Homeschoolers in Texas are incredibly fortunate because a “home school” is considered the equivalent of an unaccredited private school. And after hearing what it takes to homeschool in states such as Pennsylvania, most welcome any legislation that reinforces such a definition. But just because a bill uses the term “home school” doesn’t automatically make it a good thing.
There’s a big difference between legislation that states “program x would/should be available to private school students which includes those schooled at home” versus “program x would/should be available to private school students or students schooled at home.” The word “or” can be a tricky word. According to Dictionary.com, one definition is “used to indicated an alternative” while another is “used to indicate a synonymous or equivalent expression.” I believe our goal as homeschoolers should be that the term “home school” should be “synonymous” with “private school” or if necessary, “unaccredited private school.” Any time wording is used that doesn’t meet this criteria, where “or” is used as an alternative, we are in danger of being distinguished from private schools and could potentially receive different treatment. Consider the following examples.
HB 12 is a bill that would establish a pilot project for vouchers for certain students. The definition part of the bill states as follows:
“Private school” means a nongovernmental educational establishment that exists for the general education of elementary or secondary students. The term does not include a school that provides education in a home setting or by the parent or that limits enrollment to relatives of the school’s staff.
Homeschools are still schools but they are explicitly not private schools for the purpose of this bill. Now the purpose of this definition is to keep homeschoolers from lining their own pockets–an entirely different subject not to be discussed here. But was it necessary to define “home schools” separately from the term “private schools?” I think that the latter half of the definition “limits enrollment to relatives of the school’s staff” would have adequately covered homeschoolers as well.
Another example is HB 530 which would prevent homeschoolers from being discriminated against in awarding financial aid based on graduation from a public school. The bill states that
A requirement that a person have graduated from high school to be eligible for financial aid must treat a person who presents evidence that the person graduated from an unaccredited private high school or successfully completed a secondary school program in a home school setting the same as a person who graduated from a public high school.
Notice the “or.” You either graduate from an unaccredited private school OR “successfully complete a secondary school program in a home school setting the same as a person who graduated from a public high school.” Successful? Secondary program? Who is doing the defining?
Things get better when the bill states what will be changed, Section (2)(a)(2)(A) will be amended to “… or an accredited or unaccredited private high school, including a home school,” Notice, unaccredited private high schools now include home schools. Both statements are part of the proposed amended education code–which definition do you prefer?
All this brings us to HB 386 which provides what many property tax paying homeschoolers everywhere dream of–access to public school facilities and programs. Take a good look at this bill, it’s not for private school students but only homeschoolers. Just as an aside and it may be just coincidence but the bill actually departs from the tradition of previous bills in referring to homeschoolers as “home-schooled” students as oppose to “home school” students. Okay, never mind that. The point is that you cannot substitute “private school” or “private-schooled” students in this bill. This bill asks for consideration based on a student’s home-school status.
This is a great deal from the school district’s point of view. The bill states that homeschoolers can not be assessed but they can be included as part of the school’s average daily attendance. But from the homeschooler’s point of view–is UIL really worth being defined as something other than a private school? Why shouldn’t the bill include all private school students; I assume their parents pay property taxes too. Ultimately, we can’t have it both ways, we’re a private school except when we don’t want to be. Sound like something out of Animal Farm. So what’s the big deal you say, private school, home-schooled, we’re still unregulated. We already have plenty of school and public officials who mistakenly think they’re entitled to somehow regulate or govern various aspects of homeschooling. Do we really want to give them any ammunition? We’re unregulated because private schools are unregulated–people may feel very different about regulating home schools.