Monday, February 24, 2014

Homeschoolers Ready to Change the Law in Pennsylvania

by Melissa Eyler
York County, PA

House Bill 1013 has opened the door to many conversations among home educators in Pennsylvania regarding the current homeschool law. Pennsylvania is the second most regulated state in the nation in regard to homeschooling. Many of our current homeschool laws were created about twenty five years ago when there was still much skepticism about homeschooling. However, over these last twenty five years homeschooling across the country has gained popularity with a current estimation of approximately 2.4 million students and still growing!

There are many advantages to homeschooling and on average homeschool students score 15-30% higher on standardized tests than public school children. In fact, studies show that there is no difference in the test scores of homeschooled students in less regulated states versus students in highly regulated states such as Pennsylvania.  This fact has been voiced to lawmakers in Harrisburg as part of our effort to urge them to pass House Bill 1013.

Three informal polls were done recently on social media asking home educators if they were happy with Pennsylvania's homeschool law. 99% of those polled indicated that they were unhappy with the current law. The responses showed that many felt the law was too intrusive and overbearing.  The requirement to annually submit a notarized affidavit, educational objectives, and immunization records at the beginning of the school year, as well as an end-of-the-year portfolio and a portfolio evaluation to the school district are viewed as not only intrusive but excessive as well.

One home educator, Susan L., says, "I always hated the multitude of steps necessary to homeschool. From submitting objectives and coursework on an affidavit, to the physical forms, to the cost of a portfolio evaluation, to the extensive time of getting a portfolio together to the meeting with the district. Why does a parent need to prove they are invested in educating their own child? Why does the state think that I would not have a greater stake and investment in my children than a public educator would?"

Three of those who responded to the poll said that they object to the school district collecting the portfolios for their own review after a portfolio evaluation has already been performed. They feel it is redundant to have a second review of a portfolio by the district when a certified evaluator has already completed this step. Some parents expressed an opinion that a large problem lies in the fact that each school district has their own interpretation of the law and also do not have an understanding of what the law is requiring.

Two parents privately shared information about their difficulties when dealing with the school district.  They have received phone calls from the district questioning them about their child's progress and inquiring whether certain subjects had been covered that year, even after the portfolio and portfolio evaluation submitted to the district clearly indicated that an appropriate education had occurred.  Not only did this create a distraction and add stress to a homeschooling family, but these inquiries, according to the law, are to be submitted in writing via certified mail and not by telephone.  These instances further lend themselves to prove that there is much misunderstanding and misinterpretation of the law among the school districts.

House Bill 1013 would remove administrative burdens on school districts and superintendents by allowing them to rely on the determinations of qualified portfolio evaluators, thus eliminating the re-evaluation by the school district.  Although there were various responses expressing dissatisfaction with the current homeschool law, there was an overall theme ringing through: home educators are deeply invested in their children's education and feel that Pennsylvania's restrictive laws say to them that the state, not the parents, knows what is best for their children.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Visiting Clymer to Get HB1013 to a Vote

"Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures through all generations. The LORD is trustworthy in all he promises and faithful in all he does." 
Psalm 145:13

That passage gave me confidence as Mark and I drove downtown to the capitol to meet with the Chairman of the House Education Committee. I pondered on the truth that God is the power broker when it comes to family issues. He has the ultimate authority over our posterity. It is His will that His kingdom is extended to the coming generations. My husband and I are here as mere instruments of our LORD for the cause of homeschooling in the state.

We met with Representative Paul Clymer and his staffer to advocate for the passing of House Bill 1013. We knew that the members of the Ed Com are getting many phone calls and emails. At this point, the key person who must include the bill for a vote is the chairman.

Clymer welcomed us warmly and we were joined by his Legislative Research Analyst. Right off the bat, Clymer said that he supports homeschooling, that many of his constituents homeschool, and that he is impressed by their children's character and respectful attitudes. To our surprise, he added that many homeschoolers seems to put their kids in public school after the 8th grade.

We affirmed the intimidation that many parents feel about teaching high school, but commented that their decision to stop homeschooling often hinges on their student's ability to enter college and having the necessary documents and activities to qualify for scholarships. To emphasize this point, we shared our story of a state college refusing to accept our oldest child unless she took a GED test, even though her SAT score was quite high. We also informed Clymer, to his amazement, that Ivy Leagues are actively courting homeschool graduates.

Part way through the meeting, we and Rep. Clymer learned that his own staffer was homeschooled, along with all of the staffer's siblings, but that after the 8th grade, they were all sent to either private or public school.

When Clymer mentioned cyber schooling, it gave Mark an opportunity to explain the difference between homeschool and virtual school, as well as communicate CHAP's definition of homeschooling: parent directed, privately funded home-based education.

Both gentlemen gave us indications that the Education Committee will not be the bigger problem when HB1013 comes up for a vote. Those who may oppose the bill are the government education entities including the Pennsylvania Department of Education, and definitely the school district superintendents who feel the need to handle a tangible proof to assess what has been taught instead of just receiving the report from the evaluator that proper education is occurring.

Because HB1013 will open a specific section of law, another concern is that other legislators could tack on other unwanted amendments to HB1013, or even add amendments that would make the homeschool law more complicated. Rep. Clymer assured us that he will kill the bill if this happens.

As we wrapped up, Rep. Clymer announced that he already scheduled a hearing for the bill on March 17th. We were encouraged! He wants all concerned parties to have a chance to voice their opinions and, based on the outcome, the Education Committee will vote on it. Chairman Clymer has deferred to Rep. Gillen to arrange the public hearing since Gillen is the prime sponsor of HB1013. There will be a panel represented by the various interested organizations to address the committee members. We are trying to insure that CHAP has some people on the panel.

According to Clymer, Education Committee members has gotten many phone calls and emails about HB1013 from all parts of the state. They encourage homeschoolers to continue this and verified that it is effective in influencing decisions. They also appreciate the pie homeschoolers have made for each legislator in the Ed Com during CHAP HELP Day in December. Clymer shared his with all his staff members.

When we asked Rep. Clymer for a timetable of when the bill should pass, he said that the legislative process should be completed by June 30 before everybody goes into summer break. He reminded us that when they return from this break, the focus will be on the big election this year: governor, everyone in the House, and some of the Senators.

We don't have the exact time of the public hearing yet, but please mark your calendars for Monday, March 17. We want to fill the room with homeschoolers. Rep. Gillen says, "Bring the children. This bill is for them."

April 2 is the tentative date for the next CHAP HELP Day. We will once again bake pies for our legislators as a gesture of goodwill. Please watch for the announcement or email

Thank you all for your participation and prayers. We cannot do this without your enthusiastic support.