California homeschoolers converged on the state Capitol last week to voice opposition to a bill that would require state officials to collect and make public a list of families that educate their children at home. After listening to three hours of testimony, no member of the Assembly Education Committee wanted to go on record supporting the measure by making a motion for a vote, effectively killing the bill.
Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute, called bill’s defeat a victory well worth celebrating, especially in a state known for its regulatory penchant over every aspect of its citizens’ lives.
“All is not lost in California,” he said. “When we stand together, we can still make a difference.”
Assemblyman Jose Medina proposed the legislation after a high-profile child abuse case in Riverside. He initially wanted to require local fire officials to inspect every registered home school but dropped that provision after fire departments protested the additional workload. Medina continued to insist, even during last week’s hearing, that homeschoolers need better oversight.
“What we saw tonight was a massive victory for homeschool families, parental rights, and government by consent of the people,” said Jonathan Keller, president of California Family Council. “Thanks to the thousands of homeschool families and supporters who flooded the Capitol, legislators were reminded that this building is still the people’s house.”
California homeschoolers defeated another regulatory proposal earlier in April that would have required parents to get teaching certificates. Lawmakers in Hawaii also attempted to adopt new homeschool oversight provisions earlier this year, proposing mandatory background checks for all homeschool parents. That bill died in committee after the homeschool community rallied to oppose it.
Homeschool advocacy groups note studies do not show any correlation between homeschooling and child abuse. But critics have latched on to a new report out of Connecticut that seems to suggest otherwise. According to the state’s child advocate, Sarah Eagan, 36 percent of children pulled out of public school by parents who said they wanted to homeschool had at least one prior report of suspected child abuse or neglect. Eagan’s analysis included six school districts and 380 students withdrawn from school between 2013 and 2016.
Connecticut is one of 11 states that don’t require any oversight for homeschooling families, and Eagan urged lawmakers to consider putting some form of regulation in place to give government officials a point of contact with parents who choose homeschooling to hide their abuse.
Eagan views homeschooling as a risk factor, but in the cases she cites, the real risk factor is the prior report to the state’s child welfare agency. That’s apparently what prompted the parents to withdraw their children from public school. As I’ve reported before, the 2016 U.S. Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities found children with previous abuse or neglect reports had an almost six times greater risk of fatal injuries. A prior report of suspected abuse or neglect, no matter how the report was eventually resolved, provided the strongest predictor of a child’s risk for death before age 5. And yet, caseworkers only follow up on 60 percent of the reports they receive.
Connecticut education officials might not have a regulatory excuse to follow up with homeschooling families, but the child welfare agency certainly has a reason to check in with the families previously suspect of abuse. If that’s not happening, child advocates should figure out why not. If government officials aren’t effectively using the regulatory oversight they already have, how much help will more oversight power really be?