumed that homeschooling will result in lost revenue to public schools. However, those that think this way fail to consider that less money should be needed to operate the schools if fewer students are enrolled.
In the past, some of the opposition to homeschooling has been generated by the California Department of Education (CDE). During Delaine Eastin's time as superintendent of public instruction, the CDE issued statements to both public school officials and the general public indicating that homeschooling was not an authorized exemption from mandatory public school attendance unless the parents were certified teachers.
In other words, the CDE says, unless you are a certified teacher in California, you can't legally teach your own children at home. This interpretation is the most restrictive interpretation of the freedom to homeschool put forward by any state. Fortunately, most school districts don't follow the CDE's position.
There is hope for the future of homeschooling in California, however. With the election of Jack O'Connell as the new superintendent of public instruction, there has been a change in attitude toward home education by the CDE. The CDE has removed the language from its website that previously stated that home education was illegal unless the parents were certified teachers. We applaud Mr. O'Connell for taking the first step to reduce the conflict with the CDE over homeschooling.
Homeschool students test on the average 30 percentile points above the 50th percentile on standardized achievement tests. One would hope that this performance would encourage the governor's office to rethink its position on withholding scholarships from homeschool students.
It is time to recognize that home education is a form of education that brings families together and produces high academic achievement. Not only does this form of education save the taxpayers of California millions of dollars, but it also produces productive citizens that will be paying millions of dollars in taxes to the state of California in the future.