Home-schoolers reel from California court blow
A ruling that parents in the state 'do not have a constitutional right' to home-school their children prompts anger, confusion. Schwarzenegger may ask legislature to intervene.
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The bottom line for him is that California has no laws specifically mentioning home schooling and has in practice treated it as a form of private schooling.Skip to next paragraph
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"If you are not prohibited from doing something and you can fit it within a statute, that makes you a legal operator. We've operated this way for 20 some odd years," says Mr. Smith.
Many lawmakers – and home-schooling advocates – would prefer to keep home schooling out of the education code.
"If this goes to the [state] supreme court and it upholds it, this opens up this big Pandora's box. The state is going to have to define family rights, and to define to what extent [lawmakers] have to regulate," says Luis Huerta, a professor at the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education at Columbia University in New York.
The prospect of Sacramento sorting out family rights won't warm many homeschoolers' hearts.
"Many of those people believe – usually based on a philosophical worldview, and often Christian – that the state has no authority over their children's education and upbringing," says Brian Ray, president of the National Home Education Research Institute, a nonprofit group in Oregon.
Already, California home-schoolers are suggesting resistance would be widespread to any sort of enforcement by local school districts.
"We'd have to open Alcatraz [state prision] to hold all of us," says Loren Mavromati, a homeschooler and spokesperson for the California Homeschool Network. "Even if we all rolled over and complied and enrolled in public schools – how? They are laying off teachers during this budget crisis left and right."
As the movement has grown, its autonomy has become worrisome to some. Concerns center mostly on the need for state accountability in ensuring that children are educated to a certain standard. But, as in the California case, the potential for child abuse is also becoming an issue.
In a January report on a mother's murder of her four children in the District of Columbia, The New York Times framed the case around the isolation of homeschooled kids and the limited opportunity for checking on their well-being. Cases in New Jersey and North Carolina have produced similar coverage.
"If I were a state legislator, I would be worried about having legislation overseeing home schooling that is not being enforced at all, and the potential for bad child-abuse cases happening and the state being sued for, in part, not taking care of its obligations," says Ms. Yuracko.
Lawmakers in California and elsewhere are already tightening oversight of charter school arrangements with home-schoolers. In some states, charters have sprung up to service only home-schoolers, offering parents a free computer, DSL hookup, or textbooks. The schools can then collect public per-pupil funding while paying little for instruction or oversight.
California has enacted reforms to limit the per-pupil funding to up to 60 percent for some nonclassroom-based setups. The reforms have stopped the profiteering, says a spokesman for the California Charter Schools Association.
Not everyone agrees. "Even at 60 percent, it's still a cash cow for districts. You literally get a warehouse, put five or 10 teachers in there, and enroll 1,000 students. Do the math," says Dr. Huerta.