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.

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