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Oregon Board Mulls New Regulations Concerning Private and Home Schools

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Although a sweeping school-choice initiative that included nonpublic schools was defeated by Oregon voters last week, home schools and most private schools in the state now face tightened government regulation that in large part came about because of the ballot measure.

The state board of education late last week voted to postpone action on new rules for private and home schools that critics charge were hastily drawn up out of fear that the school-choice measure might pass.

The initiative would have required open enrollment in public schools and provided an income-tax credit of up to $2,500 for parents who placed their child in any private, religious, or home school.

The ballot proposal also would have prevented the state from tightening regulations for nonpublic education without approval by voters.

That prospect spurred state officials to rewrite the current regulations and seek their adoption by the state board before the choice initiative could take effect. Because the initiative was defeated last week, the board on Nov. 8 decided to delay action on the revised regulations. But state officials remain committed to adopting new rules.

"It's just a question of when," said Larry Austin, a spokesman for the state department of education.

The new regulations "were thrown together at the last minute," said Mark Siegel, president of the Oregon Federation of Independent Schools. "The rules are flawed. These things should have gone through a much slower, more delibe process."

Home-school advocates also have charged that one set of proposed regulations was "designed to destroy us" by making the home-school option less appealing, said James B. Hoge, president of the Oregon Christian Home Schools Association.

Meanwhile, supporters of the choice initiative believe the state's actions in the final weeks of the campaign had a negative effect on the vote.

"I think it muddled the issue for some private educators," said Martin Buchanan, founder of Oregonians for Educational Choice.

The state's proposed changes were a "clear-cut case of political retaliation," he charged. "No one has come forth with any suggestion that there are any problems that needed to be solved in home schools or independent schools."

State officials acknowledge that the choice initiative provided the impetus for revising the private- and home-school regulations in a hurried fashion. But they contend that the revisions were already being considered and would have been adopted at some point anyway.

"The board was planning to make private and home schools more accountable," said Mr. Austin of the education department.

The state has separate rules for private schools and home schooling.

Under state law, private schools voluntarily register with the state, so the regulations only apply to the 399 registered schools, said Wayne F. Neuburger, associate superintenor school improvement.

The revised regulations call for the schools to provide more information about the qualifications of their teachers and their accreditation status. The rules also call for schools to adopt curriculum standards that are more in line with those for public schools.

Mr. Siegel of the private-school group said the content of the new regulations does not pose major problems for private schools, but there are many minor potential problems that can be worked out if more time is allowed for input from private educators.

Although the home-school regulations already have been modified to meet some of their concerns, advocates say the current proposals would still place a substantial burden on home schoolers in the state.

Under the new set of proposed rules, a child taught at home who drops more than 26 percentage points on an annual achievement test can be ordered back to a school. Children scoring between the 11th and 22nd percentile on such tests may not drop more than 5 points, and those at the 10th percentile or below would be evaluated by a team from the local school district to determine if they are making satisfactory educational progress.

Under current regulations, adequate progress is defined as any score above the 15th percentile on an approved achievement test.

"We want students back in the public-school system who show a sharp drop in achievement," said Mr. Austin.

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