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.

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Legislative Schedule for DC Promise Act

Thanks to the Georgetown Hoya we have a better idea of the legislative schedule for the DC Promise bill: “The D.C. Council will officially hear the bill Nov. 13, and Young said he hoped the voting process would be completed by early 2014.”

http://www.thehoya.com/news/mayoral-candidate-pushes-for-college-aid-program-1.3100415#.Umpvv3eDl8E

Please keep spreading the word about this bill that would help many lower and middle income families in the District afford college, unless, of course, you have decided to homeschool your children or send them to private schools. Please contact your Council members and ask them to care for all citizens of the District equally, not just those who attend publicly funded schools.

DC Promise Act – Not So Promising

On Tuesday, DC Councilmember At-Large, David Catania, introduced a new bill to provide significant college grants for DC students. The bill is called the “D.C. Promise Establishment Act of 2013.” Considering that DC doesn’t have a state-funded university system that is on par with other states, this sounds like a reasonable proposal. Councilmember Catania’s stated purpose for the Act says that, “The ‘D.C. Promise Establishment Act of 2013’ seeks to guarantee that every District student can pursue a college or technical education after high school.” The program is focused on providing the greatest funding for the most needy students. D.C. Promise grants would provide the most generous funding to students in families living at 200% of the poverty level or below. Significant grants would continue to be offered on a sliding scale to students from middle and upper-middle income families, including families earning up to $250,000 per year.

Sadly there is a gap between Catania’s stated purpose and reality. Rather than being a “guarantee” for “every District student,” this newly proposed bill specifically excludes any student who has not been in a DC public or charter school at least through their high school years. The largest grants are reserved for students who have attended public or charter schools from the 6th grade through the 12th grade.  As DC homeschoolers we are being excluded from equal access to these grants, but homeschoolers are not the only ones excluded. Catania appears to think that the Council is justified in excluding students who have attended private schools, because anyone who has attended a private school must not be among the low-income students he is trying to help. Admittedly, private school students are often well-off. However, should that fact mean that low-income DC students who are able to attend private schools on scholarship should be denied grants that are extended to other DC citizens?

This comes down to a simple matter of fairness. We are all DC citizens. We shop in DC, we contribute to our neighborhoods, and we all pay DC taxes. Some of us have chosen a different educational route for our children. We have a variety of reasons, but all of us are parents who desire the best for our children. Why should our educational choices deny us access to grants aimed at making college affordable for “every District student”? Why would we be penalized for trying to do what our hearts told us was in the best interest of our children? Why would the District want to ease a burden for some of its citizens, yet leave another group burdened with college debt just as they are becoming productive adults, entering the workforce, and wanting to move back home?

This proposal has a lot of support on the Council. It was introduced with 10 out of the 13 members of the Council as co-signers. At this point it seems likely to become law.  We have a brief period while it is working its way through the Council to fix the inequity inherent in this proposal. Here’s how you can help:

1) Contact Councilmember Catania’s office. He is the author of this legislation and the Chair of the Education Committee. He is also an at-large member, so he is your representative on the Council.

2) Contact your ward Council member. Because ward Council members have a smaller constituency, they are often easier to reach. Do send e-mails and make phone calls, but please do go beyond that and try to set up meetings with them individually.

3) Contact the other three at-large members. Anita Bonds, David Grosso, and Vincent Orange are also your representatives on the Council. Please contact them.

4) Contact friends in private schools. If you have any friends who are DC citizens who have students who are in private middle schools or high schools, contact them and let them know that they are going to be excluded from this plan unless they help us convince the Council to change their plans.

5) Contact private school administrators. If you have any friends or acquaintances who work for private middle schools or high schools that have a decent number of students from the District, please contact them to let them know that there students will be excluded from significant amounts of funding for college. Please encourage them to contact us here at dchea@dchea.org. It would be great to know that we have other advocates working with us to achieve a change in this law.

Thanks so much for your concern for the future of homeschooling in the District. Together we have changed laws in the past and we can do so again.

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Success!

On Friday, March 15th, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education released an updated version of the proposed regulation on attendance that had caused us significant concern. I am happy to say that it removed all of the language about homeschooling that caused us concern. In fact, it goes one step further and specifically excludes homeschooling from the definition of “educational institutions.” Because the rest of the regulation applies to “educational institutions” it is very clear that this law is not meant to include homeschoolers. If you would like to read the new text, you may find it here.

The only reason this regulation changed is because the DC homeschool community came together and made our voices heard. Thank you all for your help, especially those of you who sent e-mails and who testified at the Board meeting. You stood up and demonstrated to your children how to participate as a citizen in this republic that has been entrusted to us!

Report on SBOE Meeting

Thank you so much to all of you who sent e-mails about the proposed attendance requirements. Our voices were clearly heard, and hopefully will have made a difference. We were told by the Board of Education that they had received many e-mails from concerned citizens.

Homeschoolers were well represented at the meeting. Five homeschool parents provided testimony. By the end it did seem like we were beating a dead horse, but I think that is exactly what was needed. The Board heard the same thing from all five of us: “Please remove homeschools from this regulation.”

After the meeting I had an opportunity to speak with a couple of the Board members. One told me that it should be a simple matter to clean that language out of the regulation, and that of course they should do that. Another member, Patrick Mara, has been responsive to several of my questions and offered to help if there was any way he could. Finally I spoke with Jose Alvarez, the OSSE Chief of Staff. He said that he believes we will be happy with the rewritten regulation. He took my contact information and said he would allow me a chance to comment on it before they finalized it.

Thanks again to all of you who wrote e-mails. It certainly helped. And thank you to Tom Carpenter, Farrar Williams, Audri Beugelsdijk, and Emily Bradley for coming to testify.

I will continue to provide updates as I am given more information.

A Glimmer of Hope

The Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) has just announced that the State Board of Education (SBOE) has removed the compulsory education regulations from their agenda for Wednesday, February 20th. They removed it “so that OSSE can continue to review submitted comments and make any necessary changes.” I hope that this is a sign that the OSSE will remove the homeschooling language from the regulation.

There are still three things you can do to help make sure that the SBOE makes the right decision.

1) E-mail the State Superintendent of Education and State Board Members. Contact information can be found at the bottom of this article:

https://dchea.org/2013/02/15/alert-new-proposed-regulations-about-attendence/

2) Attend the meeting on Wednesday if you are able. While the SBOE will not be discussing the proposed measure, they are still hearing testimony on it. A number of homeschool parents are planning to testify. If we have a large showing it will help them to understand that we are serious about this issue. The meeting will take place at 5:30 p.m. at 441 4th Street NW, in the Old Council Chambers, located on the lobby level of the building.

3) Join DCHEA. It will help DC homeschooling in the long run if we can organize ourselves. We are a very diverse community and we tend to communicate within our smaller communities. That type of communication is great, but we need a forum where we can work together to address issues of concern to all homeschoolers in the District. Join us through Facebook or through our e-mail list on Google Groups.