Saturday, February 9, 2013

An open letter in defense of homeschooling freedom

Note:  If you are unfamiliar with South Carolina's homeschool laws and would like to know more, there's a summary here at  I would have linked to, but the website is down today.  Hopefully it will be back up soon.

To South Carolina's General Assembly and all concerned citizens:

The 2012-2013 school year has been a special one for our family.  This year our firstborn daughter turned five and we began our official first year as a homeschool family.  We’ve known since she was a baby that we would homeschool.  Our reasons for choosing this path are many and deep, and we take it seriously.  Our journey to this first homeschool year has been filled with research, networking, and preparation.  We’ve spent hundreds of dollars on curricula, books, and manipulatives.  Last summer we drove out of state for a wonderful homeschool conference.  We are active members of a homeschool enrichment cooperative.  We pour our time, money, and energy into this for our children’s sakes.  Knowing this, can you imagine how I felt upon learning that lawmakers in our state were devising a plan to have us jump through extra hoops and pay more money?  The passing of House Bill 3478 would mean less time and money for diligent, responsible homeschoolers to spend actually homeschooling.

While there may be a few parents who do not fulfill their responsibilities, the majority do.  All of the homeschool parents I know go above and beyond.  Likewise, most third option accountability associations do an excellent job of ensuring that parents know what is required and seeing that they fulfill it.  Palmetto Homeschool Association, which our family uses, certainly does.  It has always been clear to me that failing to submit the documents certifying that we have completed the required work is unacceptable and could result in termination of our membership.  No, it is not required that we submit details of what we do every day; more specific records are maintained privately at home.  But why would I lie?  A school bus passes our house every day.  If I were a lazy, uncaring parent, all I’d need to do to be within the law is nudge my daughter out the door to get on the bus every morning.  Of course, most of the parents of public school children I know are also passionate about their children's education.  They spend hours helping with homework, chaperoning field trips, and volunteering at the school, but none of that is required by law.  If I really didn’t care, I could put my kids on that bus once they reach kindergarten age and have six hours to myself every day.  We could become a dual-income family and enjoy more luxuries.  Instead, I choose to stay home with my children and homeschool.  A large portion of our spending money goes into buying educational items or to pay for family field trips.  As I think of a few of my homeschooling friends, I know I am not the only one.  We are passionate about helping our children learn and grow.  If this bill were to become law, it would take money we could put towards our children’s education away from us.  The sponsors of this bill have apparently seen some poor examples of homeschooling parents, but this is no reason to hurt all the good ones with expensive and invasive measures.

This proposed legislation would create financial hardship for many homeschooling families.  Membership in our third option accountability group, Palmetto Homeschool Association, tops out at $65 per year for an entire family of homeschoolers.  It's quite affordable and has fulfilled our needs perfectly, but the sponsors of this this bill want to kill it.  Membership in SCAIHS, the second legal option, costs upwards of $400 per year depending on several factors.  What’s more, the president of SCAIHS has said the organization “adamantly opposes” the legislation, according to this article on wyff4.comIs it really wise to place thousands of extra protesting families under the auspices of this organization without their permission?  Also, if this bill becomes law, we will be having tests administered in our home so that our daughter will be in her own learning environment, particularly while she is still very young.  Public school children get this for free.  I have no idea how much in-home testing would cost us, but we could make some budget cuts if necessary to afford it.  Many families wouldn’t be able to pay that extra money. 

The proposed new requirements could create more than just financial stress for families.  Forced testing of homeschoolers is unfair.  First of all, public school children are taught from the same curriculum and learn the material that will be on the test in the same environment in which they will test.  They would be much more comfortable testing than children who were accustomed to learning at home.  I took standardized tests when I was a public school child, and I remember my teacher telling us not to worry and to do our best.  For a public school child, the test is no big deal.  For a homeschooled child, however, there's a chance it could be.  The law states that if a child performs below the appropriate grade level on a standardized test, as one of several invasive remedies, the child may be forced to attend public school.  Some children, despite a teacher’s best efforts, do not test well.  Some of them might have debilitating anxiety.  Some of them might naturally be a grade level or two behind on one subject, while ahead in another.  This happens in public school classrooms all the time!  Would it be fair to fire these students’ teachers?  Is it fair to cause me and my children anxiety all year long because if, for whatever reason, they perform poorly on the test I could be fired as their teacher?  This probably would not happen to us, but it could happen to some families and it would completely change a homeschooling family's way of life.

The government has no business reaching into our lives in the way this bill proposes.  It is not the will of the people, and it's certainly not what the freedom-loving people of South Carolina want and expect from their legislators.  We parents raised these children.  We’ve changed diapers, fed them, taken them to the dentist, washed their clothes, and read “Goodnight Moon” fifteen times in a row.  We’ve done everything for them and have poured our very lives into helping them grow.  Now that our children are school-aged, there are some who would suggest that we are not qualified or don’t care enough to offer our children a decent education.  That is simply uncalled for.  The vast majority of those who homeschool strive to offer the very best education to their children—and in the United States of America, and especially in our state which values freedom so highly, they should always have the right to do it as they see fit.  Lawmakers, please abandon this and any future efforts to restrict the freedom of homeschooling families.  It’s a waste of our time and tax dollars, and propositions of increased government control certainly won’t win you any popularity in our state.


Jenny, a hardworking homeschooling mother


Proverbs 22:6 Academy said...

Excellent letter. Sure do hope our legislators listen.