Monday, January 9, 2012

The New Hampshire House dicusses HB595--transcript

NH House Floor debate of HB595, 1/5/2011
Transcribed by Chris Hamilton
From the audio file at the General Court website
PM Audio, starting at 1:17:30

Speaker O’Brien: The Majority of the Committee on Education, to which was referred HB 598 [sic], an act amending the compulsory school attendance statute to permit parent to direct an instruction program and repealing the home education statute, having considered the same, report the same with the following resolution: Resolved that it is Inexpedient to Legislate, Representative Ralph G. Boehm for the Majority of the Committee. The Minority of the Committee, having considered the same and being unable to agree with the Majority Report with the recommendation that the bill Ought to Pass, Representative J. R. Hoell for the Minority of the Committee.

Speaker: The chair recognizes Representative Manuse for the purposes of a motion.

[long pause until 1:19:15]

Speaker: The question before the House is the adoption of the Majority Committee Report of Inexpedient to Legislate. The chair recognizes the Honorable Member from Farmington, Representative Pitre, for purposes of addressing the question.

Representative Pitre: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you, Honorable Colleagues. There were three bills retained by the House Education Committee, HB301, 545, 595. HB545 was used as the vehicle to incorporate the best attributes of each bill. Unfortunately, 13 of the 15 members of the new statutory committee of 595, which would replace the Home Education Advisory Council, they would be students and not parents. This is like putting the inmates in charge of the asylum. Students would be clearly less intellectually mature on educational matters. HB545 as amended balances the membership and voting on the House Education Advisory Council by making the two legislators and the senator non-voting members. There would be no notification of school districts in HB595. A compromise of notification to homeschool was made commencing a home education program…in other words, when you start a home education program, or withdraw from a public school, or enter a school district, then you would have to notify. Federal law requires that school districts to follow prescribed protocol for special education students. If you don’t notify, and they are on a special education roll, then the school district can be sued for not providing an adequate education by the parents. That is a problem. That’s Title 20, US C, if you check on it. The rule-making and policy-making authority of the school district officials concerning home education pupils will be limited by HB545. Rules or policies that are inconsistent or more restrictive than the provisions of the bill are prohibited. Some people feel that New Hampshire must provide its children an education by our constitution. Society, I believe, needs to make sure that kids have an education. If they don’t, they’ll end up probably in county jail or state prison. HB allows the possibility that NH children will not be educated. Therefore I ask you to ITL HB595. Thank you.

Speaker: The question before the House is the adoption of the Majority Committee Report of Inexpedient to Legislate on HB595. The chair recognizes the Honorable gentleman from Derry, Representative Manuse, to speak to the Committee Report.

Representative Manuse: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Thank you, Members of the House. We just heard an analogy…

Speaker: Would the member suspend and please come to sidebar?

Speaker: The member may proceed.

Representative Manuse: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. We just heard an analogy that allowing parents to control the education of their children is akin to putting inmates in charge of the asylum. I find that idea repugnant. Natural law indicates that parents are the primary and only authority over their own children, particularly for their education and specifically for their education. Article 2 of Part I of our constitution indicates as such. Natural rights are inalienable; they’re to be protected at all times unless there’s some element of forfeiture in which case it’s abundantly clear, and the state has to prove it, that the parent’s unfit to be in that responsibility. But otherwise parents are the inviable [sic] authority over their children, and the state has no place over those children, which if the parent does not agree to the education that child is receiving. Now, this bill…we amended…and if we defeat this motion, I will have an amendment for you to consider, which was the same amendment as the Committee had at the time of its deliberations on this. It is true that HB545 passed on the Consent Calendar, but in my opinion it did not go far enough. This is one of those cases where we have a clear natural right here, where parents are responsible for their children’s education, and when they choose to take their children out of the public school, or put them into a private school, or homeschool them, they’re doing that because they don’t trust the public school system to educate their children the way that they want them to be educated. And it’s the parent’s right to do that. I know what’s better for my daughter than the state does, and if I think that public education is not suitable for my daughter, it’s my right and responsibility to find a suitable alternative. And private schooling is certainly one alternative; homeschooling is another. And there really…It befuddles me that anyone would disagree with that, frankly. I don’t understand it. It’s beyond my comprehension. So I really think that with this amendment, the amendment that’s coming, this bill would essentially allow parents to homeschool their children according to their own wishes, as is their natural right, under the constitution. We don’t even need the constitution – it’s a natural right before the constitution. Why do we have to notify the state? What is the state’s role in this? I don’t understand. The parent has to notify the state that the child is going to school, going to public school; that makes sense to me. But if the child isn’t going to go to public school, why do they have to notify them? The state doesn’t even know the child exists. They shouldn’t need to. The parent is responsible for the education… If you can prove that the child is not being educated, and you have evidence, and you have probable cause, then you can get a warrant and do some research, and find out that the parent isn’t actually doing the education, and the child is suffering as a result, then by all means, send the kid to public school. The state has a right to step in, and this bill would allow for that. But those cases are so few and far between. If a parent chooses to homeschool, it’s because they’re good at it. I know many homeschooling parents, and many of them are in this house. Their children learn more than kids do in public schools. It’s just a fact. There’s evidence to prove it. So I ask you to oppose this motion of ITL, so that I can put another motion forward to pass this bill as amended. Thank you.

[NOTE: for the benefit of the reader, the text of Part I, Article II of the NH Constitution is included at the end of this transcript.]

Speaker: Question? Does the member yield for a question?...The member does not yield. The question before the House is the adoption of the Majority Committee Report of Inexpedient to Legislate. The chair recognizes Representative Lauer-Rago to speak to the question.

Representative Lauer-Rago: Thank you Mr. Speaker. Fellow legislators, I rise today in support of the Committee Recommendation of ITL for HB595. The subcommittee, which I was on, reviewed three homeschool bills over the summer. And after listening to testimony, we determined that the best solution of all three homeschool bills would be to use HB545 as the compromise vehicle. HB301 was ITL’d on Consent, and we just passed HB545 on the Consent as well. There were three issues that the Home School [sic] Education Advisory Council wanted us to put in the compromise bill. The section of 595 [sic] that stated that it’s a parent’s natural right to determine and direct the education of their children was one. That was included in HB545. And as a former homeschooling parent, I strongly concur with that. The second item was that the Home School Education Advisory Council did not want to completely eliminate the home education statute, but to be an integral part of the process, having final say in rules. That was also included on HB545. We also changed the annual notification to a one-time notification, which is also in HB545. The Committee does not believe that HB595 is needed, and I ask you to press the green button in support of ITL. Thank you.

Speaker: The question before the House is the adoption of the Majority Committee Report of Inexpedient to Legislate on HB595.Are you ready for the question?

[voice from the floor] Division.

Speaker: Request a division? Representative Pitre requests a division. This will be a division vote. Will members please take their seats.

[Sergeant-at-Arms announces division vote in the hallway]: Division

Speaker: Rep Jones requests a roll-call vote. Is that sufficiently seconded? That is sufficiently seconded. This will be a roll-call vote. Will members proceed to their seats.

[Sergeant-at-Arms announces roll-call vote in the hallway]: Roll-call.

Speaker: The House will come to order. The question before the House is the adoption of the Majority Committee Report of Inexpedient to Legislate on HB595. This is a roll-call vote. The chair recognizes Representative Boehm for a parliamentary inquiry.

Representative Boehm: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. And Mr. Speaker, if I know that yesterday we just passed a comprehensive home education bill in the Consent Calendar, HB545; and Mr. Speaker, if I know that the majority of the home education … home educators and the Home Education Advisory Council wants the home education laws and rules as amended in HB545 for their protection, and HB595 does away with that protection; and if Mr. Speaker, if I know that the Home Education Subcommittee voted unanimously to ITL HB595; and Mr. Speaker, if I know that the Education Committee voted in a bi-partisan vote of 12-2 to ITL this bill, so you now join me in pressing the green button to ITL this bill? Thank you.

Speaker: The question before the House is the adoption of the Majority Committee Report of Inexpedient to Legislate. If you’re in favor of adopting the Majority Committee Report, you’ll press the green button. If you’re opposed, you’ll press the red button. Voting stations will be open for 30 seconds.


Crowd: [boo-ing]

Speaker: The House will be attentive to the state of the vote. 263 members having voted in the affirmative, 82 in the negative, the Committee Report is adopted.
[Art.] 2. [Natural Rights.] All men have certain natural, essential, and inherent rights - among which are, the enjoying and defending life and liberty; acquiring, possessing, and protecting, property; and, in a word, of seeking and obtaining happiness. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by this state on account of race, creed, color, sex or national origin.
June 2, 1784
Amended 1974 adding sentence to prohibit discrimination.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Is HSLDA confused?

I’m really concerned about the recent e-lert from HSLDA  I don’t like HB 545

I was pretty happy with the results of Tuesday’s subcommittee meeting.  The subcommittee decided to keep the rules, but take away the DOE’s authority for rule-making. And the Home Education Advisory Council was retained.  But HSLDA is recommending HB545 as it was written originally.

I agree we should remove broad rule making authority from the Department of Education.  But we should keep the rules—ED315.  They contain many record keeping details that should not be left at the whim of school districts, who often have very negative attitudes toward homeschoolers in their districts.

I do not think that the Home Education Advisory Council (HEAC) should be abolished.  Over and over again, HEAC members have clarified the law for school district personnel, usually when they when they have made an unwarranted request of a homeschooling family.  They also play an important role by providing a grievance committee during disputes.  School officials are willing to listen to the HEAC, even when they refuse to listen to a parent quoting the law.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

A Report on the September 6 HEC subcommittee meeting

Chris Hamilton attended the meeting of the House Education Committee's subcommittee studying the home education bills.  Here is her report of the proceedings.

Yesterday (9/6/11) the NH House Education Subcommittee to study three homeschooling bills voted unanimously to recommend to the committee as a whole that HB301 and HB595 be ITL'd, and that the committee move forward using HB545 as a basis for changes to the current home education law. Representative Ralph Boehm, chairman of the subcommittee, stated he thought the two discarded bills were too complicated. He expressed concern about moving forward with sweeping changes when there is not a consensus within the homeschooling community about any one proposal. HB545 seemed to address one issue where there was widespread agreement, that during the last round of rulemaking the DOE had overstepped its authority.

Rep. Boehm felt that the requirements of the current law had their functions. Notification helps public schools plan for enrollment and budgeting, and assists them in enforcing attendance laws. Representative Joe Pitre pointed out that the letter of intent serves as refusal of services when a child has an IEP. Evaluations help students who want to attend classes in public schools show that they meet course prerequisites. Representative Kathleen Lauer-Rago, a homeschooling parent, pointed out that students who want to access public school classes can take specific tests (presumably without requiring general testing of all homeschooled students). She also stated that she had fulfilled the requirements of the current law for many years, and did not find them burdensome.

Rep Rago read aloud her notes from the hearing on HB545 about how the department had tried to do an end-run around the legislature using the rules. Rep Boehm said that this problem was not unique to the DOE, that he thought that rule-making was "out of control" in other agencies, too. In response to a question by a committee member, Representative David Bates, who was in the audience, stated that current statutes prevent the legislature from granting the broad rule-making authority found in
RSA 193-A:3, and that the speaker's office would not currently allow a bill with such a provision to be introduced. Rep Boehm believed that the statute (RSA 193-A) adequately defined what the legislature expected of homeschoolers, and that the rules were unneccessary, but later left room for writing into current law some of the specificity of the rules. Representative Barbara Shaw pointed out that having rules allows for flexibility, and allows small changes to be made without coming back to the legislature. Rep Boehm responded that he thought parties should be coming back to the legislature for changes.

Rep Rago expressed concern that rules were not reviewed sufficiently. Rep Shaw pointed out that all rules must be reviewed by JLCAR. Rep Boehm expressed skepticism that JLCAR had the expertise to adequately review rules, and supported a proposal for JLCAR to have "floating members" who would bring the expertise of their respective policy committees to bear on specific rules proposals. There was also some discussion about proposals to change JLCAR that I am not familiar with.

There was quite a bit of discussion about whether or not to eliminate the
HEAC. The subcommittee was concerned that the role of the council was not defined in the statute, that it was up to the DOE to decide what its role should be. Rep Boehm believed that its current purpose was to write rules. He wanted to change its role to advise the legislature on needed changes to the law. In response to a question from a committee member, Abbey Lawrence, chair of the HEAC, explained some of the other activities of the council, and the role it plays in the resolution of disputes. She also stated that during the previous round of rule-making, the DOE had proposed changes to the rules that would have implemented policies that were overwhelmingly rejected by the legislature, but that indications from the DOE led her to believe that this would not be repeated in the current round of rule-making. Subcommittee members will review the duties of the council as they are described in Ed 315 before the next meeting, Tuesday, September 13, 10:00 AM.

After the meeting, there was a discussion that included Rep Rago, Representative Laura Jones, Abbey Lawrence, Michael Faiella (former HEAC member), and myself. Michael explained further some of the positive things the council had done. Later it was pointed out that the current law was written as a framework, and that it was assumed that rules would fill in the details. If the rules were removed, districts would write the details into policies. Then instead of one central place for providing input on proposals, homeschoolers would need to be attentive to hundreds of policies in local districts, including districts that were not friendly to homeschoolers. Rep Rago asked the three homeschoolers to come up with a list of things in the rules that they believed should be added to the law if authorization for the rules were to be repealed. That was later expanded to include any internal problems (i.e. inconsistencies) in the law. This last request had also been made by Rep Pitre at two previous HEAC meetings. It appears that minor changes to the current law will be considered.

Chris Hamilton

Starting Up, Again.

Fall is here and the House Education subcommittee is discussing the homeschooling law. 

I set up this blog last spring as a place where people could discuss what's going on with legislation and rules in New Hampshire.  Illness and family things kept me from working on the blog, but I'd like to see if we can get some conversations going now.

I still wonder how many of you feel about the proposed homeschooling bills.  You can find details below in the posts from March.  Do you want to see changes in the laws?  Do you support HB595 or HB301?  Do you want to see the Department of Education continue to be involved in writing the rules (ED 315)?  What do you see as the role of the Home Education Advisory Council (HEAC)?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

More Thoughts on the Legislative Situation--Abbey Lawrence

 Here is Abbey Lawrence's "Report of the Home Education Advisory Council" (HEAC) that was just published in the New Hampshire Homeschooling Coalition News. Because many people wanted to know how she felt about the proposed legislative changes, she included some of her opinions in the report.
She writes:  
The opinions expressed in the following are mine alone, not necessarily those of any other Council member.

I will present the Council's annual report to the State Board of Education in April, and preparing for it always prompts a lot of musing on the history of the Council, and its purpose.  The Home Education Advisory Council was created with 193-A in 1990, and was modeled in part after the Non-Public Schools Advisory Council, as a forum for discussions "between home educators and those public, and nonpublic schools, and state and local agencies involved in home education" [Ed. 315.10(b)(1)].  For sixteen years before I was a member of the Council I attended meetings only occasionally, but I always felt its existence was a good thing.  I still do;  I believe it to be one of the intermediary institutions which help to protect freedom and insulate families from the power of the state.
From time to time the Council has intervened in a disagreement between a homeschooling family and the district, usually with satisfactory results;  often all that is needed is a phone call, and information.  The rules in Ed. 315 also provide for a grievance conference which is available to anyone who is party to a dispute over homeschooling, and which provides a means of resolution, short of a due process hearing or court proceedings.  In the Council's history there have been three grievance conferences;  there have been none for many years.   

Years ago I received a phone call from a woman in Texas who, having looked at our law, told me, "We don't have to do any of that,"  'that' being the notification and evaluation requirements in 193-A.  I told her what I've said innumerable times, that although on paper the requirements are certainly more demanding than those of many states, in practice complying with them has not been overly burdensome, certainly not an "ordeal," as one overheated bit of rhetoric described it.   I would, of course, prefer more freedom and flexibility rather than less, and I've often wondered how to get there from here.  Those who would at a stroke cut down every law that offends them forget that law, like an ecosystem, is the product of complex interactions, and actions taken in one part of it can have significant unintended consequences in other parts.  One of those unintended consequences can be the backlash from people aggrieved by a change;  what one legislature does, a future legislature can undo.

For the first time in several years we are not facing bills that seek more stringently to regulate homeschoolers, proposals, it must be pointed out, that the previous legislatures rejected;   the argument was made, and accepted, that 193-A wasn't broken, and didn't need fixing.  We now have a legislature favorable to relaxing the state's requirements, and substantial changes to the 20-year old homeschooling law, or outright repeal of it, are being discussed.

HB 545 proposes to repeal the Department of Education's authority for rulemaking over home education, and to eliminate the Home Education Advisory Council.  Sponsor David Bates told me that repealing the HEAC was not his intent, but doing so was advised by lawyers at Legislative Services who drafted his bill.  HB301 amends the home education statute,  and HB595 repeals it entirely, replacing it with "parent-directed instruction" as an alternative in the compulsory attendance law;  both bills eliminate the HEAC.  Some think merely that the Council will not be necessary, while others think, apparently, that the Council is a creature of the DOE and an obstacle to homeschoolers' freedom.

The House Education Committee voted on February 24 to study all three bills;  notices of subcommittee meetings will be provided at the Coalition website.  I urge everyone to become familiar with the bills, and to do some thinking about what, if anything, should be changed in the current law.  There does not seem to be an overwhelming demand among homeschoolers for an overhaul of 193-A,  but change seems probable, and that change should be the result of many homeschoolers, not just a few, taking an active part in the discussion.

Feel free to contact me, or any Council member, at any time.   We meet from 3:30 until 5 on the second Tuesday of the month in the basement of the Department of Education;  I am happy to offer a time for public input if you would like to speak.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Welcome, and where do we go from here?

The New Hampshire House Education Committee decided to study House bills 595, 301, and 545 over the summer.  Some legislators think they can be combined into one bill, while some legislators don’t think that’s reasonable.  So where do we go from here? 

In comparison to homeschoolers’ action over HB367 and 368 in 2009 and 2010, there’s been little contact with legislators.  I think many homeschoolers were confused about the differences between the bills and couldn’t choose which one to support.  In recent weeks, though, I’m seeing just plain lack of interest.  Does this mean homeschoolers are happy with the current law?  Do they not want to decrease homeschooling regulations?

Links to text of the bills
title:repealing the department of education's rulemaking authority for home education programs.
title:amending the compulsory school attendance statutes to permit parent-directed instruction programs and repealing the home education statutes.
title:amending the home education statutes.
Copies of the amendments, available through Chris Hamilton’s website: 
And then there is Rep. Hoell’s HB542.  Apparently the HEC (House Education Committee) thinks they have enough homeschooling bills to study and plans to ITL (inexpedient to legislate, or kill) it.

How do you feel about notification?  Should it be a one time requirement? annual? gotten rid of entirely?
Do you want to have questions about a homeschooling program continue to be handled by the HEAC (Home Education Advisory Council)?
Are you worried about parents accused of educational neglect being taken to court?
Does it frustrate you that homeschoolers are treated unequally before the law?
Is it to our disadvantage to change a law that has stood basically unchanged for 20 years?  I’ve heard comments that pointing to an “old” law tends to keep major changes from taking place. Personally, I’m worried that if we get rid of all the homeschooling requirements, and then face a Democrat-dominated legislature in the future, they will put in an even worse homeschooling law (annual testing at your local school?).

These questions and others have been discussed on several email groups.  I am hoping here to involve more people in the discussion.  I want to hear what you’re thinking.  You can respond in the comments, which will be moderated, just to keep nasty remarks and repetition to a minimum.  (It’s my blog—I can do what I want.)  I’ll be soliciting contributions to the blog, so if you’ve got a lot to say, you might get your own blog post.

Please do read the comments—that’s going to be our way of communicating with each other.

Chairman Balboni would appreciate our suggestions of people to put on the study committee.  And I’m sure the study committee will want to hear from us as they start to work.