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New Hampshire

March 5, 2009

Committee Votes for Yet Another Study on Homeschooling

By a party-line vote, the New Hampshire Education Committee voted to retain H.B. 368 as a “vehicle” to continue studying the homeschool law in New Hampshire.

The committee voted to recommend inexpedient to legislate (“ITL”) for the more onerous bill, H.B. 367, which would have made dramatic changes to the evaluation section of the homeschool law in New Hampshire. The law was passed in 1990. However, it was clear from the discussion that the bill’s sponsors, Representative Judith Day and Education Committee Chairman Emma Rous, are far from finished in trying to change New Hampshire’s homeschool law.

Although the vote to retain the bills was a party-line vote, not all Democrats lined up in favor of changing New Hampshire’s homeschool law. Representative Kimberly Shaw, a Hillsborough Democrat, said, “I’m strongly opposed to both of these bills. The only reason I support retaining them is so that, once and for all, we can study the issue and be done with it. I was a public school teacher for 40 years, and I am fine with both public and homeschools.”

Representative Scott Merrick, a Coos Democrat, said that H.B. 367 was very flawed. “I have been opposed to this bill from the beginning. Although I voted to retain H.B. 368 for further study, I believe that H.B. 367, as written, is very flawed and should be voted ITL.”

A study commission was established last year when S.B. 337 passed. Its objective was to study the homeschool law for the legislature. The commission met and eventually voted by a majority not to recommend any changes to the law. Some members of the Education Committee criticized the commission.

“But homeschool representatives came with the stand that the law should not be changed,” said Chairman Rous.

Rous pointed to a lack of data and challenged the idea that homeschoolers do well. “I contest this idea that everyone keeps putting forward, that homeschooling is a ‘proven success’ in New Hampshire. How many homeschools are on probation? We don’t have any data, and how much do superintendents have to go on to make that judgment—to determine when programs ought to be put on probation. And we have abundant anecdotal evidence of problems. I sincerely question the statement about no problems. People are using the system to drop out and to hide.”

Representative Rous said that she hopes retaining H.B. 368 will result in more dialogue and communication between homeschoolers and the state.

“What do we know—how responsible are we being?” Rous asked. “Looking at the history, there was an attempt to improve communication with the S.B. 337 study. Representative Ingbretson and I were placed on HEAC, and that is the beginning of some communication. With better data, a better picture of what is really happening and better communication, we can meet our responsibility to these 4,000 students. It would be much easier to say ITL, but I think we should retain this bill to further study the issues of notification and evaluation.”

But Representative Karen Hutchinson, a Rockingham Republican disagreed. “We don’t need to look over everybody’s shoulder. Homeschool students do better. Why are we putting roadblocks in their way? We should encourage them. They have a great system.”

Jim Parison, the president of CheNH, doesn’t see the need for another study.

“Over the last several years, we have studied the homeschool law,” Parison said. “I was on the S.B. 337 study commission. Studying the issue more will not change the facts. New Hampshire homeschooling parents are responsible and talented teachers who are producing well-educated and functioning adults—with better results than the other forms of education in our state. Studying the issue again will not change the fact that the current law is functioning well, and that it properly balances the state’s interest in education of children and the fundamental right of parents to direct the education of their children.”

HSLDA Attorney Michael Donnelly is a former resident of New Hampshire, where he and his wife homeschooled, and where he served as a member of the Board of Christian Home Educators of New Hampshire (“CheNH”). He said that there is more going on than the desire for numbers. Donnelly testified on February 11 about the proposed changes, saying that, if passed, they would make New Hampshire’s law among the most restrictive in the country.

Nearly 100 others watched the hearings live over the Internet, along with those in the packed room in Concord where the executive session was held.

Donnelly commented on the hearings after watching them over the Internet.

“This is the second year in a row that the Education Committee, under the leadership of Representative Emma Rouse, have tried to impose additional restrictions on homeschoolers in New Hampshire. They point to a lack of data and some undefined, very small number of homeschoolers who are ‘slipping through the cracks’. But what appears to be motivating these legislators is a desire to control New Hampshire homeschools. The fact is that there is plenty of data to show that New Hampshire homeschoolers are doing well. The problem is that this data does not support the policy direction that these legislators want to go in—which is to further regulate and control the education of New Hampshire children and to substitute their authority for that of parents.”

Nearly 1,000 homeschoolers attended the public hearing for these bills on February 11, 2009. The overwhelming testimony was against passage of the bill.

Donnelly stated that homeschoolers will continue to oppose these attempts to further regulate.

“Homeschoolers in New Hampshire agree that there is no need to change the law. They are satisfied with the current state of affairs and are not alone in asserting that there is no evidence indicating a problem that needs to be fixed. Legislators who think that it is their responsibility to control the education of all children in New Hampshire are wrong. The New Hampshire Constitution does not give them this power. Parents in the Granite State have retained the right to educate their children privately at home. This is also a fundamental right protected by the United States Constitution. They reject the idea that the government is entitled to more data. There is plenty of data from all over the country that show that homeschoolers as a group do very well. New Hampshire’s law provides the state with a checkpoint by requiring that children are annually assessed. So the state is getting data and children are being educated. There is no need to change the law—unless legislators want to remove some of the current burdens and restrictions in the law. Now that would be a change to believe in.”

Parison agreed.

“The few times we have had problems in the state has been when the law was changed and the need to retrain school districts on the new provisions, like last year’s law change. Since the system is working it should be left alone.”