The New Hampshire Legislature is reviewing a bill requiring all homeschoolers to take the same citizenship test that conventional public and private school students must take in order to graduate high school. In doing so, the measure deny home educators the freedom to choose how they want to teach their children civics.
In general, homeschool instructors have done a phenomenal job teaching their children civics — and every other subject for that matter, averaging 32 points higher than traditionally schooled students nationwide across the curriculum. Yet lawmakers in the Granite State want to enforce a mandate that would force homeschoolers to take a 100-question test before graduating. If they don't answer at least 60 of the questions correctly, they won't receive a diploma and will not be permitted to graduate high school.
The proposed Senate Bill 157 requires all public, private and homeschool students to take the United States Citizenship Civics Test, which was developed by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (a federal agency) as a condition for students to receive their high school diplomas.
Rep. James Parison (R-New Hampshire) is one of the lawmakers who is quite familiar with SB 157. He has stated that the major concern of the bill's sponsors is that the state of New Hampshire has ceased to require civics education to be taught in the schools as a standard.
"I'm guessing this is a reaction to concerns by lawmakers that most of our public high schools appear to no longer require history and civics," Parison expressed.
No excuse for home intrusion
This frustration, however, is no excuse to dictate to homeschoolers what materials they must teach to their children in order to ensure their graduation, argues Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) staff attorney Michael Donnelly. With homeschool students having demonstrated academic excellence in every area of their education, and with homeschoolers taking no tax dollars out of the system for their instruction, he sees no justification behind the state of New Hampshire requiring home-based students to take the test.
"Because the state funds public education, they certainly may prescribe content standards and assessments like this for public schools," concedes Donnelly, who represents HSLDA members in New Hampshire. "We strongly object to interference of this kind over home and private education, however."
His major concern is that the state's sweeping mandate of a federal citizenship test violates the rights of homeschool parents and other private educators to educate their children or students the best way they see fit.
"Such intrusion is fundamentally at odds with the rights of parents and private schools to direct the education of their children and students," Donnelly asserts. "It is our experience that homeschoolers do a good job teaching civics and do not need a federal citizenship test imposed on them to determine if their students are ready to graduate."
Despite the fact that many public schools don't adequately teach the inner workings of government through civics courses, most homeschool curricula covers civics and educates students so that they have all the tools to become patriotic and exemplary citizens — many having a plethora of materials from which to choose. One such offering in citizenship and civics curriculum is readily available to homeschoolers via HSLDA, called Generation Joshua, which is intended to train students to become outstanding citizens involved in the community and public affairs.
Hope for homeschooling freedom
HSLDA reports from an email it received from a state senator that there is already legislation in the works that would act to keep homeschoolers and other privately schooled children — along with special-needs students — from being forced to take the test. Rep. Regina Birdsell (R-New Hampshire) told HSLDA on Monday that an amendment of the bill is currently on the table.
"[The amendment would] eliminate the homeschool community, special needs, and private schools from this requirement," Birdsell communicated to attorneys at HSLDA, a nonprofit Christian legal organization based in Purcellville, Virginia.
Despite the provision, HSLDA attorneys are still encouraging homeschoolers in New Hampshire to urge members of the state's Senate Education Committee to remove homeschoolers and other students receiving private education from the bill.
Just over a week ago, Arizona was the first state to pass a law requiring students to pass the federal citizenship test in order to graduate from high school. All other 49 states are expected to follow suit by 2017.
A hearing date for New Hampshire State Bill 157 has not yet been scheduled.