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September 16, 2010

Education Bill Would Criminalize Homeschooling

Family advocacy groups say that a bill recommended to the Bulgarian Parliament and proposed by Bulgaria’s Educational Commission in July would violate the rights of parents. The proposal amends the Law for Public Education which would lower the compulsory education age to 5 years old, making full-day preschool attendance mandatory. Bulgarian children would be required to attend school for a total of 12 years, until age 16, with children born at the end of the calendar year having to attend pre-school when they are still 4 years old. HSLDA has fought against these kinds of provisions in the United States because they increase government intrusion into the family and because research shows that the best place for young children is at home with a parent until they are older. If these changes become law, parents who choose home education would be at risk of criminal prosecution.

Minister of Education Sergei Ignatov warned parents that noncompliance is a criminal action, and that those who do not observe the law will be severely fined. If parents are unable to pay the fines, they will be subject to “socially beneficial labor.” Ignatov asserts that it is the state’s role to govern education. Since the Bulgarian government lacks the funds to finance an adequate public education, Bulgaria will look to the EU for financial help. The Ministry of Social Affairs has also taken a loan of 40 million leva (equivalent to $26 million in U.S. currency) from the World Bank to fund the program’s implementation.

A number of Bulgarian citizens and human rights groups consider this a serious step backwards toward totalitarianism in Bulgaria’s education system. Two decades after the fall of communism, Bulgaria still lacks a robust sphere of educational alternatives and continues to be characterized by state monopoly over education. Nonetheless, many Bulgarian parents have chosen alternative forms of education, such as private schools or home education, despite such forms being considered outside the law. These families are preparing to defend and fight for their desire for freedom.

HSLDA Director of International Relations and Staff Attorney Michael Donnelly recently spoke at a Bulgarian homeschool conference attended by Bulgarians and Romanians. Donnelly encouraged the attendees with examples from America’s homeschool history.

“You face the same kind of uncertainty today that American homeschoolers did 25 years ago,” said Donnelly. “You are the pioneers of this movement, and like the pioneers of American homeschooling, will have to follow your convictions and work tirelessly to defend your freedoms and your families. American homeschoolers are standing with you in prayer and will take action if needed to encourage your policy makers to protect home education.”

Donnelly told them their job was to change the hearts and minds of people through persistent, polite, and professional persuasion. He invoked one of America’s founders in his charge to the Bulgarian and Romanian homeschoolers present at the conference.

“As Samuel Adams, one of America’s founding fathers once said,” Donnelly recounted, “ ‘It does not take a majority to prevail, but rather an irate and tireless minority keen to set brushfires in the minds of the people.’ ”

The Society and Values Association, a Bulgarian civil group that works to protect the rights of Bulgarian families and parents, submitted a petition to the Parliament citing the weaknesses and destructive tendencies of the proposed bill. Many other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) also issued warning statements about the serious violation of parental rights that would result if the amendments come into force. The group also sent its detailed petition to a variety of Bulgarian institutions as well as to the Ombudsman, who made recommendations to the Commission for Education, Science and Issues of Children, Youth and Sports in the Parliament. There was hardly any public discussion about these proposals despite parents’ disagreement with the education bill.

The Society and Values Association asks that you join with them and let the Bulgarian government know that there are people and organizations who disagree with the proposed legislation and believe it is a natural right of parents to direct the education of their children. If you would like to support the freedom of educational choice for Bulgarian families, please contact the Bulgarian parliament directly at