Saturday, 26 March 2011

Swift Action by Homeschoolers Defeats Sneak Attack

Seeking opportunities to maximize their resources, the Vermont Department of Education recently took a closer look at the state’s home study law. Under current law, homeschoolers are required to submit paperwork which creates a significant burden on both them and the staff of the Home Study Department. Acting without input from the homeschooling community, the department decided to recommend changes to the law.

These changes were submitted in a technical corrections bill to the Senate Education Committee. These “technical changes” would have transformed current legislative policy, as reflected in the current law, requiring mandatory testing for all homeschoolers. Although the rewrite would have reduced reporting requirements on homeschoolers as well, such policy changes should never have been slipped into a “technical corrections” bill and certainly not without input from the homeschooling community.

HSLDA caught wind of the proposed changes thanks to Retta Dunlap, a local homeschool advocate and executive director of Vermonters for Better Education. We agreed that action was necessary.

HSLDA worked with Dunlap to encourage homeschooling families to contact the Vermont Department of Education and request that they withdraw the proposed legislation and seek input from homeschoolers before making such drastic changes. After an initial hearing on the bill, the Education Committee told the department to work with homeschoolers to come back with a new draft in just five days.

Both Dunlap and HSLDA Staff Attorney Mike Donnelly agreed that it would be impossible and highly inappropriate to attempt to rewrite the entire law in just five days, which included a weekend. It was also becoming apparent that the department was committed to mandatory testing language.

HSLDA then asked homeschoolers to contact the Senate Education Committee. Over the next few days, senators on the Education Committee received a barrage of phone calls and emails from homeschooling families urging the committee not to move forward with the proposed law without first consulting with homeschoolers. When the committee met to discuss the changes, they had no doubt about the views of their constituents and agreed not to go forward with the changes. Education Committee Vice Chair Ginny Lyons sent a letter to the community agreeing that “if and when there is analysis of the home school system, all interested parties must be involved.”

Donnelly agreed: “Changes of this magnitude require careful consideration and input from all parties. Drafted in 1987, the Vermont homeschool law is in need of changes to make it less burdensome for homeschoolers. Despite supreme court opinions to the contrary, many homeschoolers feel as though they are living in an approval state and not a notification state. HSLDA is pleased to stand with Vermont homeschoolers and to work for change that reduces unnecessary bureaucracy and state intrusion into families.”

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