How Would House Bill 2560 affect Homeschool Diplomas?

House Bill 2560 (2001-2002 legislative session) was intended to end PA Department of Education recognition of homeschool association diplomas. When asked for the reason that they rejected language that would have continued that recognition, those who formulated this bill say that their goal was to end the "hierarchy" of homeschool diplomas in Pennsylvania. If you are low in a hierarchy, one of the quickest ways to achieve equality is to eliminate those above you.

If one understands the PA Department of Education policy that recognizes home education association diplomas, the language in HB 2560 is not even ambiguous. It specifically eliminates PA Department of Education policies, the only one of which currently existing being the one which recognizes homeschool associations that issue diplomas. Here is the passage from HB 2560 that specifically eliminates such policies:

b) Nothing in this section shall be construed to grant by implication or otherwise to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania or any of its officers, agencies or subdivisions any right or authority to control, manage, approve, supervise or make any suggestion, rule, standard, regulation, policy, procedure or requirement as to the control, management or supervision of a home education program.
Dee Black, a lawyer with the Home School Legal Defense Assocation agrees with this assessment. Recently homeschooler Pauline Harding asked him whether the state would still be permitted to recognize these homeschool associations to give diplomas to home education programs after passage of House Bill 2560. He replied:
In my opinion, the answer to your question is no. If the state especially recognizes these programs, the implication is that there is some difference between these diploma programs and regular home education programs. This means that the regular programs would have to do something else or meet some standard in order to be recognized to the same extent as the diploma programs.
Sometimes proponents of this bill argued that the only policies eliminated would be ones that would affect individual home education programs, not policies that would affect homeschool associations. However, the PA Department of Education policy recognizes home education associations to set standards and procedures for evaluating the portfolios of individual home education programs in order to award course credits and give diplomas to individual home education programs. This policy clearly affects individual home education programs -- and so would have to be eliminated.

Sometimes proponents of this bill argued that if this bill were to pass, then the PA Department of Education would write a completely new policy about homeschool associations that issue diplomas, one that did not affect individual home education programs. This is known as the "benevolent bureaucrat theory." The big question is "Why would the PA Department of Education do so?" The only reason that they decided to recognize home education organizations to give diplomas was because they had to recognize someone to do so and they would not recognize parent-issued diplomas, would not recognize evaluator-issued diplomas, would not require that the school districts issue diplomas to homeschoolers, and would not issue the diplomas themselves. They themselves came up with the idea of homeschool associations issuing the diplomas under the PA home education law, because home education organizations would "have a vested interest in maintaining [the] quality" of their diplomas. This new bill would tell the Department of Education that they are not supposed to do anything, and they would only be too pleased to comply.

Sometimes proponents of this bill argued that the PA Department of Education policy recognizing homeschool association diplomas would be likely to end with or without passage of HB 2560. This is definitely not true. The Department of Education, themselves, came up with the idea of recognizing homeschool association diplomas because they had to recognize some way for homeschoolers to get diplomas under the home education law. In order to eliminate this policy, they would have to come up with another way for homeschoolers to get diplomas. Furthermore, the policy is working, has been in place for more than a decade and has been supported by both Democratic and Republican administrations. Also, homeschool diploma organizations know how to lobby. If the PA Department of Education were to try to eliminate that policy, the homeschool organizations would see to it that the policy was reinstated. The threat to homeschool organization diplomas comes from within the homeschooling community, not from the educational establishment.

Although House Bill 2560 would have eliminated homeschool organization diplomas, it might not have eliminated homeschoolers' diplomas altogether. The bill also included the following provision which could be interpreted to allow any parent to give his or her child a recognized high school diploma:

(g) A student who has completed the graduation requirements set forth in subsection (f) shall no longer be subject to this section or to the compulsory attendance laws of this Commonwealth. Such student shall for all purposes be considered a high school graduate and shall receive all the rights, benefits and privileges pertaining thereto.
The proponents of this bill were making two assumptions:

In chess there are some risky moves called "gambits" which give away something good in hopes of winning something better. House Bill 2560 included that kind of a "gambit." It started by giving away the homeschool organization diplomas option in hopes of winning standardless parent-issued diplomas. Even if this bill were to pass and be interpreted just as its proponents dream, which is unlikely, it would still be a disaster for the homeschooling community. Instead of the reputation of homeschoolers diplomas being protected by homeschool organizations, the homeschool diploma would become a standardless joke, a haven for dropouts, and a piece of paper sneered at by colleges and employers.

Sometimes proponents of this bill argue that nothing in the bill would prevent homeschoolers from choosing to use any correspondence school, diploma program, or transcript service that they wish to use. This is true. But it didn't mean that the homeschool organization diploma option would still exist. If they were to pass HB 2560, they had a new name picked out for us, "Pennsylvania Homeschoolers Transcript Service."

Dr. Howard B. Richman, Executive Director
Pennsylvania Homeschoolers Accreditation Agency

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