Troublesome Legislation Keeps Coming

Earlier this year Councilman Marion Barry introduced Bill 20-178: The Compulsory Pre-School Attendance Amendment Act of 2013. This bill would require compulsory school attendance beginning at age three. The current compulsory education age in the District is five years old. This is the lowest age in the country, shared by fewer than ten other states. When the bill was initially introduced it appeared that it was dead-on-arrival in the Committee on Education. Today the bill moved forward to a committee hearing. It may be that the legislation will still go nowhere. It doesn’t currently have the support of Councilman Catania, or possibly even the support of Councilman Barry, since he didn’t show up for the hearing until the last few minutes. Even a few of the “educational experts” who were there to testify more broadly on pre-school education issues said that they didn’t think it was a good idea to extend the compulsory age so much lower than the rest of the country.

Nevertheless, this would be a great time to let your Councilmember know that the home is a perfectly appropriate place for all children to learn the basic skills of life that are normally “taught” in pre-school. Government shouldn’t be insisting on a course of study for three year-olds.

If such a bill were to pass, how could the government possibly apply the law to homeschoolers? Would we be required to teach a class in “Playing Well with Others” or “Story-time Listening”? This is preposterous. While many of us start our young children on academic subjects early, no professional educator is going to start requiring all children to begin reading, writing, and math before they turn five. On the other hand, some of us have legitimate philosophical disagreements with the idea of starting intentional education early. In fact, many countries are going the other way and are beginning to ask whether we place too much emphasis on education before age seven and too little emphasis on play.

Let’s do what we can to make sure that this legislation goes no further. Please contact your Councilmember and the At-Large Councilmembers. Urge them to vote against this measure. Council e-mail addresses can be found here:

DC Councilmembers

It is most important that we contact the members of the Committee on Education. These include At-Large members Catania and Grosso, Ward 6 Councilman Wells, Ward 7 Councilwoman Alexander, and Ward 8 Councilman Barry. So especially if you live in Wards 6-8, please e-mail your Councilmember.

Resources:

A Large Measure of Success

Congratulations to all. Thanks to you making your voices heard it appears that the DC Promise Establishment Act will now include homeschoolers and students from District private schools. The bill has undergone a fairly significant change from the original version. The grant award amounts have decreased by 40%, but the bill still provides a significant amount of funding.

I am hesitant to declare a complete success because the current version of the bill does not treat a homeschool diploma as a legitimate high school diploma. It would require homeschoolers to also get a GED or some similar stamp of approval from an external organization. The bill specifically requires a “recognized equivalent” to a high school diploma. This is unnecessary when we are already able to provide our students with an actual high school diploma, not the “recognized equivalent” of one.

Please stay tuned for further information. The Education Committee is having a mark-up meeting on the bill on December 10th at 1:30. You should be able to watch the meeting live here: http://dccouncil.us/granicus

I have had conversations with the Committee staff who are drafting the legislation. I am hoping that the language will change sufficiently to be able to be entirely supportive of the bill. As this process continues I will keep you informed.

Resources:

Yes, Other Promise Programs Include Homeschoolers

At last week’s hearing on the DC Promise Establishment Act numerous speakers challenged Councilman Catania to open the program to all DC students, including those from private schools and homeschoolers. The Councilman responded that including homeschoolers “is something that no other program like this in the country has done thus far.” It appears that he may not have had all of the facts.

Thanks to the research of an industrious DC citizen we now know that two of the largest such programs in the country do, in fact, accept all students, including homeschoolers. The Oklahoma Promise program provides a similar amount of money to low-income students in Oklahoma who meet the requisite criteria. The Oklahoma program accepts applicants from all schools and has specific information in their application for homeschoolers.

Even more interesting though is that the Washington state College Bound program accepts all students, including homeschoolers. This is interesting because Councilman Catania is clearly well-versed in this program. In fact, the first speaker at the hearing was a gentleman from Washington State who had traveled to DC specifically to talk about the Washington state program and the amazing successes they had seen. And the truth is that they had seen amazing success. The high school graduation rate for students who were a part of this program had gone from 59% to 78% in just a few short years. Councilman Catania was so impressed with this program in Washington state that he said, “This is a recipe for success and it is one I am eager to replicate city-wide.”

We wholeheartedly agree that a program showing such a clear benefit is the same sort of program we should establish here in the District. However, let’s not decide that we can just drop thousands of students from being able to access this program and still believe that we are treating the citizens of DC fairly. If we agree that Washington State has an excellent program that has demonstrated clear benefits, then let’s follow their example and extend this program to all of the citizens of the District.

Resources:
Oklahoma Promise Application
Washington College Bound Q & A

Take Action: Support DC Homeschoolers

The DC Council is taking action quickly on the proposed DC Promise Establishment Act and your support is urgently needed! Please do two things in support of the equitable treatment of families who choose to educate their children in ways other than through the DC public schools.

1) Sign the Petition: DCHEA is partnering with several other advocacy groups in a drive to get DC citizens to sign a petition calling for the equitable treatment of all DC students. Public school students should not receive privileged treatment when it comes to the awarding of tens of thousands of dollars in grants to District students attending college or professional schools. Please visit the petition site and add your name to the list, then contact your friends, especially those who are currently excluded from the DC Promise Establishment Act. Help us make sure that the DC Council gets the message that the current bill is unfair and discriminates against families who are committed to the future of their children and the future of our city. The petition can be found here:

http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/make-the-dc-promise-act-fair/

2) Attend the Hearing: The Committee on Education will hold a hearing on the DC Promise Establishment Act on Wednesday, November 13th at 10:00am. I suggest that you turn this into a homeschool civics lesson. There is no reason that we can’t have well-behaved children attend this meeting so they can learn more about the government processes that affect their future. Furthermore, you can ask to testify, or you can ask to have your well-spoken high school student testify. I think it would be great if the Council heard from a number of students who will be directly affected by their decisions. Here is the information about the hearing:

Education Hearing on B20-528 The DC Promise Establishment Act
Wednesday, November 13, 2013
10:00AM
Room 500

Those who wish to testify are asked to contact Mr. Jamaal Jordan with the Committee on Education at (202) 724-8061 or via email at JJordan@dccouncil.us and furnish their name, address, telephone number, and organizational affiliation, if any, by the close of business on Monday, November 11, 2013. Persons wishing to testify are encouraged, but not required, to submit 15 copies of written testimony. If you are unable to testify at the hearing, written statements are encouraged and will be made a part of the official record.

If you want to familiarize yourself with the proposed law and what it says, please read our earlier website post. It contains links at the bottom to further information:

 http://dchea.org/2013/10/16/dc-promise-act-not-so-promising/

Allies

It is not just homeschoolers who will be excluded from the DC Promise Act. Students from private schools are being left behind as well. The good news is that we should have a lot of allies in the fight to make sure this new law is implemented in a fair and non-discriminatory way.

The DC Council for American Private Education (DC CAPE) is one such ally. They are beginning to spread the word about this bill and are gathering private school students, parents, teachers, and administrators to join us in making our voices heard before the DC Council. You can see their post on the DC Promise Act here.