Email sent to WPA Members January 19, 2008
Subject: Responding to Legislators
Dear WPA Members,
Calls and emails from homeschoolers to legislators are having an effect. Thank you to all who have called or written. If you have not yet done so, you still can. However, please read the following information first.
Some legislators are telling homeschoolers that AB 697 does not affect homeschooling, sometimes citing an opinion from the Legislative Reference Bureau (LRB), the agency of the Legislature that drafts legislation.
Here is a short response from WPA. You can share this information with legislators. However, we strongly encourage you to read the rest of this email which explains why we are making these statements.
- We understand that the authors of AB 697’s language about people “providing educational services” intend that language to protect parents of virtual charter school students from certification requirements. But, ironically, the very language intended to protect these homes paints a bull’s-eye on them. WPA remains convinced that AB 697 would open the door to state regulation of parents in their own homes. We have overcome too many challenges from the educational establishment (including the DPI, teachers unions, administrators, and school boards) to trust the interpretation of AB 697 that says it does not threaten our homeschooling freedoms.
- AB 697 allows unlicensed people to provide the lion’s share of instruction in virtual charter schools, which are public schools paid for with tax dollars. This, in turn, undermines teacher certification, which supporters of public schools view as essential to accountability in public education. If AB 697 were passed as it stands now, the educational establishment could respond to this threat to public schools by using the DPI’s and/or federal regulatory authority or by working to change the statute. New legislation would be especially likely if the Democrats gain control of the Assembly and retain control of the Wisconsin Senate in the November election, or if pressure is brought by school boards, district administrators, or bad press about a few virtual charter schools families.
- For both these reasons, we think it would be better to take the approach of SB 396 and require a specific amount of contact between certified teachers and virtual charter school students. (We realize the specific number of hours now in SB 396 may need to be adjusted.) As it stands now, AB 697 does not develop standards for virtual charter schools. It does not require a certain number of hours or days per year. It does not require that parents submit a form like the PI-1206 form homeschoolers submit to the DPI, in which they agree to comply with the requirements for 875 hours of instruction per year and a sequentially progressive curriculum. For these reasons, AB 697 is very likely to be changed in the near future, with the change focusing on regulating people who provide “educational services” in the home.
Note: According to the schedule posted on the Internet, the Assembly Education Committee will meet about AB 697 on Wednesday, January 23, 2008. Only committee members can speak at this meeting. A WPA representative will attend the meeting. It is unnecessary and would not make sense for large numbers of homeschoolers to attend.
Background Information and Further Explanation
Representative Brett Davis is the Chair of the Assembly Education Committee and the legislator who introduced AB 697. The Legislative Reference Bureau (LRB) is the agency of the Legislature that drafts legislation requested by legislators. Evidently Davis’s office asked the LRB for its opinion about WPA’s statement that AB 697 would undermine homeschooling freedoms. We appreciate Rep. Davis’s office taking our concerns seriously and seeking more information about them.
The LRB’s response is printed below in its entirety. But first a few quick points.
- As homeschoolers working together through WPA, we are accustomed to taking responsibility for maintaining our rights and freedoms rather than relying on others to reassure us or take care of us. (See our history of homeschooling in Wisconsin, Kitchen Tables and Marble Halls, for many examples of how well this strategy has worked since 1984.) It would be unrealistic and uncharacteristic of us to accept the LRB’s interpretation at face value, without questioning it and drawing our own conclusions.
- We do think that legislators who support AB 697 do not intend to have AB 697 affect homeschoolers. However, we have learned to be careful about unintended consequences of legislation. It is important to place the right amount of trust in the intent of legislation and not be too trusting. We understand that legislators have very little if any control over unintended consequences, and we are not criticizing them. But we are also unwilling to ignore potential unintended consequences that we see from our perspective as homeschoolers. (For a good example of the impact that unintended consequences of legislation can have, consider the way Wisconsin’s open enrollment law and virtual charter schools have gotten tangled up.)
- WPA strongly supports parents having choice in their children’s educations. As a WPA representative said in testifying before the Senate Education Committee on January 17, 2008, “Parents of virtual charter school students deserve respect for their commitment to their children and their efforts to find an approach to education that works for them. As a homeschooler, I am not at all surprised that having their children at home instead of in a brick and mortar school is working well for them. However, I’m concerned about the ways in which virtual charter schools undermine fundamental freedoms.”
- Because virtual charter schools are public schools funded by tax dollars, they require accountability that is not required of homeschools and other private schools. One way to gain accountability in public schools is to require that their teachers be certified by the state.
As the decision by the Wisconsin Court of Appeals clearly demonstrates, because virtual charter schools are different from brick and mortal public schools, a new way needs to be found to address the question of teacher certification. It seems to us that this could be done either from the inside or from the outside.
The Assembly bill (AB 697) approaches accountability from inside by focusing on people who provide “educational services to the pupil in the pupil’s home” and exempting them from the state’s teacher certification requirement.
The Senate bill (SB 396) approaches accountability from outside by requiring a certain minimum number of hours of contact with a certified teacher. We think this is a much better approach, although we don’t know exactly how many hours should be required and specifically what kind of contact (individual or as part of a group; email, phone, chat rooms, etc.?) should be accepted toward meeting that requirement.
Here is the basic message that WPA suggested people convey to their legislators.
It was part of a lengthy email explaining some of the complexities of the situation that was sent to WPA members on 1/18/08:
I oppose AB 697, which concerns virtual charter schools, for several reasons. Most importantly, it describes a virtual charter school parent as “providing educational services to the pupil in the pupil’s home.” This would open the door for the DPI to write regulations that would govern the interactions between parents and their children in their own homes. Although these regulations would not apply to homeschoolers immediately, they would undermine homeschooling freedoms and the sanctity of homes of citizens of Wisconsin.
Therefore, I am asking you to oppose AB 697. I would appreciate your replying to this email indicating your position on AB 697.
The LRB wrote to Representative Brett Davis’ office:
The bill does not describe a virtual school as “providing educational services to the pupil in the pupil’s home.” That is not in the bill. What the bill says is that if a pupil attends a virtual charter school, people who provide educational services to the pupil in the pupil’s home are exempt from DPI licensure. It does not open the door [for the] DPI to write regulations that would govern interactions between parents and their children in their own homes. On the contrary, it prevents DPI from regulating those interactions. (You might also mention that the bill concerns only virtual charter schools. Home-based private educational programs (home schools) are not charter schools, and nothing in the bill affects them.)
Here is a point by point response to the opinion from the LRB.
LRB: The bill does not describe a virtual school as “providing educational services to the pupil in the pupil’s home.”
WPA: We did not say the bill describes a virtual school that way. We said the bill describes “a virtual charter school parent as ‘providing educational services to the pupil in the pupil’s home.’” Technically, the bill refers to “any person providing educational services. . .” Common sense says that “any person” in this case includes refers primarily to parents. In fact, the court found that,
The question is not whether and how a parent may assist his or her child with schoolwork; rather, it is whether the District can establish a public school, using public funds, that relies upon unlicensed individuals as the primary teachers of the pupils. The problem is not that the unlicensed WIVA parents teach their children, but that they “teach in a public school.” And we are convinced beyond doubt that the activities of the WIVA parents constitute “teaching in a public school.”
LRB: What the bill says is that if a pupil attends a virtual charter school, people who provide educational services to the pupil in the pupil’s home are exempt from DPI licensure.
WPA: We understand that to be the case.
LBR: It does not open the door for DPI to write regulations that would govern interactions between parents and their children in their own homes. On the contrary, it prevents DPI from regulating those interactions.
WPA: We respectfully disagree. Because no one has a crystal ball so they can predict unintended consequences of legislation, whether the bill opens a door is a judgment call.
But who is in a better position to make an informed judgment about whether the educational establishment will come after homeschoolers: (1) People who work in the capitol and assume that public school requirements and standards make sense and are good for everyone or (2) Homeschoolers who have fought the educational establishment successfully for 24 years?
The LRB says the language in this bill does the opposite of opening the door. But it’s precisely because it tries to do the opposite that it places a bull’s-eye on the homes of virtual charter school students and sets the stage for the DPI to regulate parents in their own homes.
The crux of the difference between the Assembly and the Senate approaches to addressing the court’s decision rests with who is providing instruction or who is a teacher. The Assembly bill (AB 697) says a licensed teacher needs to be involved but provides no requirements for number of contacts or of hours or days. Its requirements for what a certified teacher must do could be met in very little time. This would allow a virtual charter school to proceed with the parents without a license providing most of the teaching in the form of “educational services” AT TAXPAYERS’ EXPENSE.
If AB 697 passed with the current language, how long would it be before the DPI and WEAC initiate action to change this law and bring serious regulation into the home? So the bill itself doesn’t initiate state regulation of parents in their homes, but its language puts a bull’s eye on homes as the places that now need to be regulated while the Senate bill focuses on certified teachers.
LRB: (You might also mention that the bill concerns only virtual charter schools. Home-based private educational programs (home schools) are not charter schools, and nothing in the bill affects them.)
WPA: We realize that homeschoolers are not specifically mentioned or included in the AB 697. As explained above, we are concerned about future, unintended consequences and about the precedent of the government in effect giving parents permission to interact with their children.
Some legislators and others have also told WPA that we shouldn’t be concerned because “the DPI hasn’t come after you in 24 years.” That is not true; the history of homeschooling in Wisconsin as described in Kitchen Tables and Marble Halls shows how many times our homeschooling freedoms have been challenged and how hard we have had to work to maintain them. Further, homeschools are less likely to be regulated than virtual charter schools because homeschoolers don’t accept tax dollars and are strongly opposed to regulation. Virtual charter schools are funded with tax dollars, and many participants welcome regulation because they say it reassures them that they are doing a good job of educating their children.
People have also criticized us for wanting choice in education ourselves but trying to deny it to families who want to enroll their children in virtual charter schools. Our response is that when there are competing interests, not everyone can have everything they want.
Thank you for your consideration of this matter.