Keep Your Powder Dry

The New Year has started, and the recent concerns about the dropout rate in Texas public schools that was discussed last year and its relevance to home schooling will be addressed this year. As is always the case, we hear from folks that local school officials are saying that home schooling needs to be regulated because of folks who say they are homeschooling but do not. Some have said that the Texas Education Agency (TEA) has plans to adopt regulation. One school official even said, “Things will be getting tough on home schoolers since they must now finish out the school year in which they turn 18.”

Let me clarify. Last year the TEA did some auditing of schools and those who had withdrawn to homeschool. We do not know the results of that audit, but we do understand that the TEA is planning to amend its policy to require school officials to have the signature of parents on a form or letter when they withdraw to homeschool. This procedure is in keeping with the current recommendations of THSC to send a letter via certified mail, return receipt requested, to notify school district officials of withdrawal. The current TEA policy allows an official to withdraw on the basis of a “verbal” notification. We believe this loophole has led to school officials falsifying dropout records. However, some school officials contend that this loophole is used by those who are withdrawing but not planning to homeschool.

While Democrat legislators have filed bills in the Texas House (HB 196) and Senate (SB 207) that would require by statute that parents withdrawing to homeschool sign a form, we oppose such legislation for two reasons. First, the TEA will accomplish this by rule, and there is no need for the legislature to take such action. Secondly, anytime there is a change in the law, some school districts misapply it or abuse it to go after home schoolers. THSC will aggressively “correct” school districts who attempt to regulate home schooling as a result of these or similar issues.

The issue referenced above, of students “finishing out the year they turn 18,” is a misunderstanding of the change some years ago of the compulsory attendance age from age 17 to 18. While this means that a student must attend school until he finishes the year he turns age 18, this school official obviously thinks that home schoolers must attend school until age 18, but any student who graduates earlier than age 18 is exempt from the compulsory attendance statute. Therefore, this does not impact home schoolers but dropouts only.

Finally, one legislator told us in the last session that he intended to file legislation to regulate private schools in order to deal with “diploma mills.” We will oppose any such legislation since it would invariably impact home schools. As I have written recently, the correct approach to dealing with “diploma mills” is for the Texas attorney general to file suit against them for fraud, as he has done.

Home schoolers should “keep their powder dry,” as this session could present several “opportunities” for us to oppose legislation that would erode our freedom to homeschool.