The State of the Union Address was hardly over before the Agudah released a statement on President Bush's proposal to increased educational choice via school vouchers for children from lower income families who are stuck in failing schools. Instead of calling this proposed program a voucher program, President Bush called it "Pell Grants for Kids." The Agudah's spokesman Rabbi Avi Shafran quickly penned a letter saying in short that educational choice shouldn't be just for kids in failing schools and commenting that calling the proposed idea "Pell Grants" is misleading. I never commented on this letter because frankly I'm quite exhausted by the voucher debate within the frum community. Why not pen a letter giving full support to a voucher program for needy children in failing schools, which the wish that once a voucher program is off the ground that it be expanded to include more children, rather than showing opposition to the idea because it just isn't inclusive enough, etc?
On Friday, I heard about a battle brewing over homeschooling in California as reported by the Los Angeles Times here. After hearing about the case on the radio, I did a little research of my own.
A case came before the Second Appellate District Court, Division 3, which involved a home schooling family, a Christian umbrella school, and some allegations of abuse in which the Appellate Court ruled there is no right for parents to home school their children and that California children must be either 1) enrolled in a public school, 2) enrolled in a private school, or 3) be tutored by a credentialed teacher who is credentialed for the appropriate grade level. Incidentally, California does not require private school teachers to be credentialed, only requiring them to be "competent." Justice H. Walter Croskey signed the decision and was joined by two other judges.
According to this article, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger "denounced a state appeals court ruling that severely restricts homeschooling and promised Friday to change the law if necessary to guarantee that parents are able to educate their children at home." He stated "Every California child deserves a quality education, and parents should have the right to decide what's best for their children," "Parents should not be penalized for acting in the best interests of their children's education," and "This outrageous ruling must be overturned by the courts, and if the courts don't protect parents' rights then, as elected officials, we will."
According to the article quoted above, home schooling is an issue that has come up for debate amongst state lawmakers before:
"In 2002, then-state Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin said homeschooling was illegal and that she would enforce the law. Eastin then
asked the Legislature to take up the issue. It declined. Six months later, [Jack] O'Connell took over as state schools chief and opted for a hands-off approach, directing homeschooling families to the forms required to create a private school and telling local districts that truancy was their issue. For five years, homeschooling remained politically dormant."
How many are affected? It is estimated that there are 166,000 known home schoolers in California. There are also a total of 18,352 students attending private schools with 5 students or less.
The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), for which the original family are not members, is planning to file an amicus brief on behalf of 13,500 member families in California arguing "that a proper interpretation of California statutes makes it clear that parents may legally teach their own children under the private-school exemption." Should that route fail, the Association plans to argue the decision "violate[s] the constitutional rights of parents to direct the education and upbringing of their children."
The HSDLA also may "seek to have this particular decision “depublished.” Depublication is a decision that can only be made by the California Supreme Court. If the Court determines that the decision should stand, regarding this family, on the facts presented, but that the general pronouncements of law for all of homeschooling should not be determined by this case, then the Court has the option of “depublishing” the Court of Appeal’s decision. This would mean that the case is not binding precedent in California and has no effect on any other family."
The HSLDA is also asking "other organizations and persons to assist with the amicus process so that a full defense of home education, religious freedom, and parental rights can be given to the California Supreme Court."
I love to see the the Agudah (the OU, or any other Orthodox umbrella organization) file their own amicus brief and/or petition for depublication. This battle also involves "educational choice," which Rabbi Shafran and the Agudah write in favor. It is a battle over whether a parent has the right to take full responsibility for the education of his/her child(ren). Of course, there is no governmental money involved in homeschooling and those who homeschool do so on their own buck. So the potential "nes" factor isn't a primary motivation to become involved.
My husband points out that frum organizations would have little interest in getting involved in this battle. While there are frum home schoolers in California (mostly among Chabad shulchim), the Orthodox umbrella institutions are there to advocate for Orthodox institutions.
I would argue that while the right to home school in California might not seem particularly relevant to the Orthodox Jewish community in the present. In fact, many Jewish Educators are extremely biased against home schooling. But, as the costs tuition spiral out of control, it could become increasingly relevant (whether or not anyone likes it) sometime in the not so far off future.
Readers, your thoughts?