Reading, Writing and Refrigerator Raids

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Although Columbine was an extreme, Goossen says it's often the social environment, rather than the curricula offered in traditional public schools, that convinces many mainstreamers to home-school their children. "There will be an exodus from public schools," she says, "as more people learn that virtual schools are available."

One of the main reasons that home schooling has become such an attractive option to parents is because it is so easy to do now. But because it's been rough getting to this point, home-schoolers are suspicious of anything they see as a threat to their freedoms. For many, virtual charter schools embody that threat. A lot of them fear that if legislators -- and the groups that lobby them -- don't see the distinction between public education that is provided in the home and home schooling, they'll try to pass laws that place restrictions on home-schoolers.

Robert Ziegler, a spokesman for the Home School Legal Defense Association, says it's not the medium that bothers his organization, but the government. "What it comes down to is that a charter school is still a public school, even though it has some aspects of home schooling," he says. "To put people under a public-school format in the home is a real threat to the autonomy of home schooling. In so many cases, you have people in a home-schooling environment who then enter into this, and then you have that public administration moving in and having oversight."

Chris Klicka, senior counsel for HSLDA, lodged more pointed criticisms in an October 2001 article he wrote for Practical Homeschooling Magazine. Home-schoolers' liberties will be jeopardized if they "begin crawling back to the government to drink from the public trough," he argued in the piece, titled "Virtual Charter Schools: The Battle for the Soul of the Home School Movement." "This is the same government that once heavily restricted or prohibited home schooling altogether. If we take the government's money or services through virtual schools, we will become dependent on government money. As the controls are added, we will not be able to break free.

"As home schoolers 'yoke' together with the public schools through virtual charter school programs and cyber schools, the public schools and the state will once again dictate to us our curriculum, teacher qualifications and methods," he continued. "This is not idle conjecture. It is already happening."

Klicka went on to provide examples of states where restrictions have been added to the ways in which home-schoolers can educate their children. In Alaska, thousands of parents have been turning to virtual programs, such as Interior Distance Education of Alaska (I.D.E.A.), offered by the Galena City School District. Unlike COVA, I.D.E.A. is not a charter school; it's specifically for home-schoolers. Through the state-funded program, parents can choose courses offered by the district, get support from teachers and be reimbursed for most educational materials they choose.

In recent months, however, the state has placed more restrictions on curricula. Klicka cites a letter that Carol Simpson, coordinator of the Alaska Department of Education's home-school program, wrote to a Christian woman who was scheduled to sell some educational books she'd written at five I.D.E.A. meetings throughout the state; Simpson told the author that while she understands that her books are not Christian and "that any religious expression in them is incidental," she could not sell them. "We have been warned several times by a high official in the DOE that we need to be extra careful about the issue of buying 'religious' curricula," Simpson wrote.

Seven years ago, the legislative assembly in Alberta, Canada, passed a law giving home-schooling families $500 per child to help pay for instructional materials. But the following year, the legislators passed additional laws placing restrictions on home-schoolers who took the money. Their reasoning, Klicka tells Westword, was that if home-schoolers were going to benefit from taxpayer dollars, they needed to be accountable. Before the voucher law passed, home-schoolers in Alberta only had to notify their local school district if they weren't going to enroll their kids in public schools. But afterward, kids whose parents accepted the $500 had to start taking the same tests as their public-school counterparts; the home-school curricula parents chose had to meet certain standards; and parents had to begin submitting progress reports to their school districts.

Three years ago in Georgia, after home-schoolers there were granted access to public school classes and programs, legislators introduced a bill that would have required home-schooling parents to have a bachelor's degree, but opposition from the HSLDA helped defeat it.

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Julie Jargon
Contact: Julie Jargon

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