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Legislative Issues and Advocacy
Are you aware of any proposed legislation that may affect homeschoolers? Do you have information that you’d like to share about a current issue? Something that would help others understand the issue? A letter you’ve written, or thoughts you’d like to share? Email me and I’ll consider posting them or linking to them here.
Homeschoolers have a lot of choices available. Please take the information you find useful from these pages and ignore the rest.
Many people, including me, will give opinions on the PA homeschooling law. I believe that everyone should read the law for themselves, read a few opinions about it, and decide for themselves what approach makes sense for their family.
I might be wrong! I am not a lawyer! Your circumstances may be different! This page, and others on this site, are not intended as legal advice. School districts vary considerably in their interpretation of the home education law. Please double-check legal information with appropriate sources. In particular, the PA Dept. of Ed. may be helpful.
This web page by Pauline Harding for Art Nurk.
Periodically, legislation is introduced which affect homeschoolers in Pennsylvania. This page is an attempt to gather useful information in one place, so that we as a community can have the tools and information we need to respond appropriately. Different homeschoolers may have different opinions on proposed changes to the law, or other issues that may arise. While I have my own opinions, which I will sometimes present here, my main goal is to make it easy for homeschoolers to participate in the political process, whether they agree with me or not.
Useful Links for Advocacy:
Bills about education are usually introduced in the state House of Representatives. The bill starts in the House Education Committee, where it must be passed, then it goes to the full House, who must pass it, then the state senate would need to go through a similar process, then the governor would need to sign it.
-- How to Read a Bill -- If you've never read a bill, read this first to understand what the brackets, underlining, etc. means.
-- Pennsylvania General Assembly -- If you have a bill's number, you can search for information on a particular bill. I think it's important to read the full text of a bill before advocating for it one way or the other.
-- Find Your Legislator -- Find your state representative and state senator. Includes contact info, committee assignments and a brief biography.
-- List of House Education Committee Members -- and links to their web sites.
-- List of Other House Committees -- Committee members and links to their web sites.
-- Alphabetical List of Members of the House of Representatives -- All of the reps, in alphabetical order.
-- House Committee Meetings Schedule -- this tells when and where the Education Committee will meet to consider various bills.
-- My Home Education Law Reference Page – This contains relevant sections of the law and code.
-- PA Code FAQ’s – Explains what the code is. Read this before reading the code itself.
-- PA Code, Chapter 11 -- If you want to have a deeper understanding of the issues, you’ll want to read over the Pennsylvania Code, specifically Chapter 11. Some of it is relevant; some of it is not. (Keep in mind that a lot of it is about school kids, not homeschoolers.)
October 2014 Law Changes
In October of 2014 the legislature made some small but significant changes to the Home Education Law. In short, the law has been changed to eliminate the superintendent's routine portfolio review, to allow the supervisor/parent to award a state-recognized high school diploma (which must be signed by the 12th grade evaluator), to allow PA diploma programs to award state-recognized diplomas, and to make some changes to the superintendent's oversight procedures. Specifically,
--The home education portfolio, shown to the evaluator, does not have to be submitted to the school district at the end of the year. Instead, just the evaluator's certification stating that an appropriate education is occurring for the school year under review is given to the superintendent.
--A Home Education supervisor can award a state-recognized high school diploma. The student must meet the graduation requirements in the law, the diploma must be on a form from the Department of Ed, and it must be signed by the student's twelfth grade evaluator.
--A state-approved diploma-granting organization can award a state-recognized diploma to a student who has completed the graduation requirements in the home education law; it must be on a standardized form developed by the organization.
--There are various changes to the superintendent's responsibilities in cases where the supervisor fails to submit the evaluator's certification by June 30, in cases where the superintendent has a reasonable belief, at any time during the school year, that appropriate education may not be occurring in the home education program, and in cases where the superintendent has a reasonable belief that the home education program is out of compliance with any other provisions of the home education law.
The full text of the law, showing what was added and what was removed, is on my Home Education Law Reference Page.
The following bills, from previous sessions, are no longer being considered. I have left the information here for historical context.
This bill would eliminate sending the portfolio to the school district; instead, only the evaluator's report would be sent. It lays out a procedure for the school district to follow if the home educator does not submit an evaluator's report by June 30, culminating in hearings if the report is not received within 10 days of notification. It also lays out procedures to be followed if the superintendent, at any time during the school year, has probable cause that the home education program is out of compliance, or that appropriate education may not be occurring. There are a few other changes as well.
A homeschooler named Pat, from Adams County, is promoting this bill. Her web site about the bill is here. A number of homeschoolers have raised concerns about the bill. Homeschooler Tamara Kells discusses some of these issues here. One concern is the phrase "The home education evaluation and an evaluator's certification that an appropriate education is occurring...", which implies that, contrary to current practice, the evaluation is more than just the evaluator's certification that an appropriate education is occuring.
A similar bill, HB1273, was introduced in 2007. It never made it out of the Education Committee.
In 2002, HB2560 was introduced, and a hearing was held where several homeschoolers testified. The homeschooling community was divided over this bill. It did not pass.
Some homeschoolers who approved of the intent of the bill were uncomfortable with some of the wording, fearing that, from a practical perspective, it would actually make things worse. Some liked the basic idea, but advocated that the specific language could bear significant improvement in some areas. An individual's lack of support for the bill as it was presented should not be taken to mean they were opposed to the original intent of the bill.
~ Here is an article from PA Homeschoolers describing a meeting at the beginning of the process to create the bill.
~ Here is the text of HB2560.
~ Here is HSLDA's e-lert of 5/2/2002 encouraging members to support the bill.
~ Here is HSLDA's e-lert of 10/18/2002 encouraging members to attend the hearing.
~ Here is a report on the June 13, 2002 Education Committee hearing, from PA Homeschoolers, who opposed the bill.
~ Here is part 2 of the hearing transcript. (Original link, now broken, was here.) It contains testimony from Dr. Carol Saylor (Superintendent of Manheim Central School District in Lancaster County and President-Elect of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators) and Idette Groff (member of the Conestoga Valley School District Board of Directors in Lancaster County, and a member of the executive board of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association). They do a good job of laying out support for the existing home education law from the point of view of the educational establishment. These are the concerns that would have to be addressed should anyone wish to attempt to change the law in the future.
(There was more to the hearing, specifically the second panel; I will post further transcripts if I can find them.)
~ Here is another article from PA Homeschoolers.
~ Here is a collection of various links & info regarding the bill.
~ Here is an article from PA Homeschoolers, explaining the amendments added to the bill, and the eventual demise of the bill. Scroll down to the end for a long list of links regarding the bill.
A personal note about HB2560:
HB2560, introduced in 2002, was bitterly divisive in the homeschooling community in PA.
I was not privvy to the meetings where folks discussed what HB2560 should look like before it was introduced. When it came out, while I supported the basic concepts, I was concerned about several things in the actual wording of it, and I spoke up about those concerns, assuming that the time to do so was *before* it became law, when it could still be changed. I have seen, over and over again, how something so tiny as the placement of a comma, or the choice of a word or phrase, or a basic grammar issue, can change the meaning of a law and how it is implemented. I've seen, again and again, how if something is not explicitly spelled out in the law, then those in power can make up their own rules. I've seen, again and again, how homeschoolers who can point to specific language in the law that backs them up, can be empowered to keep the school district from overstepping their bounds. I think it's essential, for us to un/school in freedom and for us to be able to advocate for our rights, to get the details in any proposed law right.
Frankly, I don't understand why some of the things I was concerned about weren't recognized and addressed before the bill was introduced in the first place, but like I said, I wan't privvy to that process. In retrospect, I have to wonder whether the bill was written (by the Rep, not by homeschoolers I assume) in a good-faith effort to create a bill that reduced the burden/intrusion/etc of the current law and actually had a chance of passing, or whether it was written as a "feel-good" bill to apease an increasingly vocal constituency who would settle for nothing less than total freedom, despite the fact that such a bill would be highly unlikely to ever even pass out of committee. In retrospect, I do not think the bill was defeated by anything any homeschooler did, whether they were for or against the bill; rather I think that, whether we like it or not, whether we agree with them or not, very few of the legislators on the education committee were ever willing to pass a bill that stripped away the current level of accountability, especially in the in-your-face way HB2560 did. I think, frankly, we were sold a bill of goods, we fell for it, and it divided us and took power from us for years to come. And as long as we keep putting fellow homeschoolers into "with us" and "against us" categories, rather than listening to their concerns and trying to see things from their point of view and finding common ground, we won't get anywhere.
I'm a practical person. Can we change the law? I don't know. It would be a lot of work. But in the meantime, I'm doing what I can to help homeschoolers navigate the law in PA. and to make compliance with the law (if that is their choice) easier. I don't make any money off my web site, and I really appreciate everyone who has helped me along the way.
Three quotes from Audre Lourde:
“When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak.”
“I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.”
“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”
Addendum: As of October 2014, the Home Education law has been changed to eliminate the superintendent's routine portfolio review, to allow the supervisor/parent to award a state-recognized high school diploma (which must be signed by the 12th grade evaluator), and to make some changes to the superintendent's oversight procedures. I hope that these changes go a long way towards eliminating much of the previously-typical difficulties between home educators and school district personell. And I hope that this will help our community to heal past wounds and focus on our common goals rather than our differences.