Originally created 12/11/97

Parents, children attend hearing



ATLANTA - More than 200 parents and their children packed a Georgia legislative hearing Wednesday to hear why they should have to notify the state ahead of time when they want to teach their kids at home.

State Rep. Carolyn Hugley, D-Columbus, weakened her original proposal, which would have required parents to have a college education to teach their children at home.

Now, under her bill, they would only need a college degree if they taught someone else's child.

However, parents would have to provide earlier notice to the state that they intend to home-school their children.

Ms. Hugley said her proposal would discourage parents from allowing their children to ditch school and then cover up for them by claiming their youngsters were being home-schooled. The bill also is intended to prevent authorities from mistaking home-school children who are out and about during the school day for truants, she said.

"This bill is not about whether home-schooling is a worthy endeavor. This would protect home-schoolers from undue intrusion and give school guidance counselors some information," Ms. Hugley said.

Home-school parents didn't buy it.

"I wasn't convinced that not being able to tell who is a truant from who is being home-schooled is a serious enough issue to warrant legislation," said former public school teacher Priscilla Bednar, who now home-schools in Austell. "To me, it's not an education issue or a truancy issue. It's the freedom of the American family. I don't want more government intrusion."

"My concern is if they introduce legislation, this one thing will lead to another. More restrictions are going to make it so great that it will be difficult to home school," said Kristi Helfen, a Stone Mountain mother who teaches her three children at home. "I don't think there are a high number of problems now."

The state keeps few statistics on how home-schooled children do academically.

The lack of such data made it hard to determine what standard to use when Gov. Zell Miller decided to offer home-schoolers HOPE scholarships, which require a "B" average.

Melanie Holt, a Laurens County social worker, testified that of the 36 registered home school students in her district, 14 are actually truants.

She added that when parents currently notify the district of their intentions, they often fail to submit their qualifications for teaching at home.

"I have no verification that they have a GED, diploma or if they are tutoring," Ms. Holt said.

"We are looking at higher standards for public colleges," Ms. Holt said. Without verification of teaching standards, "I have a concern for home-school students."

Ms. Hugley's bill originally mandated more frequent testing of home-schooled children, but that provision was dropped because of the outcry from parents.

Georgia's home-schooled population has been growing for years. During the 1988-89 school year, 3,755 Georgia children were enrolled in a home-study program. In the recently completed school year, there were 17,481, according to state Department of Education figures.