I want to thank everyone who has taken the time to write to me or leave comments about HB832. I especially appreciate that most of the messages have been polite and thoughtful. I’m reading your messages, but it’s not physically possible to reply to every one, so I wanted to respond to some of the questions and concerns I’ve seen.
“Homeschoolers don’t need more oversight”
I understand and agree. The Council created in this bill has no oversight authority. It would simply act as a liaison between the homeschool community and the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE). It would not put any requirements on homeschool parents. You would still be free to educate your children as you currently are, according to your personal beliefs and homeschooling methods. Most of the Council will be homeschool parents whose interest would be in maintaining the current homeschool environment, not imposing additional regulations.
“This would be a council filled with political appointees”
The Council itself would be mostly, but not entirely, homeschool parents. Out of necessity there needs to be a representative from MSDE to enable the council to communicate effectively with MSDE and for it to be an official council. There is also a representative from the Maryland Higher Education Commission, who is there for the purpose of being a liaison with homeschoolers on issues relating to higher education, such as ensuring that homeschoolers are not excluded from eligibility for scholarships. There are also two homeschool liaisons from county departments of education selected from among the 24 homeschool liaisons in the state – one from each county. These are the people who oversee the county homeschooling reviews, and they are on the council to be able to hear from the parents on the council about concerns relating to the county reviews.
Everyone else on the council are either current or former homeschool parents or representatives of umbrella groups. Each of the presiding officers (Senate President and Speaker of the House) would appoint one umbrella group representative and one veteran homeschool parent.
The other eight members of the council would be selected by the full council, from very specific requirements:
- One must be a homeschool parent with experience homeschooling a gifted/talented child
- One must be a homeschool parent with experience homeschooling a special needs child
- Six homeschool parents who must be selected from 6 different defined regions of the state, to ensure representation from both urban and rural areas
“A council can’t represent all homeschoolers”
Yes, it’s true that any set of representatives, including legislators like me, can’t possibly represent the views of everyone. We attempted to ensure broad representation on the Council. For example, as noted above, six different regions of the state will have a representative, ensuring representation from rural, urban, and suburban areas. The bill also specifies that the Council members “represent the diversity of homeschool families that exist throughout the state, including diversity of homeschool philosophy, age, religion, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and gender identity.” It’s my intent that the Council members include unschoolers as well as those who use more formal curricula, and those who homeschool for religious and secular reasons.
That being said, I’m open to making changes that would ensure better representation. For example, the regions were selected based on numbers of homeschoolers in each county, but some have pointed out that in rural areas, while population may be lower, distances can be greater, and geographically distant areas combined into one region in the bill may have different interests. I would consider an amendment to increase geographic representation.
“What does the bill mean by ‘gather information?’”
I know there has been a lot of concern about this provision. Some people are concerned that this would mean intrusive data gathering. I’ve long been a privacy advocate and would never condone any intrusive data collection. The intent was that the Council could conduct surveys (e.g. “Do you think homeschoolers should be allowed to participate in school sports”?). I can see how the wording in the bill could be misconstrued, and I will be submitting an amendment to change “gather information” to “conduct surveys.”
“What’s the purpose of the Council? What kinds of things would they do?”
The Council would be one more method of communication between the homeschool community and the Department of Education. Although there are homeschooling organizations and individuals who have developed connections with the Department of Education and who advocate for the homeschooling community, homeschoolers shouldn’t have to rely on individuals being able to develop those kinds of relationships with MSDE. This would be an open and transparent channel that all homeschoolers would have access to.
Some examples of the kinds of issues the Council might take up:
- Surveying homeschool parents on their views about whether homeschool students should be allowed to participate in school sports, and sharing that information with MSDE.
- Advocating with the Maryland Higher Education Commission (MHEC) to ensure that scholarship requirements don’t exclude homeschool students. A representative of MHEC is included on the Council for situations like this.
- Bringing to MSDE attention situations where counties are misunderstanding the regulations or overstepping their authority under COMAR. MSDE could address these situations with simple clarifying guidance to the counties.
“Did you really homeschool?”
Yes, I did homeschool my son from First Grade through graduation from high school. We were supervised by the county through elementary and middle school, then switched to an umbrella group (The Excelsior Academy) for high school. I used a parent constructed curriculum that incorporated a wide variety of materials and approaches, from some formal programs to free-form, unschooling type experiences, and reading lots and lots of books.
“Aren’t you a liberal? Are you trying to force your liberal views on homeschooling families?”
It’s true that my views are liberal/progressive. I’ve never tried to hide who I am. However, I don’t view homeschooling as a partisan issue. My son had friends from across the ideological spectrum, and I would defend the right of any homeschooler to educate their children according to their own beliefs.
“Will you withdraw the bill?”
There is so much public interest in this bill that I think the public is best served by the transparency of a public hearing where everyone can express their views, both pro and con. Social media is not the best forum to have that kind of conversation, and the legislative process was set up to allow the public to have input through the hearings.
In Maryland every bill is guaranteed a public hearing. Given the public interest, it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to withdraw the bill before the public has a chance to weigh in at a hearing. I will be carefully listening to and considering all opinions, and I know the Ways and Means Committee will also. After the hearing, I’ll consider what my best next steps should be. All options are on the table right now, including withdrawal or amendments. I’ve been having conversations with some concerned parties who have suggested amendments to address some of the problems in the bill.
I do ask everyone who testifies at the hearing, whether for or against, to please be courteous and respectful to the Committee and to other people testifying, even if you disagree with them. A lot of people will be watching this hearing: let’s show the legislators and MSDE the strength of the homeschooling community and that we can disagree without being divided. The bottom line is that we all want what’s best for our children.