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Pennsylvania

May 2, 2001

MEMORANDUM

To:Pennsylvania Members
From:Dee Black, Senior Counsel
Subject:Objections to Pennsylvania House Bill 2560
Date:May 1, 2002

Some inaccurate information is being disseminated about the effects of enacting House Bill 2560 in Pennsylvania. The following information is provided to assist our members with concerns raised by those opposing the bill.

There is nothing in the proposed bill that would keep the state from recognizing diplomas issued by home school associations. Home educators who believe that their children would get a better education through diploma programs will continue to be free to enroll them in such programs. The language in House Bill 2560 prohibiting the "control, management, or supervision of a home education program" by the state does not prohibit the state from recognizing diplomas issued through such programs. But in our opinion the state would not be allowed to develop any policy granting any rights, benefits, or privileges to the recipients of these diplomas in discrimination against a graduate of a home education program, i.e. a student who has fulfilled the graduation requirements of the statute. This is the basic fairness guaranteed by the language of House Bill 2560.

Although only a small percentage of home schooling families desire to use public school textbooks and other curriculum materials, local school districts are currently required to lend these materials to families. The new law would remove the requirement that school districts provide such materials, but it would not prohibit them from doing so. Lending these materials to families would not violate the statutory provision prohibiting school districts from any "control, management, or supervision" of the home education program.

Likewise, this bill would not prohibit local school districts from establishing a policy permitting students in home education programs to participate in sports or any other extra-curricular activities at the public school. Again, so long as the policy does not attempt to control, manage, or supervise the home education program, school districts may continue to establish policies for enrollment and participation of home school students in public school curricular or extra-curricular activities.

Regarding the proposed elimination of the administrative due process provisions in current law, it must be noted that this procedure is only applicable after the superintendent has determined that an appropriate education has not occurred. If House Bill 2560 becomes law, the superintendent would no longer be making that determination, and, further, the new law would no longer define "appropriate education." Thus there would be no occasion for a due process hearing.

In response to those saying that elimination of the due process hearing subjects parents to prosecution for educational neglect and removal of their children by social services, this is simply not true. The due process provisions of the home education statute were never directed toward addressing allegations of child neglect. Social services agencies in Pennsylvania have never been limited by the provisions of the home education law in conducting investigations and prosecuting for abuse or neglect. Neither current law nor the provisions of House Bill 2560 affect the function of social services. But most noteworthy is the fact that there is no provision in Pennsylvania law either defining or prohibiting educational neglect. Any suggestion that parents could be prosecuted for educational neglect and have their children taken away from them is without any legal foundation.

Some in the home schooling community believe that less accountability in the law will result in a decline in academic performance. But study after study has shown just the opposite, i.e. that there is no statistical correlation between high regulation of home instruction and high academic achievement of the student. In states where there is little or no state oversight of home schooling, students score as well on standardized achievement tests as students in highly regulated states.

Critics of the bill have said that it removes child protections by no longer requiring parents to have their children receive immunizations and health and medical services. In fact, current law does not even require these services if the parents have a religious conviction in opposition to them or if these services are medically contraindicated. Pennsylvania is one of only seven states requiring parents to provide this information to public school officials. There is nothing to indicate that removing this requirement will result in a lack of needed health care for children in a home education program. Parents who care enough about their children to devote their lives to teaching them at home will also ensure that they receive proper health care.

Only Pennsylvania and Arkansas have provisions in their home school laws prohibiting home instruction when a member of the household has been convicted of certain crimes. There is nothing to indicate that such laws actually provide any protection to children. It has not been a problem in the other states where there are no such laws. The current law in Pennsylvania prohibits home instruction in this case even if the judicial authorities have determined that the adult, usually the parent, may live with the family and participate in all other aspects of family life. In other words, the parent may do anything lawful he wants with his children except teach them at home. We at HSLDA believe this law is certainly unreasonable and probably unconstitutional.

Enactment of House Bill 2560 would not enable parents to thwart the compulsory attendance law, as some are asserting. Parents failing to comply with the provisions of the law would be subject to the truancy provisions just as they are now under Section 13-1333, a completely different statute. If the state has evidence rising to the level of "probable cause" that a violation is occurring, then the parent would be subject to prosecution. Regarding the fact that House Bill 2560 contains no language requiring the parent to state that he will comply with the law, no such language is necessary to hold parents accountable. All citizens are responsible for obeying the law even though they have not stated that they will do so.

Those opposing this bill have complained that the graduation requirements are too vague and that there is no monitoring of completion of the requirements. Current law requires that there be a certain number of years of instruction in named subjects in meeting the graduation requirements. House Bill 2560 retains the "years" requirement but adds "equivalent credits" as an alternative for meeting the time requirement. This simply permits home educators to accelerate their program if the student is able to do so. Current law contains no provision for monitoring completion of graduation requirements.

House Bill 2560 has been wrongly characterized as not requiring any high school math for graduation, because algebra and geometry are no longer expressly required in grades 9 through 12. In fact, the bill would require that math be taught at the high school level and that the student complete three years of math or equivalent credits before graduation.

Under House Bill 2560, parents would no longer have to have a high school diploma or its equivalent in order to teach their own children. By enacting this legislation, Pennsylvania would join 43 other states in having no such requirement. Studies have shown that parents can be successful home educators without having formal education credentials. In fact, the testimony of most parents is that they learn along with their children while home schooling. The last thing Pennsylvania should do is discourage parents without a high school diploma or a GED from entering into this educational experience with their children.