***Note: this bill has been substituted, this analysis may no longer be valid***
Senator Aaron Osmond (Republican – South Jordan) has been in the education spotlight over the past six months, with his plans to fundamentally alter the way compulsory education is treated in the state of Utah. In December, Osmond told Utah Political Capitol that he will propose legislation that would allow school districts to decide how many hours of class time are necessary, create a sort of parental bill of rights, eliminate the requirement private or home-schooled students be taught by state educational standards, and place strict penalties on parents who are unable to attend parent-teacher conferences.
The proposal that home-schooled students will no longer held to the same academic standard as their piers who attend schools in-person is just one of several items addressed in SB 39 – Home School Amendments.
In the December interview, and in an additional interview conducted on the UPC Show, Osmond defended the policy, saying that if parents already have the option not to keep their children’s education up to standards (they will just be held to child neglect statues). Osmond explained that “it is clear that the Parent has the primary responsibility for the education of their child. The state has the secondary responsibility.” Other metrics, such as college entrance exams and workforce readiness, Osmond explains, will factor into the level of education a student receives in a home-schooling environment. “If home school or private school parents decide to return their child to Public Education, their child will be assessed with an age-appropriate assessment, and the student will be placed in the appropriate academic level based on that assessment. In addition if remediation is necessary, the local school district may charge all or part of that cost to remediate back to the parent,” says Osmond, who calls the plan “true accountability.”
Some conservative opponents of mandatory education laws praise such plans, arguing that parents should be free to choose what level of education is necessary for their children, and that they should be free from education standards if they so choose. Moderates and liberals, on the other hand, argue that though parents have the right to choose whether their children will attend public, private, or home schools, there is a compelling state interest to ensure that every child’s education reach a set standard, ensuring they have an established set of skills that could be used in the workforce or to enter college once children become adults. To that end, they argue, State Board of Education standards must be made and adhered to.
SB 39 would also change other aspects of how teachers, schools, and school boards interact with each other.
The most immediate impact for the average Utahn would be that when parents excuse a child from school if a child is sick or the family is in vacation, they will be required to produce not just a signed note, but a notarized note to school administrators for it to be valid, regardless of whether the student is in public or private education.
Under Osmond’s proposal, parents could also request assessments by local school board officials (who would still be required to adhere to school board requirements), to identify the “knowledge, skills, and competencies a student is recommended to attain by grade level.” The bill goes on to say that if a parent wishes to place their child into a public school after a period of private or home schooling, the parent may be held responsible for part or all of the cost associated with bringing their child to the appropriate grade level.
The policy proposal of removing educational requirements is a tricky one, but the idea of assessing competencies and possibly charging parents is not. As a society, we trust that parents act in the best interest of their child; however we must also be honest and admit that not all parents are up to this challenge, nor do all parents—despite their honest intentions—equip their children with the educational tools they need to be a productive member of society. The rights of parents are often made paramount in such debates, but we often forget the right of the child to be given the skills they need to have full access to future opportunities in their lives, both academically and in employment. Parental rights are critically important, but should always be carefully tempered with the right of a child not to have their future stripped away from them before they even start. The balance currently established in our state between those two rights may or may not need alteration, but policy makers should proceed with extreme caution before attempting to make adjustments.
The requirement that school boards assess readiness upon request thanks to the lifting of educational standards would place a higher burden on the resources of any given school district and is completely avoidable if current law stands. It seems unfair for school districts to have to spend great lengths of time and extensive resources from already stretched-to-the-limit budgets on such an avoidable problem.
In addition, for parents who would like to admit their children into public schools after a period of home-schooling (such as home-schooling during elementary school, but then entering public schools for middle or high school), the sticker shock of forcing parents to take on the full weight of getting their kids back up to standard could easily dissuade the parents and a child may never re-enter the system, potentially causing them to fall further and further behind in their educational aptitude.
The fate of SB 39 is thus far unclear, as many lawmakers were taken off balance by Osmond’s announcement that he would pursue this and other heretofore extreme educational reforms. Powerful lobbies from all sides are involved with education in the state, and the field of education policy has been rife with controversy and contention over the years. But with an already-dangerously low budget for education in a state with higher-than-average kids per family, these can be some of the most important bills of the year. Not only do the children’s futures depend on lawmakers handling these laws correctly, but Utah’s economic future—with employers watching to see how whether the local workforce will be educated enough for future jobs— also hangs in the balance.
To contact Senator Osmond, click here or call 801-253-6853.
Impact on Average Utahn:
High Impact 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 No Impact
Need for Legislation:
Necessary 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 Unnecessary
Sound Legislation 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 Clunker