Howard Richman’s Testimony at Information Hearing
of Pennsylvania House Education Committee
June 13, 2002
As Executive Director of Pennsylvania Homeschoolers Accreditation Agency, I am here to represent our 1500 members, many of whom are in the audience wearing blue. We are the largest of 7 homeschool associations currently recognized by the Pennsylvania Department of Education to give diplomas under the home education law. We have twice as many graduates as the other six organizations combined. We oppose this bill because it would take away our diplomas and the ability of the homeschool community to protect its reputation.
For some history. When the home education law passed in December 1988, it included requirements for high school graduation, but it did not specify who would give the diplomas. In their first circular about the law, the Department of Education said that school districts did not have to give diplomas to homeschoolers. So I asked the Department who should: parents? or would they give the diplomas themselves? They told me that they would not recognize parent-issued diplomas, but that they might issue the diploma themselves if we decided to pursue it.
So I carefully crafted a letter with input from 70 homeschool support group leaders. The letter was designed to get the Department to issue the diplomas without opening homeschoolers up to goals set by the government and without eliminating other diploma options that homeschoolers might pursue.
In response, the Department came up with an unexpected alternative. They stated that homeschool organizations should issue the diplomas since homeschool organizations would have a vested interest in maintaining the quality of their diplomas.
I immediately started our accreditation agency. In succeeding years we submitted our standards and procedures to the Department, other non-profit homeschool associations did the same, and the Department, under both the Casey and Ridge administrations, wrote letters to PHEAA, to Penn State and to us recognizing our diploma and those of the other homeschool associations as the equivalent of a high school diploma for all legal purposes.
Over the past decade, our organization has established an excellent reputation for our diplomas. Colleges are very appreciative of our transcripts and the informative evaluation letters that are attached. Our diplomas and transcripts are helping our graduates succeed in life.
This bill is designed to take away our diploma option. I was involved in the formulation process and I know. Not only does it eliminate the specific provisions mentioned in the Department’s policy, such as evaluators, portfolios, and due process hearings, but it specifically prevents the Department of Education from enacting any “policy” which provides even so much as a “suggestion” to a home education program.
During the formulation of this bill I let Rep. Rohrer know exactly what language we would need to protect recognition of our diplomas. On December 18 he called a meeting to forge a compromise between us and those who favored parent-issued diplomas. At that meeting, we agreed to accept their parent-issued diplomas so long as they also recognized our organization-issued diplomas. Rep. Rohrer included the compromise language in the January 22 draft and the very next day I e-mailed him thanking him for listening to our deep concerns. However, he did not stick to the compromise reached. The next draft of the bill, and every succeeding draft, including the one in front of you today, ended recognition of our diplomas.
During a meeting in my state representative’s office, we put a conference call through to Rep. Rohrer’s office and I asked his assistant, Jim Cox, why he had taken out the language that would have protected our diploma. He said that he did so in order to prevent a “hierarchy” of homeschool diplomas. In other words, those who favor parent-issued diplomas knew that if they didn’t eliminate our diploma, their diploma would be lower on the hierarchy!
This bill is a Statue of Liberty for delinquents. Under this bill, any parent prosecuted for truancy would have 30 days to begin a home education program in order to escape punishment. Then that parent would be able to graduate the delinquent at any age in order to make the delinquent exempt from further compulsory education. Not only that but the parent of the delinquent could be a high school dropout and yet the diploma issued, based upon no accountability or standards whatsoever, would have to be recognized by the state as the equivalent to a high school diploma. The diploma in this bill is a joke.
In contrast, the current home education law provides a flexible framework for homeschooling which balances the rights of the parent with the rights of the child to receive an education and the interest of the state in an educated citizenry. It lets parents write the objectives for their own educational program. It includes due process procedures which protect the family from abuse by the superintendent. Not only that, but it protects the child’s interest by involving another adult in the child’s life, a third party whose evaluation letters help the child gain scholarships and college admissions. The diplomas issued by the homeschool organizations under the current law are recognized and legitimate because they are based upon accountability and standards.
The House Education Committee could meet our concerns in either of two ways:
· The first and easiest would be to do nothing. Just let this bill die.
· The second would be to pass this bill as an alternative, not a replacement, to the current home education law.
The current home education law protects both the parent’s rights and the child’s interests. It provides the accountability and diplomas that many homeschoolers appreciate. Leave the current law alone.