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Dave Solomon's State House Dome: Home-schooler oversight snags school choice bill

By DAVE SOLOMON
December 10. 2017 4:10AM
The five children of Taryn Davey of Wolfeboro work on assignments. The children, who range in age from 10 to 16, are home-schooled. (Courtesy)



Opponents of SB 193, a Senate bill that would give parents state aid to send their children to private schools or for home schooling, may have some unlikely allies among the home-schoolers in New Hampshire, who are unhappy about accountability requirements in the bill.

"In a sense, SB 193 has become a backdoor to impose evaluation requirements on home-schoolers, which were repealed in 2012," said state Rep. William Marsh, R-Wolfeboro, whose children are homeschooled.

The bill passed the Senate last year but was retained in the House, where the House Education Committee made several changes and then voted that the bill ought to pass as amended. One of those changes was to subject home-schoolers in the program to the same requirements that face private school students who qualify for the state-funded Education Freedom Savings Accounts the bill creates.

That would mean a certified teacher or a teacher currently teaching in a nonpublic school, selected by the parent, would have to evaluate student progress based on a portfolio. The home-schooled student would also be required to take a nationally standardized achievement test and demonstrate "reasonable academic proficiency or satisfactory growth."

Failing that combination, the student would be evaluated using "any other valid measurement tool mutually agreed upon by the parent and the commissioner of education, resident district superintendent, or nonpublic school principal."

To Marsh and other like-minded home schooling parents, the changes would be similar to what is proposed in a home-school accountability bill filed by Rep. Robert Theberge, R-Berlin, HB 1263, which hit a buzz saw of opposition in the homeschool community before it was even assigned a bill number.

In fact, says Marsh, "SB 193 would impose more stringent evaluation procedures than HB 1263, as students would have to both be evaluated by a teacher and take one of the tests."

Marsh and others have made their concerns known, without much success. "We are under considerable pressure from the governor's office and Republican leadership to support SB 193 as amended," he said.

The Wolfeboro Republican is concerned that SB 193 as written will create two classes of homeschoolers - those who apply and qualify for the state per-student grant of about $3,600 a year, and those who don't.

"Given that this evaluation data would only be collected under SB 193, there would be a selection bias," he said.

"It will only be collected on people who want and need financial help. It's well known that lower socioeconomic groups do worse on school evaluations, so this could easily make the academic performance of home-schoolers appear significantly worse than in existing studies. I am concerned this will become a basis for further attacks on home schooling."

If Theberge's bill becomes law, the accountability requirements will apply to all home-schoolers, so the "selection bias" that Marsh worries about would not apply. But the prospects for HB 1263 are uncertain at best.

Rep. Rick Ladd, R-Haverhill, chairman of the House Education Committee, says House Education developed a consensus that home-schoolers should face the same eligibility requirements for the program as families who use the grants for private school tuition.

"We are putting the same requirements on anyone who receives these dollars from the state," he said. "If the home-schoolers don't like that, they can remain home-schoolers and live according to the law on the books from 2012. But if they want the money, they are going to have to be accountable. I think that's fair."

Talking tax reform

Gov. Chris Sununu joined 20 other Republican governors in a letter to Senate President Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan on Friday, urging them to get on with the tax reform bill now working its way through Congress.

The letter points out that Republican governors have enacted $62 billion worth of tax cuts in their states, and suggests the federal government do likewise. "We urge the two chambers to pass meaningful tax reform legislation and send it to the President's desk," the letter states. "We've proven in our states that you can cut taxes, create jobs and generate budget surpluses all at the same time."

If it can work in our states, it can work for America."


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