Minnesota education law gives home-schoolers more freedom
ST. PAUL -- Minnesota parents who teach their children at home feel like they have received a promotion. "The state is recognizing the validity of home education," Lorna Cook of Willmar said of a new law that frees home-schoolers from most of the...
ST. PAUL -- Minnesota parents who teach their children at home feel like they have received a promotion.
"The state is recognizing the validity of home education," Lorna Cook of Willmar said of a new law that frees home-schoolers from most of the bureaucracy of old laws. "To those of us who are home educators, the statistics show that, overall for home education, parents are doing a pretty good job."
In effect, longtime lobbyist John Tuma said, the new law tells home-schoolers: "Let's just save the time and money and let home-schoolers continue to do the good job they are doing."
Several mandates disappeared under the new law, part of an overall education funding measure passed last month, including one that had required parents without college educations to submit quarterly reports cards on their children to their local public school superintendent. The law also does away with a requirement that the superintendent visit each home school every year, as well as reducing other paperwork and allowing parents to teach their children driver's education.
Duluth resident Erica Gagnon has home-schooled her children for nine years, beginning with her now-13-year-old who will go to Edison this year. She will continue to teach her other four children. She said she was somewhat surprised the law passed because of what appears to be a prevailing opinion that home-schoolers do not offer the same benefits as schools.
"A lot of people are concerned about the lack of structure and supervision," Gagnon said. "Nobody picks my curriculum or sets my time of day. There is a strong reaction about those kids maybe being home-schooled inappropriately. But this tells me the state government isn't concerned about home-schoolers, that in general we're doing a good job, and that we don't need more restrictions."
Home-schoolers' success is often touted in the media with kids winning geography and spelling bees and testing higher than their peers, she said.
"It's kind of an affirmation for me," Gagnon said.
The new law is good, Cook said, because of "the simple fact that there is less for me to have to do, paperwork-wise, every fall."
Assistant Commissioner Rose Hermodson of the state Education Department said the new law means school districts "don't have to go out and search" for home-schoolers.
While Hermodson said the law relieves school districts from paperwork burdens, home-schoolers are responsible to maintain documents about their children's school activity, such as standardized test results.
Duluth home-schooler Lora Garvey said the new law makes strides in granting more freedom to those who home-school.
"But there is some good accountability that goes along with the testing, so I am glad that wasn't given up altogether," she said.
Garvey, who has home-schooled her four kids, is teaching just her fourth- and sixth-graders this year because her ninth- and 10th-graders have chosen to attend traditional high school.
"I do see results from every home-school family that I know of -- really incredible results -- on such little budgets and a great deal of time (parents) not always qualified in the eyes of educators," she said. "And yet, the results are proof that home-schoolers can do well with the materials given the chance."
Parents now only need to send districts a letter saying they are beginning home schooling and an annual letter saying they are continuing, as well as a more-extensive report when a student enters seventh grade.
Hermodson said the state will monitor how the law works and will be ready to recommend changes if needed. "We are going to be cautiously watching."
The law's passage surprised Tuma, who has spent years representing the Northfield area in the state House. He had little hope a home-school retooling was possible, but Democratic and Republican lawmakers kept relaying stories from home-schoolers who felt the state was overly restrictive.
Minnesota's initial home-schooling law was enacted in 1987 when about 1,500 students were learning at home. Last year, 17,036 students were home-schooled, about the same as the previous several years.
The heaviest concentration of home-schoolers is in the suburbs and exurbs around the Twin Cities. Southwestern Minnesota has the fewest home-schoolers, and Tuma, who with his wife teaches their two teenagers, thinks he knows why.
"There is a sense that my community school still is 'mine.'" Tuma said.
Duluth is one of the fastest-growing home-school areas, Tuma added, in a large part because some neighborhood schools have closed, meaning children now must attend schools outside their immediate area.
Cook, with five children, said that home schooling also is expanding in the Willmar area. While smaller districts near Willmar used to feature few home-schoolers, that is changing.
"What I have seen over the last few years is parents becoming more and more dissatisfied with even the smaller schools," said Cook, Willmar Area Scholars at Home board member.
Highlights of the new law
Allows parents to teach their children driver's education classes. Jana Hollingsworth of the News Tribune contributed to this story. Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.