House Education Hearing on HB406

CONCORD, NH, March 16, 2005

The House Education Committee held a public hearing today on HB406 at 1:00PM. The nearly overflow crowd was standing room only, with audience members lining the room and in some cases standing behind seated committee members. Several homeschooling families were there with their children. At the start of the meeting, Chairman L'Heureux asked that the adults seated in the front row give up their seats for the children, but the young people indicated they preferred to stand in the back. Thus began a 1-1/2 hour hearing (for which only one hour was scheduled) during which noone testified against the bill.

Present were Representatives Casey (D-E. Kingston), Remick (R-Lancaster), Rous (D-Durham), Rush (D+R-Pembroke), Stiles (R-Hampton), Naro (R+D-Plymouth), L'Heureux (R-Hooksett, chairman), Easson (R-Farmington, clerk), ?, Clark (D-Boscawen), Balboni (R-Nashua), Ingbretson (R-Pike), and Newton (R-Rochester). Many other committee members were in Concord, but were participating in a subcommittee meeting regarding education funding being held at the same time.

The hearing opened with testimony from the prime sponsor, Rep Marshall Quandt, who freely admitted to not knowing much about homeschooling, but, from what he had learned recently, was very impressed. He then read aloud a letter addressed to the committee from Scott Woodruff of HSLDA praising the bill as a step forward for homeschooling freedoms.

Rep Dan Itse (R-Fremont) spoke in favor of the bill. He spoke from the perspective of a homeschooling father, and answered many "how do you…" questions from committee members, particularly from Rep Naro about testing, and from Rep Rush about what motivated the elimination of the phrase "planned and supervised". Rep Reming asked a question about a report that had been handed out to all committee members. Chairman L'Heureux asked why historically homeschoolers have been reluctant to ask for changes to the home education law.

[Note: from here on, there are people whom I do not know, and have no way to find out their correct names, so I did the best I could at identifying them. - Chris]

Norm Bernier spoke as a citizen who supports homeschooling freedoms.

Leish? spoke as a former teacher and former homeschooling parent. She testified that the curriculums she submitted with her letters of intent were nothing more than her best guesses at what she would cover that year.

Doris Hohensee testified that she believes the current homeschooling law is unconstitutional and violates a parent's right to freedom of conscience. She offered situations she had witnessed that led her to believe that the notification process is really one of approval. She asked the committee to eliminate both the curriculum and testing provisions, leaving only the requirements to teach and maintain a portfolio, to be used if there were any question about the parent's program. She spoke about a meeting of HEAC where homeschooling members had shown no interest in amending the existing law to advance homeschooling freedoms.

Wayne Bartlett spoke as a NH resident and as a police officer in ?, pointing out that RSA 193-A:9 holds districts not liable for failure to provide an education as long as the reporting requirements are met, and RSA 193:1 (b), which allows parents to choose home education as an alternative to attendance at a public school. Rep Ingbretson asked if Officer Bartlett thought there were problems with truant homeschoolers in his town, and he answered that there were not.

Dawn Lincoln, a homeschooler, spoke about her homeschooling experiences under Connecticut law, and her desire to create the same homeschooling freedoms she had experienced there in NH. She spoke about homeschooling as a way of life, and told some of her family's recent projects as examples. Representatives L'Heureux and Ingbretson asked why she was requesting the language concerning the definition of a portfolio be removed; she replied that she wanted more flexibility in determing the contents, and spoke about how she maintains hers. Rep Stiles asked if she knew of anyone who had had their curriculum refused. Rep Rush asked why "planned and supervised" were being removed, and Dawn talked about the flexible nature of her programs.

Chris Hamilton, a homeschooling advocate, spoke in favor of the bill with some suggested revisions. She mentioned that the study that had been distributed showed that homeschoolers had above-average achievement, and that it was not dependent on the level of regulation. She talked about wanting the law changed not because it was necessary, but because specifying a curriculum was not accomplishing any purpose. She suggested additional language to ensure that the selection of curriculum remained the right of the parent, wanted to keep the definition of a portfolio to ensure future interpretations did not change the requirement, and expressed concern about the loss of some due process rights.

A Goffstown school board member spoke about the fiscal impact of homeschoolers choosing not to enroll their children in public schools. Rep Ingbretson asked about conclusions to draw from this analysis, which was that homeschoolers save the taxpayers considerable money. Rep Clark had the understanding that there was not yet any impact, since the funding formula required the districts to use 3-year-old data. [Note: I could not completely understand her question.] Rep Stiles asked how dually-enrolled students impacted the financial picture, which the speaker did not know.

Jodie Lucci, a homeschooler and NH Homeschooling Coalition representative, spoke about how new homeschoolers are often intimidated by the language, and find it difficult to specify a curriculum for the first time, even with the 30-day grace period.

Seth Cohn, member of the Research Team of the NH Liberty Alliance spoke about how the organization supports personal liberties, including the right to homeschool. He had recently researched the topic for the NHLA, and had come across ample evidence of its benefits. The NHLA had distributed a packet of information, including the earlier mentioned report and a second report that documented the success of adults who were formerly homeschooled.

Don Gorman, a former member of the House of Representatives, the political director of the NH Liberty Alliance and a Deerfield school board member, spoke about how, in assisting Dawn to bring the bill forward, he had learned a lot about homeschooling. Rep Balboni asked him if there were any lessons that public schools should take from homeschooling, and Don answered with a moving anecdote about an 11-year-old child who was failing in every subject, but had made a complex presentation on the Holocaust. He said that a homeschooling parent would likely capitalize on that interest to motivate the child's learning. Rep Ingbretson asked if what was being asked was to eliminate the curriculum requirement since noone seemed to be following it anyway. Don also suggested that committee members meet informally with a small group of homeschoolers to get a better understanding of that educational option.

Mr Dufraine? asked that the legislature reduce the regulatory burdens on homeschoolers, and felt that the time used to comply with the law could be better spent teaching the child. Rep Rous asked if perhaps "planned and supervised instruction" allowed for "planning and revision", something done by all teachers. Rep Easson asked if it might reduce the burden on homeschoolers simply to download a standard curriculum from the Internet and submit that at the time of notification. Rep Newton asked if it bothered him morally to submit plans which he had no intention of following.

Chairman L'Heureux closed the hearing, and mentioned that the bill would be discussed in executive session on Tuesday, March 22, along with 28 other bills, and invited homeschoolers to come back and observe.

After the meeting, homeschoolers were encouraged to contact Dawn Lincoln, homeschool4ever at juno.com, if they wished to participate in the informal meeting with education committee members.