About three hundred homeschoolers gathered in Montpelier Tuesday to hear speakers, tour the statehouse, and to meet Governor Shumlin and Lieutenant Governor Phil Scott.
Suzanne Cosgrove of West Newbury attended the event with her husband and five children. “We want to show that there is an active homeschool group in Vermont,” she said. “We’re bringing the children to meet their legislators.”
The event was in part a reaction to a recent effort by the Senate Education Committee to strike out most of the existing statute governing homeschooling and to replace it with language requiring a mandatory standardized test for all homeschool and public school students.
“It was meant to make [homeschooling] easier,” said Sen. Kevin Mullin (R-Rutland). “We want to make sure no child slips through the cracks.”
The intent of the statute change was to reduce the workload for the state’s three staff members in charge of ensuring homeschoolers meet the state regulations for home study programs so the staff could be used for other positions.
The measure did not sit well with homeschool families, and has since been withdrawn. Retta Dunlap, a homeschool advocate and the event coordinator, said that the test the measure would have required, called the “Smarter Balance Achievement Test”, was new and had not been reviewed by any school officials she had spoken to. She had been told that the test “was not ready” to be seen yet.
“We need more conversation and interaction with the Department [of Education] to find solutions,” she said.
Dunlap said that although she did not oppose a state test as an option for homeschoolers, she did not like that the new language would have made the test mandatory, especially since the finished product has not yet been reviewed.
Lt. Governor Phil Scott delivered a short talk to the kids and parents about his journey through Vermont’s political scene, starting out as a small business owner who wanted to do something to make life easier for other small business owners. He emphasized the need to listen and gain respect to be an effective leader.
Governor Shumlin gave a brief speech about his difficulty learning to read as a child due to dyslexia, and how special attention given to him by a teacher who taught him how to read changed his life.
Shumlin’s speech took a somewhat strange turn given the audience when he spoke about statewide broadband service by 2013 to improve cellphone service and how he intended to make healthcare a human right in Vermont, but he quickly got back on track with education, promising an educational system that would “get what you need to learn the way you learn. That way we win.”
It was not clear if he was referring to homeschool children being able to take classes at public schools or if he simply forgot that he was addressing homeschool families who do not use the public education system.