NH’s new home-school laws weren’t necessary

Let’s be clear from the outset: We have nothing but the utmost respect for those parents who take it upon themselves to educate their children at home. We can think of few greater acts of love and commitment than investing that time toward the future well-being of their “students.”

But that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be some safeguards in place to ensure that what’s happening in the home is truly in the child’s best interests.

That’s why we’re genuinely troubled that the Legislature gave approval to two pieces of home-schooling legislation this year that remove some key oversight provisions from state government effective this summer.

HB 1571, the handiwork of Rep. J.R. Hoell, R-Dunbarton, eliminated the requirement that parents submit an annual evaluation of their child’s performance to their local school district. Parents still must maintain records and materials related to their child’s education for two years, but they no longer have to share that information with state or local education officials.

And in case there was any doubt how the Republican-controlled Legislature feels about government oversight of home schooling, lawmakers took it a step further by passing another bill that essentially puts education officials on a need-to-know basis.

Under HB 545, which was introduced by Rep. David Bates, R-Windham, parents no longer are required to notify their local school district that they will be home-schooling their child at the start of each school year.

After submitting a notification letter by the start of the first year, parents do not have to engage in any further communication with school officials over the education of their child, barring any changes in circumstances, such as moving into a new school district.

And based on a new section of the law (193-A:11), there isn’t much local school officials can do about it: “No superintendent, school board, school principal, or other school district official shall propose, adopt, or enforce any policy or procedure governing home educated pupils that is inconsistent with or more restrictive than the provisions of this chapter and any rules adopted pursuant to RSA 193-A:3.”

In short, the new laws, adopted by voice votes in the House of Representatives and Senate, remove what little government oversight existed over the home-schooling of thousands of children in the state – 5,285 in the just-completed school year, 166 of them in Nashua.

That isn’t sitting well with many school officials across the state, including Nashua Superintendent Mark Conrad, who believes the Legislature went too far.

“What we had was the minimum oversight that is no longer there, and that’s a concern,” he said. “I think about children having a fundamental right to an education.”

That’s really the point, isn’t it? While the bills were pushed under the guise of parental rights or ensuring home-schooled children are treated the same as their counterparts in public or private schools, what’s important here is that each child be given a genuine opportunity to reach their full potential and become productive members of society.

Now, we would like to think that all parents have their children’s best interests at heart, but the media is full of too many reminders that isn’t always the case.

That’s why the checks and balances in the original law – as minimal as they were – at least served as some protection in those cases where the parent proves unable or unwilling to deliver the educational guidance their child so richly deserves.