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Education Reporter

Homeschoolers Scuttle Test
Maine, other states attempt regulation
Bettina Dobbs
Bettina Dobbs
AUGUSTA, ME - Homeschooling advocates in February scuttled a bill that would have required homeschooled students to take the Maine Educational Assessment test (MEA). The test is aligned with new state standards called "Learning Results." According to the Portland Press Herald (2-22-01), about 500 home-schooling parents and students packed a hearing on L.D. 405 to convince members of the House Education and Cultural Affairs Committee that "homeschooling in Maine is working well with existing state regulations and producing high-achieving, successful students."

Twenty-year-old Lindsay Soule-Hinds, a homeschooled student who graduated summa cum laude last spring from St. Mary-of-the-Woods College in Indiana, told the committee: "Let us agree not to expend our efforts fixing things that are not broken."

Kathy Green, of the group, Home-schoolers of Maine, noted that, "If you control the test you control the curriculum. Homeschoolers want the greatest amount of flexibility in designing, choosing and planning their own curriculum. That's why they're homeschooling."

L.D. 405 also would have provided state funding for the tests. Bettina Dobbs, a leader of the pro-homeschooling group Guardians of Education for Maine, exclaimed: "Under the guise of a new school funding formula, Maine would be the first state to force their home-and private-schooled children to take state assessment tests at three grade levels - and to pay for them!" She added that passage of the bill "would disrupt the relative harmony presently existing in Maine between public, private, Christian and homeschools."

Scott Woodruff
Scott Woodruff
After the hearing, Education Committee Chairwoman Shirley Richard admitted, "there is no doubt that the MEA is out and the funding issue is out." The committee did plan, however, to consider recommending a state study on homeschooling to address Sen. Peter Mills' contention that homeschooled children "are being left behind." (Sen. Mills was the sponsor of L.D. 405.)

Homeschool Legal Defense Association Attorney Scott Woodruff, who traveled from Washington DC to represent Maine's homeschooling families at the hearing, stated: "If Sen. Mills wants to study homeschooling, all he has to do is go to the library and start reading. It's been done before." Woodruff cited studies showing that homeschoolers across the country (including Maine) perform better on national achievement tests than their public school peers.

Proposals in Other States  
Bettina Dobbs suggests that home-schooling and private school parents across the country check on proposed legislation in their statehouses "before it is too late." She cautions that such mandates will bring "many undesirable results."

In Mississippi, legislators are considering a bill that would require home-schooling parents to submit a detailed description to the state of every subject they teach. American Family Association Center for Law & Policy Attorney Steve Crampton says a provision in the bill refers to "legitimate" homeschool instruction, which raises frightening questions. "What is the definition of 'legitimate,'" he asks, "and who defines it?"

Crampton calls the Mississippi bill "a setup for further intrusion." "It seems to open the door for government authorities to decide for themselves what's legitimate and what's not," he observes, "thereby setting homeschoolers up for harassment or prosecution." Crampton believes that the purpose of such bills is to allow the government to gradually take control, "ultimately to the point of requiring homeschoolers to use public school curriculum."

In South Dakota, a bill described by opponents as "a huge step backward" for homeschooling families passed the House but was stopped in the Senate Education Committee. H.B. 1181 would have changed state law to require a 30-day waiting period after filing an exemption application before parents could begin homeschooling their children. (South Dakota considers homeschools private schools and parents must obtain a state exemption certificate.)

Attorney Scott Woodruff stated that "There was no verifiable need for this legislation. The bill was backed only by the slenderest of anecdotal evidence, and the Senate Education Committee understood that."

Sponsors of H.B. 1181 claimed that the bill's purpose was to discourage parents from pulling their children out of public school because of disciplinary action, homeschooling them for a time, then returning them to the system. Homeschool supporters counter that the bill more likely had a funding motive, since school districts receive state funds based on attendance.

"A child who has been suspended or expelled is clearly not thriving in the government schools," notes Woodruff. "If a family wishes to remove a child from public school, it makes no sense to put up roadblocks simply because the child has been suspended or expelled from the system."

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