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Bill on Home Schooling Narrowly Killed in Iowa

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By a razor-thin margin, the Iowa Senate has killed a proposed compromise in the state's longstanding statemate over home schooling.

The failure of the bill in the final days of the legislature's 1990 session leaves state and local authorities facing another yearlong impasse over how to deal with home educators or parents who place their children in church-affiliated schools that employ noncertified teachers.

The measure would have for the first time in many years given parents throughout the state the legal right to teach their children at home.

The death blow to the compromise effort came April 6, when the Senate by a 25-to-24 vote rejected a version drafted by a legislative conference committee. The House did not consider the proposal.

A key factor in the bill's defeat was opposition from fundamentalist Christians, who especially objected to provisions allowing the state to remove children from their homes if they were not attending school regularly or were not being educated in a state-approved manner.

The fate of the bill left some of those involved pessimistic about the prospects for resolving the home-schooling dispute.

Senator Patrick Deluhery, the Davenport Democrat who chaired the Senate side of the House-Senate conference committee, noted that the Senate tends to be more sympathetic to the concerns of home educators, while the House tends to side with those who see a need for tight state controls on the practice.

"A bill that might pass the House can't get through the Senate," Mr. Deluhery lamented, "and a bill that can pass the Senate fails in the House."

Subject to Arrest

Home educators and noncertified teachers have been subject to arrest since July 1, when a one-year moratorium on enforcing the state's compulsory-education law expired.

But Director of Education William L. Lepley has urged that prosecutions be delayed until the state board of education has clarified the issue, and, state officials say, no prosecutions have taken place.

"By having a law that is not enforced, we have no law," Senator Deluhery said. "The interests of children are being neglected because of the total absence of state involvement in the home-schooling network that exists in our state."

The measure offered by the conference committee was modeled on a plan proposed by the state board last fall.

Although the measure did not authorize noncertified church-school instruction, it provided for two types of legal home schooling: competent private instruction by a certified teacher, and competent private instruction by a noncertified parent or guardian.

Under the measure, school districts would count students being taught at home as part of their enrollment, and would hire certified personnel to provide instructional services on a consulting basis to nonlicensed home educators.

Children taught by noncertified persons would have to score above the 30th percentile on standardized achievement tests for their home instruction to continue.

Truancy-Law Changes

The measure had entered the conference committee as a bill designed to revise the state's truancy laws, which the legislature has been unable to update largely because of the home-schooling debate.

The conference committee tacked onto the measure provisions legalizing home education and empowering the state board, beginning in 1995, to issue regulations changing the scope of the compulsory-school-attendance law, which currently covers children ages 7 to 16.

The provisions of the bill dealing with truancy would have required truant officers to report children who are truant or have accumulated 15 unexcused absences from school over three years to the county attorney. That official then could investigate the situation and, if necessary, petition a juvenile court to have the child declared in need of state assistance and removed from the home.

"No one wants enforcement that includes the possibility of taking their children away," asserted Paul V. Zylstra, president of Iowans for Christian Education, one of seven groups that lobbied against the bill.

Mr. Zylstra also criticized the provisions of the bill requiring children schooled at home to score above a minimum level on standardized tests. Such tests are biased against home-schooled students, he said.

Senator Ray A. Taylor, a Republican who favors easing the attendance law, argued that many home educators would have rebelled against the measure and continued to educate their children outside the law.

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