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Thursday, June 03, 2004

Today's Wall Street Journal talks about the misguided educational priorities in New Jersey.

You won't find this malady in the medical books. But that's because this is a disease that afflicts governments, and its most prevalent symptom is the itch to impose "solutions" where there's no clear problem while ignoring crises right under their noses. Two current disputes suggest that politicos in New Jersey's state capital are suffering from a particularly virulent form.

The first involves several hundred parents standing on the statehouse steps last week to protest a bill that would impose regulations on New Jersey home-schoolers, in areas from testing to medical exams. The other, held the very same day, was a plea from a coalition of African-American ministers arguing for school choice for the kids they say are getting a distinctly separate and unequal public education in the Garden State. Guess which of these issues -- regulating home-schoolers or liberating minority children -- is likely to occupy Trenton's time?

This is one of my fundamental objections to 21st-century governmental overmanagement. Idealists on both sides of the aisle think they have a solution to everything, and they are quick to enact legislation to demonstrate their ideas. However, those ideas more often than not are poorly conceived, much like the New Jersey homeschooling bill. Quite simply, it makes no sense to try to hold homeschoolers to public "standards" when homeschooled students, by and large, perform above those standards anyway.

An underlying cause for the legislative desire to regulate homeschooling is this: for every homeschooler, there is revenue lost to the public school. Once the homeschooling community is brought under the public umbrella, those funds can be redirected to the school boards. This would explain the rise in remote "charter" schools, where parents receive a portion of educational funding in return for being counted as part of the school population. The pressures of meeting No Child Left Behind requirements means a greater desire to bring in students who have mastered the material required for testing (read: homeschoolers). It is naive to think that this is not a point of discussion at many a school board meeting, especially those who are starved for funding, and those who fail to meet the federally mandated minimum testing standards.

Potential loss of funding is the very reason that vouchers are so villified; why give parents a choice in schooling when it will cost the school district for every student lost to a non-public school? The incentive is there for school boards to keep as many students as possible within their sphere of control, and this is why that the New Jersey elected officials prioritize regulation of homeschoolers above enabling Garden State minorities to choose where their children should be educated. New Jersey is likely going to be the first of many test cases across the country where regulation of homeschooling is concerned.

Hopefully, once parents realize that the legislator's ultimate litmus test for a fully educated child in New Jersey is to meet the requirements as set forth by the state public school system, they will demand more than that, and this legislation will fall by the wayside where it belongs. However, such demands are contingent on an involved parental body, which is why homeschooling is so successful in the first place.


.: posted by Dave 3:20 PM

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