We are forwarding this legislative report from the President of the Home Education Foundation, Brenda Dickinson, for your information.
Parents and Friends,
I want you to know that The Home Education Foundation (HEF) is working hard to find ways to amend HB 1 to protect the interest of home education students and the home education law.
Brenda Dickinson has been in touch with TJ Schmidt of Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), and Suzanne Nunn, Florida Parent Educators Association(FPEA) and Marie-Claire Moreau, Florida Home School Association (FLHSA) and other leaders in the state to discuss our concerns about this bill.
Both (HSLDA) and HEF have drafted new language for the bill, but the concept in the bill is so complicated that I am not sure our suggested language will work. Historically, our organizations have opposed any money going to home schooling families because we believe that with government funding comes more control. The Home Education Foundation has worked very hard over the last 30 years to create laws that assure home education students have the same right to dual enrollment, Bright Futures, FLVS, and other programs as public and private school students. The accountability for those opportunities rests with the state because the funds did not go to the family or student. The laws only allowed their participation. The only exception has been the Family Empowerment Scholarship for Students with Unique Abilities (FES-UA). These students may use any evaluation method in the home education law. They are not required to take a nationally norm-referenced test and turn the test scores over to the state university.
HB 1 sets a different standard for home education students and their parents than the requirements of s.1002.395(9(f) for private schools. For example, the performance of individual private schools in the Florida Tax Credit scholarship is only reported to the public if there are at least 30 scholarship students in the school taking the assessment while HB 1 requires the test score for each individual home education student in the “school” to be reported. This requirement will evaluate the effectiveness of individual parent-teachers and individual students as opposed to private schools which have more teachers and students. Also, in HB 1, only 20,000 students with the lowest socioeconomic background will be award a scholarship in the first year. The cohort of home education students is too small to get an accurate comparison to public school students with similar socioeconomic backgrounds. Additionally, it also may be the first year a parent has home educated the child and the child may have never been tested. However, in a private school many of the students have experienced testing and not all teachers are first year teachers.
It appears that there is a national movement designed to give all parents the opportunity to customize their child’s education through an ESA. Florida is on the forefront of school choice. The Home Education Foundation is trying to ensure that HB 1 does not affect current home school laws for those home education parents who prefer not to take state funding and as free as possible for those who do.
I am working with staff in the House and Senate to bring our concerns to their attention, so that we don’t infringe on the rights of parents who do not want to take state funding. We are trying to answer questions and work with individual home educators while we are trying to meet with legislators in both chambers to let them know our concerns. I have brought some of the technical issues in this bill to the attention of Step Up For Students and AAA, the scholarship funding organizations, that will have to administer this new Educational Savings Account (ESA). I am trying to find solutions and help create something new that does not negatively affect other laws, which is always challenging. There are just so many hours in a day and I must focus on addressing the issues with the Legislature. You may not get many communications from me, but I will do my very best to keep you informed. Things move so fast that today’s update will be out of date by the time you get it.
Here are the concerns that The Home Education Foundation has and what I am trying to address:
1. My biggest concern is how to distinguish the home education students with ESAs from those that do not have ESAs.
2. The recipients of the ESA will have to pay for their classes out of the scholarship and those without an ESA under current law get theirs for free. How will the state colleges, FLVS and the school districts know which home schoolers are supposed to pay for their classes out of the scholarship and which one currently have the right to take classes free of charge? How will colleges know which students to report for the Dual Enrollment Scholarship and which ones are to be self-paying?
3. Who are the Choice Navigators and what will their role be? Will they have knowledge of the options that home education parents currently have? Who will pay them? Who will they report to? How will SUFS and AAA know which parents reported test scores and which did not in order to renew the scholarship? Will the child lose their ESA if the parents do not report?
4. What if a parent is rewarded an ESA and then decides that home education is not for them? Can they put the child back in public school? What happens to the funding?
5. How will parents obtain nationally norm-referenced testing for their child? What if parents do not have their child tested and the test scores are not submitted to the university? Who will track that? If only the students from the lowest income families are eligible for an ESA to home educate and the performance report is not satisfactory, will all home education students be judged by how these students perform and will this affect the home education laws s.1002.41 FS in the future?
6. Will the choice navigators be responsible for making sure the parents have a place for their students to be tested?
7. Will parents who apply for this scholarship have to send their Income Tax report to Step Up or AAA so they can determine which parents qualify? The bill states that those whose household income is at or below 185% of the federal poverty level are to be served first. How will that work? This requirement may go away if the cap on the number of students is removed and this becomes a universal ESA.
8. Which students will be eligible for the scholarship in year 2 and 3 as the cap on the number of scholarships increases?
9. Reporting of the test results for such a small sampling of students when even private school student performance are not reported if there is less than 30 in a school. There will never be over 30 students in an individual home education program. This is an unfair sampling.
These are a few of our concerns. I am trying to help find solutions to these problems. If you have other concerns, I would like to hear them.
On a positive note:
HB 1 does not change the FES-UA portion of the law and it does not change the home education law.
I can report that I think we have found a way for FES-UA students to get a complete IEP from the school districts. I have been working on that for over 2 years I think the Seminole School District has developed a process to do that. These things take time to address, and it wasn’t that the districts were opposed to evaluating these children who need the most services to get a higher matrix level, it was just that the process was governed by federal law and the districts did not know how to do an evaluation for non-public school students. It is my hope that students that are awarded a FES-UA Scholarship will be able to go through a more friendly process and get an IEP that addresses the needs of the child. The legislature didn’t know how to fix this issue; now we may have a solution that can be incorporated into this bill.
I have also spent some time over the summer trying to figure out the language in the FES-UA which addresses the out of state colleges that offer dual enrollment courses for FES-UA students. I think I found language to amend into this bill which will allow parents of students on an FES-UA to purchase courses from out of state colleges with their scholarship funds.
I welcome any ideas that you have to address any of these issues. I can tell you the Choice and Innovation Committee members and staff are trying to get this bill right. HB 1 was their first draft. The Senate will also have a bill, and we may be able to get language in that bill that will address our concerns. It is a process, and we have to express our concerns, work with our legislators and end up with a bill that works for everyone.
Please email me with any recommendations that you have. I may not reply personally, but will take the time to read as many emails as I can. Please be sure to read the bill carefully and try to only discuss the most factual information possible, so as not to spread false rumors. If you want to listen to the Choice and Innovation Committee meeting on Thursday at 9:00, you can find it live online at www.leg.state.fl.us.
Please be patient! If you come to Tallahassee to speak to legislators or in the Committee meetings, please be respectful, state your concerns and appeal to them to make this bill work for everyone.
In Your Service,
President of The Home Education Foundation