The facts about homeschoolers

ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP)--Parents don't really know best -- that is unless they have a state-approved teaching certificate, a California appellate court has decided.

"Parents do not have a constitutional right to homeschool their children," concluded Justice H. Walter in an opinion rendered on Feb. 28 (see accompanying story in today's Baptist Press). Walter added that parents who homeschool without a teacher's certification "may be subject to a criminal complaint against them, found guilty of an infraction, and subject to imposition of fines or an order to complete a parent education and counseling program."

A.J. Duffy, president of the United Teachers Los Angeles -- a teachers union, supports the decision. "What's best for a child is to be taught by a credentialed teacher," he told the Los Angeles Times.

The decision is being appealed to the California Supreme Court. Until then, it probably will not be enforced. But if the decision stands, California will have the most restrictive homeschool law in the nation.

Prior to the decision, parents could legally school their children at home if they hired a credentialed tutor, filled out paperwork so as to establish themselves as small private schools or enrolled their child or children in an independent study program run by an established school while teaching the child/children at home.

The ruling, though, is nothing more than a heavy-handed slap in the face of responsible parents throughout California. If the ruling stands, what will be next? Will the state dictate a child's diet? How about enforcing a proper bed time? Perhaps even mandate what types of television programs are permissible?

"What's best for a child is to be taught by a credentialed teacher," the president of the teachers union said. I wonder by what criteria he arrived at his conclusion. It sure could not be on the basis of test scores, because homeschooled kids routinely out perform their public school counterparts.

A study titled "Strengths of Their Own: Home Schoolers Across America" found that, on average, homeschooled children scored 30 to 37 points higher than public school students in all subjects on standardized tests. The study consisted of 5,402 homeschool students from 1,657 families. Dozens of other studies produced similar findings.

But I don't need a study to tell me homeschool kids fare as well as, if not better, than public school students. Until recently, our family homeschooled exclusively. Over the past couple of years, due to a variety of factors, we have enrolled our two oldest children in a public high school. They have performed marvelously.

When we attended our initial parent-teacher conferences, we listened patiently while each teacher praised our son and daughter's ability, deportment and performance. Then we informed them that, prior to high school, they had been taught at home. They each acted stunned. I guess they expected homeschooled kids to be social dunces instead of engaging, hardworking, bright students.

There is no evidence to support Justice Walter's ruling or the teachers union president's statement. None.

What reason, then, would the judge have for making his sweeping decision that condemns all California homeschool families? Why would the teachers union president maintain what test scores contradict?

I believe the reason is money. All local public schools receive significant federal and state funding. In many districts federal and state funding represents over half of the budget.

State and federal money is distributed to school districts based on the number of students enrolled, and enrollment is calculated by average daily attendance. The bottom line is that if a child is taught at home he or she is not enrolled in school. Which means the local school is losing government money.

Recent statistics indicate that public schools spend an average of $8,701 per student. If half of that money comes from the federal and state governments, then a school misses out on $4,305.50, per child, when a kid is taught at home. In the case of California's estimated 166,000 homeschooled population that comes to $7,221,000. That, my friends, is a significant chunk of government change.

Justice Walters maintains that parents have no constitutional right to homeschool their kids. The judge needs to realize that the constitution does not address homeschooling. I can't find homeschooling mentioned specifically in either the U.S. Constitution or the California Constitution -- but neither can I find any specific mention of compulsory public school attendance.

State and federal constitutions were designed to stipulate and limit the reach of government. They were never intended to usurp a parent's role in determining what is right for his or her child in the area of education. Let's hope the California Supreme Court agrees.


Kelly Boggs, whose column appears each week in Baptist Press, is editor of the Baptist Message, the newspaper of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.

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