Number of home schooled kids increases, raises questions - Los Angeles News | FOX 11 LA KTTV

Number of home schooled kids in Arizona increases, raising questions for educators

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PHOENIX (KSAZ) -

Do you know how many students take advantage of home schooling in Arizona?  We discovered it's about 11,000 in Maricopa County and in the state, more than 30,000.

But as we found out, the state knows very little about these students and that's raising questions for some educators, especially when it comes to accountability.  Who is checking if home schooling is making the grade?

"We are going to start a science experiment this week."

It's a typical day at school for 5-year-old Daniel and 7-year-old James, only this isn't a typical classroom.

"I was a head hunter.. I was an HR manager, never worked with kids, never had desire to work with kids," said Danna Lockerby.

That all changed when she moved her family from Washington State to Arizona.

"I found out Arizona is 49th in test scores in the nation and I thought there's got to be a better option here."

Lockerby turned to home schooling -- a growing trend in a state with some of the least restrictive home schooling laws in the country.

In Maricopa County, home schooling has grown from 1,000 home school students in 1990 to more than 11,000 now.  And it's estimated 35,000 Arizona children are homeschooled students in a state that allows just about anyone to home school their child.

"I come to Arizona and it's a little like the wild, wild west -- you can do whatever you want," said Lockerby.

Arizona parents don't have to prove they are competent to teach.  Education level, citizenship, background checks -- the state doesn't ask for any of it.

The only requirement for parents is their child's birth certificate and a signed affidavit promising to teach five subjects. But the state has no way of knowing if those subjects are ever actually taught.  There's no student testing and no checkins from the state.

Home school parents say the laws work for them, giving parents the freedom to make the best educational choices for their kids and keeping the state at a distance.

"I'm sorry I'm paying more on property taxes toward the schools than I'm paying to educate my own kids and they are producing sub quality results.  Why should I be accountable to them?" asked Lockerby.

Critics say the law says it leaves too many gaps.  In extreme cases, allowing parents to use the laws to mask abuse.

Recently, three girls were rescued after they were allegedly held captive by their mother and stepfather for more than two years.  The parents are accused of locking up their children, keeping them in separate rooms and not allowing them to go outside.  The mother claims she was home schooling.

I discovered the mother did register the oldest daughter as a homeschooled student with Pima County.  The county knew all along the 17-year-old girl was legally out of public school.

"On paper, the mom everything did she was required to do... had something ever happened to these girls that would of led to like a tragedy of one of them dying for example, the only record that they ever existed would be a birth certificate, a social security card and a home school affidavit perhaps," said CFO of Pima County Schools, Ricky Hernandez.

The Arizona Education Association, a state teacher's union, calls for tougher home schooling laws -- ones requiring child checkups and that parents pass a teacher's test.

"I don't think we want to turn our back on the home school student and just assume and leave up to chance that every think is working out fine," said Andrew Morill, AEA's president.

"I think it's definitely going to spark a conversation of what child welfare needs to look like so that it's not having to be at the point where a child shows up in the hospital with bruises and that's when we kind of start caring for what's going on with these kids," said Hernandez.

It wasn't always the case that home schooling was as simple as filling out an affidavit.  At one point, parents even had to take a teacher's test, but in the 1990s, state lawmakers passed laws shaping what home schooling is today.  The state lawmaker behind the laws is now the head of Arizona's public school system.

"Every child that's homeschooled saves the tax payers upwards of $8,000.  Quite often, I start my speeches to them on behalf of the tax payers of Arizona, I want to say thank you," said Superintendent John Huppenthal.

For Huppenthal, the benefits of keeping home schooling unregulated outweighs the risks.

"We know by and large, home school parent environments are very protective of children.  Are there going to be exceptions?  There's nothing in this life that doesn't have exceptions," he said.

"If we are leaving giant holes in what we know to be the environment that we are placing our children in, than we have to do more," said Morrill.

Lockerby says she has nothing to hide, but doesn't want the government knocking on her "schoolhouse" doors.

"At what point do we start taking away the individual rights of families to parent their kids the way they see fit... and I'm not advocating leaving kids in abusive situations, but at what point do we become overreaching?  Who do the kids belong to? Do they belong to the state or do they belong to the parents?"

In Lockerby's home, it's easy to see her children are thriving without government involvement.

But what does home schooling look like in the thousands of other homes across the state?   All sides would agree -- that's guarded fiercely -- behind the classroom walls of a private home.

Some home schooling parents want to take the laws even further, asking for a tax credit for home schooling their kids and saving districts money.   But other home schooling advocates don't want the laws to change and lead to regulations.

AFHE - Arizona Home schooling
For the Affidavit of Intent to Home school document: http://afhe.org

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