Today from the San Francisco Chronicle:
(3-07) 13:37 PST SACRAMENTO -- Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger denounced a state appeals court ruling that severely restricts homeschooling and promised Friday to change the law if necessary to guarantee that parents are able to educate their children at home.
"Every California child deserves a quality education, and parents should have the right to decide what's best for their children," Schwarzenegger said in response to the ruling, which said children educated at home must be taught by a credentialed teacher.
"Parents should not be penalized for acting in the best interests of their children's education," Schwarzenegger said. "This outrageous ruling must be overturned by the courts, and if the courts don't protect parents' rights then, as elected officials, we will."
State Education Secretary David Long, a Schwarzenegger appointee, said that meant the governor supported allowing parents without teaching credentials to educate their children.
"The governor sees this as a fundamental right of parental choice," he said.
In the meantime, attorneys with Long's agency are poring over the decision to determine what to tell local school districts, the agencies responsible for pursuing truants, said Jack O'Connell, the state's superintendent of public instruction.
An estimated 166,000 children are homeschooled in California. Some are enrolled in independent study programs through school districts, charter schools or private schools. Others are taught at home or in programs that have no oversight by a public education agency or private school.
The ruling that prompted Schwarzenegger's anger was issued Feb. 28 by the Second District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles, but went unpublicized until this week. The court said all children ages 6 to 18 must attend public or private school full time until they graduate from high school or must be tutored by a credentialed teacher.
State law is silent
There is no provision in the California Education Code or elsewhere in state law that addresses the issue of homeschooling. Homeschool advocates want to keep it that way, despite the governor's support for a new law to help them.
They believe current code supports their practices and that new laws would include regulations and possibly restrictions on homeschooling.
"We just want to leave it alone because it's good the way it is," said Loren Mavromati, who homeschools her two children and volunteers with the California Homeschool Network, an advocacy organization made up mostly of homeschooling parents. "The law as it stands is working well in California."
It's unclear how much support the governor would have in the Legislature for allowing parents without credentials to teach their children.
Two members of the state Senate Education Committee, Sen. Jack Scott, D-Altadena (Los Angeles County), the panel's chairman, and Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, declined to comment Friday on the issue or the court ruling.
One complicating factor is that California's compulsory-education law is widely interpreted to mean the state is obliged to make sure every child is educated.
"As a society, we recognize that a well-educated citizenry is our goal," Long said. The purpose of compulsory education is "to help ensure that," he said.
Father happy for the help
The case that led to the court ruling stemmed from a child welfare dispute involving the children of Phillip and Mary Long of Lynwood (Los Angeles County). The couple's eight children have been homeschooled by Mary Long, who holds no teaching credential. The children were also enrolled in a private school through an independent study program, which included quarterly home visits by officials of the school.
Although the case did not involve the question of the children's truancy, the court decision broadly addressed the legality of homeschooling in California.
Homeschool advocates and the Longs have said they will appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.
Phillip Long, who is not related to the education secretary, said Friday that Schwarzenegger's support for his family's case was good news.
"The parent-child relationship existed long before any government and makes it the responsibility of the parent to educate the child," he said. That responsibility includes protecting one's children from "things hazardous to the child, emotionally as well as physically," he said.
Long, 54, said he specifically objected to his children being taught in school about evolution and homosexuality.
"I want to keep and protect them until I feel they're mature enough to deal with these issues," he said. "I believe the creator wants us to protect our children from things we believe are hazardous to their character."
Lawmakers avoided issue
A credentialed tutor for his children is out of the question, he said.
"A credentialed teacher ain't gonna come and educate my child for free," Long said. "I pay property taxes every year so that children can have an education in the public school system, including my children, but I choose to take on the expense and added pressure and time to educate my children on our own."
This is not the first time the state has grappled with the homeschooling issue. In 2002, then-state Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin said homeschooling was illegal and that she would enforce the law.
Eastin then asked the Legislature to take up the issue. It declined.
Six months later, O'Connell took over as state schools chief and opted for a hands-off approach, directing homeschooling families to the forms required to create a private school and telling local districts that truancy was their issue.
For five years, homeschooling remained politically dormant.
In that time, the practice has become increasingly mainstream, with homeschooled children getting into the country's best colleges and participating in the National Spelling Bee.
One size won't fit all
Crafting legislation to address homeschooling could prove challenging, given the differences in educational styles and programs within each home.
Many homeschooling parents register as a private school with the state - a status that does not require credentialed teachers - and then enroll their children in their school. Across the state, there are 18,352 students attending private schools with five or fewer students, state education officials said.
Charter and private schools accommodate homeschoolers with varying levels of supervision. Some homeschool families follow a curriculum, and others don't.
An unknown number of homeschoolers practice "unschooling," which essentially allows children to learn by living and doing what they are interested in doing.
For now, Schwarzenegger is prepared to wait and see if the courts will resolve this case, spokeswoman Sabrina Lockhart said.
"He believes parents should have the right and flexibility to homeschool their children," she said.
If court appeals fail, legislation would be an option, Lockhart said. But she added that "what that legislation looks like at this point is premature."