Thursday, April 21, 2005

Bill Seeks to Open Classes to Home-Schoolers

What this article doesn't mention is that none of these home-schooled children would be subjected to having to take the TAKS exam--which is itself responsible for many of the lousy conditions of schooling that forces families into home-schooling in the first place. So, they get the best of both worlds. With this picture, I DO see lots of families resorting to homeschooling if given such options. And as stated below, at tremendous cost to our already fiscally challenged public school system. -Angela

Families, Plano push for access to subjects, activities, funds

12:52 PM CDT on Thursday, April 21, 2005

By TERRENCE STUTZ and KIM BREEN / The Dallas Morning News

AUSTIN – Thousands of home-school families have struck an unlikely alliance with Plano school officials in a push to allow their children to participate in some classes and extracurricular activities for the first time.

Rep. Brian McCall, R-Plano, submitted a bill early Wednesday that would let home-schoolers pick and choose classes, such as chemistry or a foreign language, or play on sports teams or the band at their neighborhood schools.

DMN file
The bill proposes in return for letting home-schooled kids attend some district classes, the schools would get extra money based on the additional enrollment.

In return, the schools would get extra money based on the additional enrollment.

"It allows parents who choose to home-school to also have the opportunity for their children to participate in certain things that public schools offer, such as chemistry labs," Mr. McCall said.

"They're taxpayers. They pay property taxes for the schools, and if they choose to participate in part of what their local schools have to offer, they should be able to."

Among critics are the state's four teacher organizations, the only lobbyists to testify against the bill before the House Public Education Committee.

"We are opposed to home-school students having any access to public schools," said Johannah Whitsett of the Association of Texas Professional Educators.

"They can already enroll in public schools at any time. There are finite resources in public schools, and allowing these students to come and take classes part time could limit class space for regular, full-time students."

Bill sponsors addressed the biggest obstacle – a hefty price tag – by proposing initial limits on the number of students and tax dollars dedicated. A fiscal analysis indicated that allowing the home-school option without limits would cost more than $116 million over two years.

Mr. McCall said the study far overestimated the number of students who would take advantage of the new law, but he proposed an initial limit of about 2,000 students and $5 million in funding. Enrollment limits could be increased or dropped altogether in future years, he said.

He said the bill has gotten a favorable reaction from House colleagues, and he is hopeful it will pass out of the chamber in coming weeks. Republicans, in particular, have been sympathetic to the concerns of home-school families. Gov. Rick Perry addressed a Capitol rally of home-school parents a few weeks ago.

Mr. McCall said he was asked to sponsor the measure by the Plano school district, where a significant number of home-schooled children live.

The extra revenue could stack up for districts, considering the state's estimate that at least 160,000 children in Texas are taught at home. A group that represents home-school families and backs the legislation said the actual number is closer to 250,000. There is no estimate of how many live in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Most important to Plano school officials is part of the bill that would allow home-schooled students to take district online courses for academic credit. The district has been trying for years to get state reimbursement for students who take courses via computer. Those students pay tuition now.

Plano Superintendent Doug Otto said he hopes the bill would be a step toward state reimbursement for those courses, which would make them more affordable to all Plano students, whether they're home-schooled or not.

While state rules limit participation in sports and other extracurricular activities to full-time students, the bill would allow home-schoolers to join the school band or choir, or try out for the football or basketball teams. Residency requirements would be the same as for other kids: Students must attend their assigned neighborhood schools.

A revision to the bill would subject home-schooled students to the state's no pass-no play rule – even if it's their parents giving the grades – for participation in extracurricular activities.

Home-school parents sometime hit a wall when a student's learning exceeds the parent's knowledge or the family home lacks the right equipment. Some of the more elaborate extracurricular activities, such as marching band, aren't available in the home-school setting.

Opening up public school sports teams could be a selling point to some home-school families.

"In my view, the more opportunities the better," said Chuck Hendricks, president of the Home School Athletic Association, which formed a decade ago to give area home-schoolers an opportunity to compete with private school teams.

Mr. Hendricks, father of seven home-schooled children, said legislative change would give some competitive student-athletes the chance to play on Class 5A teams, for example, and have exposure to college recruiters and other opportunities they might not have otherwise.

But some home-school parents predicted there wouldn't be a surge of children into public school classes if the bill becomes law.

Caryl Adams, a Plano mother who home-schools her three children in Plano, said she and her circle of friends shun public schools for a reason.

A biology class in the public schools, for example, wouldn't offer the creationist viewpoint many home-school families seek, Ms. Adams said. And the home-school community has developed so many academic, athletic and social alternatives that they don't need the public school options. She is also leery of developing ties with public schools.

"If we step our foot in the door I think it opens a Pandora's box down the road to become accountable to them," she said.

The Texas Home School Coalition, which represents about 60,000 families, has identified the bill as its top priority for the legislative session. Members of the group have been lobbying senators and House members as they seek the bill's passage before the session ends May 30.

"Nobody is forced to do anything, but it does give public schools a way to reach out to the home-school community and give home-schoolers an opportunity they don't have now," said Tim Lambert, president of the coalition.

Mr. Lambert said his group believes the vast majority of students would be of junior high or high school age.

"It's a fairness issue," Mr. Lambert said. "These families support schools with their tax dollars, both locally and across state."

He noted that Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, has agreed to carry the bill on the Senate side if it passes the House.



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