Homeschool advocates go to bat for non-traditional private schools

Provisions in a wide-ranging education bill moving through the Florida Senate provoked fears among home education advocates. But they may prove to be a short-lived glitch.

Right now, as worded, the Senate’s rewrite of HB 7055 would prevent parents from using private tutors, as well as certain non-traditional private schools, to satisfy school attendance requirements.

However, a key lawmaker facilitating negotiations in the late stages of the legislative session said Tuesday that she intends to fix the issue. She said her goal is to eliminate out-dated provisions of state law, not to restrict homeschooling.

“We are going to amend the bill to take care of any of the questions that were asked by the parents of the homeschoolers,” Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, told the Senate Appropriations Committee Tuesday. “We’ll do that on the floor.”

More than 80,000 Florida students participate in home education programs their parents register with their local school districts.

Brenda Dickinson, a lobbyist with the Home Education Foundation, said tens of thousands more use what she calls non-traditional private schools. They offer distance learning and other programs that do not meet five days a week, or support to families who teach their children at home.

These options, sometimes called “umbrella schools,” have become increasingly popular in some school districts that have placed new requirements on parents who try to register as homeschoolers.

Earlier this week, home education advocates disseminated alerts urging their allies to contact senators about the Senate’s amendments to the wide-ranging education bill.

TJ Schmidt, staff attorney at the Home School Legal Defense Association, said under the state’s current laws, “Florida is a great model for other states to look to for educational choice.” If the amendment remained unchanged, he said, it “would be restricting the heritage that Florida has established over the years. It would have a significant negative impact on educational freedom and choice.”

Meanwhile, the fate of other home education-friendly legislation remains in question. SB 732 would rein in district inquiries to parents who register home education programs, but it has stalled in committees with time running down in the legislative session. A corresponding bill by Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, R-Mount Dora, passed the House last week.

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