The Home Education Advisory Council (HEAC) met on June 16 to close out the 2021-22 school year.
Co-chairs, Jennifer Pereira (Catholics United for Home Education) and Amanda Weeden (Granite State Home Educators) opened the meeting with Old Business so they could finalize the annual report they will present to the state Board of Education over the summer.
A motion was made to include the following statement in the annual report to reflect the council’s on-going concern re defining home education as distinct from new educational pathways:
NH Home Education Law 193-A guarantees the following freedoms to home education families in New Hampshire:
- Parents can choose their child's curriculum which does not need to be aligned with state standards.
- Parents have multiple choices for annual assessment which need not be standardized testing and does not need to be NH State assessments.
- Parents are not required to submit any testing or assessment data to any department or agency of the state.
- Parents have multiple choices for homeschool notification "participating" agencies. The choice of a nonpublic school "participating agency" allows parents to maintain the privacy of their child's personal identification data which stays with the nonpublic school and is only forwarded as aggregate data to the Department of Education.
Therefore, the council recommends that any educational program -- whether a NH charter school, a program created by federal contract or money, or other program of the State of NH -- which does not allow for these freedoms should not fall under RSA 193-A home education law. Rather, such programs should fall under another option to fulfill NH RSA 193-1 Compulsory Attendance Law.
For several meetings, going back a full year, the council has expressed concerns about Prenda and the EFA being confused with traditional home education that follows RSA 193-A. Jen said that there are elements in home ed statute that do not apply to the alternate programs. (Read the Recovering Bright Futures Discussion with Commissioner Edelblut article that covers Prenda in detail and includes a video of the interview.)
Tim Carney (DOE) asked if there is a difference between funded and unfunded homeschoolers and reminded the council that Prenda is temporary; their current contract expires at the end of the 2022-23 school year.
Jen and Amanda stated that if a program is part of the RSA 193-A home ed pathway – one of the four options in NH – then they should have the same rights and responsibilities that are in the law.
April Villani (Catholics United for Home Education) said that home education shouldn’t be the default alternative just because a program is not public or private education. It should not be the “miscellaneous” category.
April and Jen note that HEAC’s motion is not a recommendation, but indicates an area of considerable concern. Creation of a new educational pathway for these hybrid programs, such as an “innovative” alternative that mirrors what is available for public schools, requires legislation. This is in RSA 194-E.
Tim said that parents choose whether or not to utilize Prenda so he thinks it is similar to any other curriculum or program option for homeschoolers. He remarked that he thought receiving federal funding would be a benefit to homeschooling families. Jen, Amanda, and April answered immediately that many families have concerns about taxpayer-sourced funding as it has requirements, usually academic reporting, standards, and compliance, as part of these programs. Tim also asked if there are other programs for homeschoolers that offer full-time enrollment. Yes, there are several, including Acton Academy and many online, and the home ed statute, RSA 193-A is applicable when families choose these programs.
Michelle Levell (member of the public with GSHE) reminded the council that there are four educational pathways in NH: 1) public education (district or charter), 2) private education, 3) home education, and 4) the new EFA program. Prenda has elements of a couple of these pathways, but does not cleanly fall in any single one. Prenda is a hybrid because it is funded by tax dollars, follows state standards, and administers the statewide assessment like public education; however, Prenda students may opt out of the assessment unlike homeschoolers and their guides tell families they don’t need to maintain a portfolio. It is unlikely that Prenda is the only program that will be some kind of mix or hybrid and it’s inappropriate for home education to be a “catch all” for these blended options. There could be a fifth educational pathway that has allows these hybrid or miscellaneous opportunities, but that requires legislative action.
[Additional note not said in the meeting: part-time VLACS is available to homeschoolers. These students are not required to take the statewide assessment and are required to follow RSA 193-A including a portfolio and an annual assessment of their choice.]
The vote on the motion passed unanimously. The statement will be incorporated into the annual report going to the state Board of Education this summer.
The next part of Old Business is regarding the HiSET (High School Equivalency Test, aka GED). Amanda and Michelle previously brought forward concerns that homeschooled students age 16 and 17 years old need permission from parents and their Participating Agency to take the test. The council was presented with research that indicates the rule governing the HiSET, Ed 704.02, is inconsistent with several other laws and education rules. Rule 704.02 is due for review no later than 2023.
A motion was made to include this statement in the annual report:
The HEAC council recommends waiving the requirement for the participating agency to sign off to allow 16 and 17 year old home educated students to take the HiSET (High School Equivalency Test) and asks that any rule making pertaining to the HiSET exam take this request into consideration. The parent is the party responsible for directing the home educated child’s program and is the one who signs off to authorize youth employment and self-certify completion of a home education program in NH. The parent should also be the party responsible for signing off to allow their child to take the HiSET exam.
The motion passed unanimously and will be included in the annual report. Tim mentioned that the Commissioner is in favor of the change and he’ll work with the Bureau of Adult Education on it.
Jen circulated a draft copy of the report to council members in advance of the meeting for their review. Tim suggested adding page numbers. The report will be presented to the state BOE on August 11th.
Jen reminded the council that Rep Glenn Cordelli requests that the 2022-23 HEAC meetings are switched to the third Friday of alternating months from 2:30pm to 4:00pm to allow legislative members to attend without conflicts with their other responsibilities.
HB 1663 Becomes Law
HB 1663 passed in early June, which initiates new rule-making for Ed 315. There is no defined timeline to amend current home ed rules. Tim will compare the new law to existing rules and will bring any new language to HEAC in the fall. He said the changes will be very specific to elements changed by the new law. The Equal Access requirement for all districts to have a policy becomes effective on August 31, 2022.
April asked if there’s a mechanism to make sure boards adopt an Equal Access policy. Tim said there are template policies by the NHSBA, and Michelle mentioned that SDGA prepared a template policy, too. Both are available to districts. It is important for families to monitor and communicate with their local school boards to make sure they are in compliance with the new law and bring it forward to support groups or the DOE if there are difficulties. Tim and Heather Barker (NH School Administrators Association) note that the timing could be challenging as school boards may not meet over the summer and are governance requires three readings before a new policy is adopted. Tim said he would talk with people within the DOE about getting a technical advisory. Amanda shared that Equal Access can vary greatly district to district and she’s been involved in several difficult situations, particularly one in Rochester last year.
The council discussed how Equal Access applies to homeschooled students who have special needs, and April asked if SAUs must accommodate them. Heather answered yes, all districts must do their best to include that child in the class or program because of 504 laws that require nondiscriminatory practices. She repeated that the child would not receive services. Heather added that districts are receiving additional funding from the department to help spec ed students participate in school programs. The child is not entitled to their IEP [because not being enrolled is the choice to not receive a Free and Appropriate Public Education] and the district is not mandated to take on those responsibilities. Amanda shared with the council that many districts tell these families that their child cannot participate. Heather shared that there may be needed discussion to explore this further because students have civil rights and the federal ADA law is in place.
Senator Ruth Ward commented that there is a new position in the DOE for a child advocate as a result of a new law (SB 381).
NH DOE Educational Pathway Toolbox
Jen mentioned that she was interviewed by a person who is contracted with the NH DOE to develop a “toolbox” on their website to explain the various educational pathways that may lead to the completion of high school.
Heather remarked that there have been several significant changes to NH’s educational pathways, including Learn Everywhere and the Education Freedom Account (EFA) program, in the last couple years. She suggested a series of sessions to give families, as well as districts and schools, more information about these alternatives. Tim said there is a monthly call from the DOE, but agrees that there is a significant delay between state developments and when they are implemented at the district level.
Jen mentioned she would like to see scholarship information made more accessible to homeschool students and asked if that could be shared in the Toolbox or some other location. April and Mike Koski (NH School Principals Association) mentioned that there are private organizations that help families find scholarships. Mike also mentioned that the local districts’ guidance offices should have much of this information. This will be discussed further at the meetings in the fall.
April asked a follow up about the YES Scholarship question regarding homeschoolers having difficulty registering for the program. Tim said that he is working through the guidance document that should trouble-shoot the issue.
Tim indicated that the Commissioner supports the HiSET revision efforts and he will work with the Bureau of Adult Education. The DOE is exploring how to present the four educational pathways on the website. He also mentioned the DOE is open to putting home education FAQs on the website and is looking for information to help develop that section.
Sarah Cheek (Acton Academy Seacoast) said their co-op hosts visiting days for prospective students and all but one of the 15 students who recently visited tested two or more grade levels behind. The children are public-school students or “crisis homeschoolers.” She is concerned that students are getting pushed along.
Jen said a Catholic homeschool group is hosting a homeschool summit in late June, the first time in several years that some kind of homeschool conference has been in the state.
Amanda shared that GSHE continues to have massive growth, even this late in the school year and we expect to see it continue heading into the next school year. She shared that many districts are contacting homeschool families asking if they plan to return to public school for the 2022-23 school year. We believe it is inappropriate because they are not also asking families who have children in other educational options and home ed law requires one-time only notification. GSHE is working with Keene State College and NHTI’s admission offices to make them more friendly to home-educated applicants. She also mentioned KaiPod Learning as it is a new pilot program intended for homeschooling families. Although they are not an education provider, there are concerns that it may open the door to further regulation. GSHE is hosting two Intro to Homeschool sessions – 8/3 in Dover and 8/22 in Northwood. Amanda will be at the Catholic conference event.
Mike will share the law changes from the NH School Principals Association.
HEAC will resume in September for the 2022-23 school year on Friday, September 16th from 2:30pm to 4:00pm.
Read More About HEAC
By Michelle Levell