In spring 2022, the House Education Committee appointed a subcommittee to study and discuss HB 1664 requiring nonpublic and other education providers that accept public funds to perform background checks. The subcommittee met on October 11 and the video recording is available here; discussion begins at 1:32:15.
HB 1664 as proposed would mandate nonpublic schools and other education providers that receive public funding to perform background checks on employees and volunteers.
The full committee heard in public session that nonpublic schools already perform background checks of employees and volunteers, so the issue is already addressed, as explained in great detail by an attorney with the NH Department of Education.
However, there are two points to address with the subcommittee’s discussion of the bill – the proposed legislation itself and the bizarre twist that turned into a witch hunt of homeschooling families.
During the subcommittee’s discussion, some legislators speculated that HB 1664 is a backdoor effort to put requirements on the EFA program.
The bill could apply to Education Freedom Account (EFA) families that receive an average of $4,500 from the state for approved educational purposes, including several NH nonpublic schools and other services.
The managing organization, Children’s Scholarship Fund NH, has a statement in their current Providers Handbook that indicates they require background checks of education providers when there are applicable laws, so perhaps HB 1664 might provide explicit requirements for all approved vendors.
However, some families use the EFA for educating their own children at home. Would this bill, then, require parents to have background checks? If so, it is an extreme proposition.
The subcommittee also indirectly mentioned Prenda, one of the newer programs available to NH families. Prenda is available in two options: one is through local districts and is treated as a variation of public education while the other is available as community “pods” and is currently treated as home education.
Prenda’s website indicates that all “guides,” the adult facilitators for these small learning groups, are subject to background checks.
If the intention of HB 1664 is to apply to Prenda and other similar education providers that have contracts through the NH Department of Education such as KaiPod Learning and Tutors.com, it would be more appropriate to place background check responsibilities on whatever entities are contracted through the NH Department of Education. This mandate could be part of the contract requirements. That would be a more thorough and appropriate approach, especially given that the NH DOE is likely to explore more uses for grant funds for educational supports and programs.
It is important to note that although Prenda’s community pods currently fall under NH’s home education statute, it is not well-suited to this educational pathway as it does not have the same rights and requirements as 193-A home education. The Home Education Advisory Council has asked repeatedly for Prenda’s categorization to be reviewed and reconsidered as something separate from home education. It was also part of HEAC’s annual report to the state Board of Education in August 2022.
This leads us to the twist in the subcommittee’s discussion of HB 1664.
Early in their deliberation, the subcommittee’s discussion veered off topic and pulled unfunded homeschoolers into the pool of “bad actors” who supposedly may use home education to hide child abuse.
This is an unfounded investigation of families and far beyond the scope of HB 1664.
Traditional homeschooling families who follow RSA 193-A do not receive public funding. Even if they utilize Prenda, KaiPod, or VLACS programs, the families do not have funds deposited to an account in their names so HB 1664 would not apply to them.
It is also an unfounded witch hunt to suggest that homeschoolers are “hiding” or using the educational option to remove their children from society’s long list of mandated reporters.
In New Hampshire, every adult is a “mandatory reporter” of suspected child abuse. RSA 169-C requires any person who suspects child abuse or neglect to report it to authorities. This is not limited to the long list of professionals who encounter children on a regular basis – physicians, dentists, healthcare workers, and school personnel. The law expressly says “any other person.” This extends the responsibility to coaches, friends, neighbors, tutors, play-group parents, and anyone else who might encounter a child who may be endangered.
The National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI) released a study in March 2022 to examine research of abuse associated with public school students, private school students, and home educated students. While there are very few studies, and several are quite old, the organization compiled results of all available research and found there is no empirical evidence to suggest that home educated children are abused more or less than students in other educational environments.
Child abuse is abhorrent and a tragedy, regardless of where the child is enrolled, whether it is in a public school, private school, or home educated.
If HB 1664 is extended to 193-A homeschooled families who do not receive taxpayer money, as suggested by the prime sponsor and another member of the subcommittee, it amounts to a baseless inquisition of homeschoolers and presumes they are guilty until proven innocent.
While the prime sponsor’s goal to protect all children is universally supported, directing HB 1664 to 193-A homeschooling families is absurd and misdirected. If this bill would apply to homeschooling families, then all families regardless of where their children are educated should require background checks, too. Aren’t all parents alone with their children at some point in the day? Might they be “bad actors” as the subcommittee defined potential abusers? It is not our recommendation to require background checks or visits on families without cause, but mention it to point out the ridiculousness of the mandate extending to parents who are educating their own children, especially those who are beyond the scope of this proposed legislation and do not receive taxpayer funding.
Granite State Home Educators urges the House Education Committee to reject HB 1664 and not involve 193-A homeschoolers in this legislation.
If families are interested in contacting the House Education Committee about HB 1664 prior to their vote on October 24, 2022, their contact information is shared below.
2022 House Education Committee
By Michelle Levell