School Choice & Charters

Va. Plan Would Ease Standards For Home School Parents

By Mary Ann Zehr — May 05, 2004 4 min read
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Gov. Mark R. Warner of Virginia has several weeks to decide if he will sign a bill that would make it easier for parents in the state with only a high school diploma to home school their children.

Advocates of home schooling say that Virginia has the most stringent qualifications of any state for parents to teach their children at home—and that the requirements should be eased to enable a broader range of parents to do so.

But Belle S. Wheelan, Virginia’s secretary of education, has asked Gov. Warner, a Democrat, not to sign the bill. She argues it would inappropriately remove input from local school districts in the home schooling of children whose parents don’t have college degrees.

Current law automatically permits parents who have bachelor’s degrees or who are certified to be teachers in Virginia to teach their children at home.

Parents who have just high school diplomas may also home school their children, but such parents must meet one of two additional criteria: They must either teach their children through a correspondence course that has been approved by the state, or have their children’s curriculum approved by the local district’s superintendent.

The home schooling bill on the desk of Gov. Warner would alter the law so that parents could automatically teach their children at home—without having the curriculum preapproved—as long as they had at least a high school diploma.

The curriculum requirement for home schooling parents without college degrees has erected an unnecessary barrier, argued Joe Guarino, a part- time lobbyist for the Richmond, Va.-based Home Educators Association of Virginia, which first proposed the bill to Virginia legislators. The legislation was sponsored by state Delegate Robert B. Bell, a Republican.

While some school officials have readily approved the curricula that home schooling parents without college degrees have proposed, other school officials have created hassles for them, Mr. Guarino said.

Above Average

Chris Klicka, the senior counsel for the Home School Legal Defense Association, a national group based in Purcellville, Va., said his organization has played a role in getting states to relax qualifications for parents to teach their own children. In part, the organization has done so by filing and winning lawsuits regarding the qualifications of parents, he said.

Mr. Klicka cites research conducted by home schooling advocates that shows that home-schooled children score, on average, well above the 50th percentile on standardized tests. “If the child is doing above average, what difference do the parents’ qualifications make?” he said.

Forty-one states don’t have any qualifications for parents to teach their children at home, according to Mr. Klicka. Eight of the nine states that do have qualifications require only that parents have a high school diploma or General Educational Development certificate, he said.

Mr. Klicka said that Virginia stands alone in requiring parents to have a college degree or meet one of the other criteria laid out in the law.

Virginia is one of 24 states, however, that require home schoolers to take standardized tests.

The Home School Legal Defense Association urges that states relax any regulations regarding home schooling, including mandatory tests.

“Our position is that we should trust the parents,” said Mr. Klicka. “We are very much in favor of home school laws that operate on an honor system.”

But Ms. Wheelan, the Virginia secretary of education, believes that parents who have only a high school credential should be required to receive some guidance from their school districts or the state. “When you’ve not been to college,” she said, “you need some kind of input from people on what is expected.”

Charles B. Pyle, the director of communications for the Virginia Department of Education, said that the tremendous growth in the number of home-schooled students in Virginia shows that the state has not been overrestrictive in regulating that area of education.

Since 1990, he said, the number of home-schooled children in the state has increased about sixfold, from 2,944 to 18,102. The state has 1.2 million children enrolled in public schools, he said.

After the home schooling bill was approved by the Virginia legislature, Gov. Warner asked lawmakers to amend it by requiring parents with only a high school diploma to score a certain level on a standardized test before they would be permitted to teach their children at home.

The legislature rejected that amendment on April 21. By law, Mr. Warner has 30 days from that date to decide whether to sign the bill.

The Virginia Education Association opposed the home schooling bill during legislative debate, but doesn’t intend to lobby Gov. Warner to veto it, said Jean H. Bankos, the president of the state affiliate of the National Education Association.

She added that parents in Virginia can get around home schooling laws by requesting a religious exemption from compulsory schooling.

The state granted 5,628 of the exemptions in the current school year, Mr. Pyle said.

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