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H.B. 356’s Impact on Homeschooling—What you Need to Know

by Scott Woodruff • February 12, 2019

Maryland House Bill 356 has the potential to impact homeschooling in Maryland, and we want you to be informed.

Many families who homeschool in Maryland operate under the supervision of an education ministry of a church. Others operate under the supervision of an umbrella program sponsored by a church-exempt or state-approved school. Here is a list of all education ministries and umbrella programs in Maryland (from the Department of Education).

H.B. 356 would possibly impact education ministries, and definitely impact umbrella programs.

Impact on Education Ministries

It would possibly impact education ministries because the bill’s language is too broad. At one place in the bill, it refers to “institutions.” The meaning of that word is rather fuzzy. Someone might argue that it is broad enough to include the education ministries that churches operate to support homeschool families.

I have asked the sponsor, Delegate Edith Patterson, to take out the word “institution” and replace it with the word “school” to make sure the bill will not impact education ministries. If she makes this change, I do not think the bill will impact education ministries. I believe Delegate Patterson intends to impact schools, not education ministries.

Impact on Umbrella Programs

Umbrella programs for homeschool families will be impacted in a secondary or indirect manner because the sponsoring school itself will be impacted. The extent of the impact will vary from negligible to major, depending on how the umbrella operates and whether it is sponsored by a church-exempt or state-approved school.

H.B. 356 would require church-exempt and state-approved schools to submit four types of documents to the state every year. These documents are required whether or not the school operates an umbrella program.

  1. A copy of the school’s occupancy permit;
  2. A copy of the school’s fire marshal approval;
  3. Information about the school’s accreditation status; and
  4. Information about the school’s curriculum and courses of study.

State-approved schools would probably take these requirements in stride. They must follow a hefty load of requirements already!

But church-exempt schools, I expect, would be shocked and dismayed. Right now, once church exempt schools file their initial paperwork with the state, there are no additional filings that need to be made. (There are, however, a number of legal requirements that apply to church-exempt schools per the Department of Education.) H.B. 356 would dramatically increase their paperwork burden. Private school advocates are, we would hope, following a course of action on H.B. 356 that they believe is appropriate.

HSLDA, however, does not usually engage in legislative advocacy on behalf of private schools in states (including Maryland) where a homeschool is not categorized as a private school. HSLDA will therefore not take action on the bill except to take steps to make sure it does not apply to education ministries.

H.B. 356 Not Necessary

It is worth noting, however, that the bill is probably not necessary at all. The documents that the bill would demand can already be demanded by the State Superintendent of Public Instruction under two sections of code that apply to church-exempt and state-approved schools: Maryland Education Code §2-206(j) and §2-205(n). The superintendent has the power to do what the sponsor hopes to accomplish without enacting any new laws.

The bill is not necessary.

Delegate Patterson initially indicated that she would withdraw the bill, but it is now scheduled for a hearing on March 7.

Scott Woodruff

Senior Counsel

Scott is a seasoned attorney and homeschool advocate with decades of involvement in homeschool legal issues and cases. Read more.

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