Homeschool parents ask, ‘Why state registration?’
By Fran Eaton February 8, 2011 7:02PM
Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
‘Why?” and “That’s odd” are the two responses we’ve heard to state Sen. Ed Maloney’s (D-Chicago) proposed legislation requiring parents of non-public school students to register them with Illinois’ State Board of Education.
“Is there a compelling reason for parents of non-public, parochial or homeschool students to register with the state?” asked former state Sen. Patrick O’Malley (R-Palos Park). “That seems odd.”
That’s a question many interested parents are asking this week after learning about the buzz-creating Senate Bill 136. Tuesday morning, Maloney said things had slightly changed.
“We’re not after private school students. We’re going to amend the bill’s language. What we want is to know where the homeschoolers are,” he said.
“There are virtually no regulations on homeschools. No curriculum, no periodic checks on their progress. Regional superintendents tell me they have no way of knowing whether a home-taught student is truant or not,” he said. “We want more accountability.”
I need to give full disclosure before proceeding: We home-taught our children for 15 years rather than enroll them in the public system. We homeschooled and worked with close to 500 families in the south suburbs during those years. Education specialists suggest that about 2 percent of schoolage children are taught at home. In Illinois, that would be up to 60,000 home-taught students.
Homeschooling really isn’t that controversial. History tells us that 15 U.S. presidents were taught at home by their parents or formal tutors. We have elected officials in Illinois who homeschool their children. There are thousands of tax-paying adults who were taught by their parents at home. Many of them are now second-generation homeschoolers, teaching their own.
Maloney, a former school administrator, said he plans to hold a subject matter hearing on Illinois homeschoolers’ accountability in the next few weeks. He’s not ready to table the legislation, as David Smith, a Will County homeschooling dad of five, would like him to do.
“We’re hopeful that Sen. Maloney will come to his senses and table this legislation,” Smith said after leaving a meeting with Maloney at the State Capitol on Tuesday. “We’ll be encouraging homeschoolers to call, write and pressure the senator to keep government out of the way of parents and their responsibilities.”
And Maloney said, “Certainly, for the most part homeschoolers do a conscientious job that exceeds standards. I’ve heard many anecdotal stories about home-taught students doing well, but there are some out there that aren’t. We need minimally to know who the home-taught kids are.”
For Terri Koyne, a homeschooling mom in Macoupin County, southeast of Springfield, that simply isn’t acceptable.
“He says he wants to just register us, then says we don’t have curriculum requirements,” the mother of four said. “Some of our curriculum is religious. Should a public school system be able to accept or reject that?”
This isn’t the first time a well-meaning state lawmaker has proposed making homeschoolers accountable to the state.
In 1999, state Rep. Ricca Slone (D-Peoria) introduced legislation requiring homeschool parents to have their local school superintendent evaluate their children’s curriculum, test their academic progress and accumulate their children’s immunization records. After an avalanche of phone calls from her constituents and concerned homeschool parents statewide, Slone tabled her bill, a rare occurrence in the Illinois House.
Shortly thereafter, she was replaced by Republican state Rep. Aaron Schock, who now is a U.S. representative.
Homeschooling parents are passionate about their freedoms and responsibilities toward their children’s education. They are committed to the task and ask only to be left alone, nothing more. And all the time they are paying property taxes to subsidize government schools.
It’s disappointing that the direction of Maloney’s legislation is directly opposite of where Illinois’ education philosophy was headed in the 1990s, O’Malley said.
“Then, state law was headed toward empowering parents to choose what education was best for their children,” O’Malley said. “We worked toward cutting the red tape, not adding on more government regulation and bureaucracy. These parents aren’t costing the state, they’re taking an active role in their children’s education. There seems to be more need to balance the state’s budget than take this on.”
Homeschooling parents are required to obey Illinois’ compulsory school attendance law that says every Illinois child ages 7 through 17 must attend a school that teaches the branches of education comparable to those taught in the public school system. The law also says those subjects must be taught in the English language.
In 1951, the Illinois Supreme Court determined that it didn’t matter where the school met, and required only that school-age students attend school or be questioned as to whether they are truant. Truancy may be decided before local judges, not by regional superintendents who are agents of the public school system.
There’s more to develop in this story over the next few months, but there’s no doubt the homeschool movement in Illinois has awakened and now will be called to arms by a new generation of parents turned off by a failed public school system and emboldened by the freedom to teach their children individually.
Maloney’s legislation will not sit well in a time when freedom-loving voters have been activated.
And it does seem odd for Maloney to point to homeschoolers’ perceived lack of accountability when the public system is facing a mounting crisis with its own academic standards and financial shortages.
But it’s easier to focus on distractions than address real problems.
Still, it all seems very odd.