Excluding Home-Schoolers Benefits Nobody

(By Julie Zhu)
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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Dear Extra Credit:

Eight years ago, our kids' elementary schools could not or would not meet their academic needs, so we began our journey into home schooling.

Unfortunately, Maryland, where we live, has long been unfriendly to nontraditional forms of education, whether it's home schooling, charter schools or choice within the public schools.

In fact, over the past couple of years, Maryland regulatory agencies have stripped home-schoolers of their right to be included in the nonpublic school portion of funding for students with disabilities, and have prohibited school sports teams from playing opposing teams that include home-schoolers, a decision that was overturned only after a court fight.

Recently, a representative of our local middle school decided that our younger son couldn't join an after-school bridge club that is (1) sponsored by an outside organization and (2) has three (yes, three) members. It is unfortunate that the school's "core value" of "honoring diversity" does not extend far enough to encompass other children in the community it serves.

During last year's legislative session, a bill was proposed in Maryland (HB 1249) that would have allowed home-schooled students, as space permitted, to take up to four classes in certain areas (art, science, math, foreign language and music) and participate in extracurricular activities. In return, the schools would receive additional funding, as if that student were enrolled. It would have been a win-win situation: The schools would get additional funding, and the home-schoolers who were interested could enroll in selected classes and activities. This arrangement is not uncommon. For instance, Tim Tebow, last year's Heisman Trophy winner, played football for his local high school in Florida while being home-schooled, because Florida law allows it.

The only two people who testified against the bill were paid lobbyists, one representing the State Department of Education and the other representing a county school system. Both cited liability concerns, although, when asked by legislators, both admitted not having done any research to determine how other states handle this hurdle.

The bill did not pass, but I hope that in the future, we will follow the example of states such as Florida and Iowa, which allow home-schoolers to participate in public school classes, sports and other activities. These states recognize that their interests are best served by improving the educational experience of all taxpayers' children, not just those in state-run schools.

Christine Keen


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