Although the has not taken an official position on two homeschool-related bills introduced in the General Assembly, public schools superintendent Steve Guthrie said he doesn't think the bills are likely to become law. And one local homeschool advocate dismissed both bills, calling one an attempt to "buy out" homeschool families.
The homeschooling legislation introduced by Del. Tiffany Alston (D-Prince George's) would extend some additional benefits to families who educate their children at home in exchange for complying with additional oversight requirements.
"My concern is that this legislation would blur the clear lines that exist now between homeschooled students and children enrolled in public school," said Guthrie, the county school superintendent.
Catherine Milstead, director of the Christiana Homeschool Academy in Westminster, said that she doesn't think either bill is in the best interest of the homeschool families.
"This sounds like the government trying to buy out the homeschooler in order to make their system look better," Milstead said. "It does in no way tangibly increase or improve the education of the homeschooler."
In one bill, school boards would be able to include homeschool children as part of their funding formula if homeschool families agree to participate in regularly-scheduled standardized testing through their local public schools. Expanding the definition of full-time equivalent enrollment would allow school boards to receive additional per pupil funding, with up to 25 percent of that money going to the homeschool families who agree to the testing.
The other bill focuses on high school students and would allow homeschool teenagers to receive a Maryland diploma under certain conditions. As the law stands now, only students attending public school who meet state graduation requirements may receive a state-issued diploma.
Milstead, the homeschool advocate, said that homeschool families pay as much in taxes as public school parents and was critical of the proposal that extended a financial incentive in exchange for complying with the standardized test-taking requirement.
"Homeschoolers are taxpayers and as such should recoup some of their tax money which is slated for public education without having to do anything to get it," Milstead said.
She contended that making homeschool students take standardized tests would not benefit the children or the state. She points out that if homeschooled students take standardized tests, the results would not provide an accurate reflection of how well the public schools are educating public school students.
"Homeschoolers have all kinds of testing at their disposal with which to assess their student's progress," Milstead said. "If they are tested according to the public school assessments, but haven't been following the public school curriculum, that would not even be an accurate assessment of how much the child has learned or how well he has learned to think."
She said the other bill, which would offer state diplomas to homeschooled students, is not necessary either.
"I personally don't see the benefit ... students going on to college don't need a diploma since colleges usually just look at the transcripts and the SAT/ACT scores," Milstead said. "Again, it just looks like another ploy for the government to become more involved in what families have chosen for their families. Bottom line—it's not necessary or desireable."
Guthrie, the public school superintendent, said that the bills do not address even a small number of the issues that would arise as a result of the legislation.
"Right now, there is a clear distinction in the system—homeschooled children are educated independently of enrolled students," Guthrie said. "Our (public schools) obligation at this point is to review the curriculum they’re using and to make sure children are making adequate progress."
Guthrie went on to say, "If we collect state funds (for including homeschool students in funding formulas), then we have a debate on what services do (homeschool) students get as a result ... can they take some classes and not others? can they participate in public school sports teams?"
Milstead said, "In the end, it doesn't seem as though this legislation would be beneficial for either the homeschooling family, or for the state of Maryland."