Hundreds of homeschoolers rally at the State House

by Angela Chagnon  

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The measure did not sit well with homeschool families, and has since been withdrawn.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.


3 thoughts on “Hundreds of homeschoolers rally at the State House

  1. I thought this article was fairly accurate. I brought my children to show them where legislators work, and remind them to never take democracy for granted. I also wanted them to see the legislators, Gov, and Lt Gov in person. Mission accomplished. I felt that Phil Scott did a reasonable job of addressing the group, and taking questions. I was far less impressed with Peter Shumlin, as he seemed to have only a vague idea of who we were. He had a nice story about his learning disability, but the other half of the speech was a string of soundbites on random topics such as the economy, job growth, and cell service ( and education too!).

  2. I hate to be the one to say it but it needs to be said. This article is very biased and glosses over what was perhaps the most telling part of the whole House Chamber experience.

    Phil Scott gave a room full of homeschoolers an election stump speech about being a race car driver and a businessman who entered politics to fix the problems he was having as a businessman. Perhaps I misunderstood the purpose of the event but I brought my children not for a field trip to meet VIP’s in a museum but to interact with legislators, to show them our numbers and show our commitment to educating our children, not numbers on a test.

    He must have missed the memo. Phil is good at what he does and managed to deflect questions of substance for the most part. In response to one such fluffy question he was asked what he likes about his new job. He replied that one perk is the 100% increase in staffers– from 0 to 1. One mom mentioned on the way out that his math was wrong.

    I know Phil well enough and I wasn’t there to see him, I was there to make the point I mentioned earlier. So I asked him flat out (paraphrasing), “Here’s a hypothetical– you’re the deciding vote on a bill to require mandatory testing of homeschoolers. How do you vote?”

    Phil Scott said (paraphrasing) that he would need to talk to the Committee members and find out where they were on the issue. He further explained that he would consult with his friends in the Senate to help him make a decision. I then pressed and asked him how would he vote if the people were at odds with the committee. He responded referencing contentious votes and brought up health care all the while not answering the cut and dry question.

    Well, I got my answer. It wasn’t the one I was looking for or even the one I thought I might get. No, it was an admittance that he had become what it was that he went to Montpelier to change– and apparently bought into Montpelier Math in the process. Luckily for him Kevin Mullin walked in so Phil was able to deflect and run. Senator Mullin assured us that we would see no such legislation come out of his committee.

    I’m highly insulted not only by Phil Scott’s display but also the way in which our Governor interacted with the homeschooling community. He gave us his standard “education” speech and when he remembered adjusted it toward homeschooling.

    At first I was thinking that the topics he brought up, especially jobs and broadband were completely incongruent with homeschooling as this lifestyle generally requires one (and if they’re lucky, two!) parents who are at home full time. I thought, homeschooling actually helps with unemployment because we that stay home are not competing for jobs.

    On further thought, it occurred to me that increasing broadband access would help even more families consider homeschooling if working from home was a real option. Many homeschooling families I know are entrepreneurial and this would expand opportunities for all of us. Broadband access is also a great tool for homeschooling families who choose to use it. We can show our children just about anything they could ask about on a moment’s notice! And not just a wikipedia page but articles and podcasts and videos and the sky is the limit.

    On the other hand no one got to ask him any questions for as fast as he could ask the question he put his hands up and thanked us for being there. I have no idea what Governor Shumlin would do if a mandatory testing bill for homeschoolers landed on his desk. I would like to know. I still haven’t figured out where health care fits in but it certainly wasn’t out of character for him.

    I think maybe what insults me more than either of them is the level of bias I found in this article. These guys are not legislators, they are politicians. They know the game, the play it well and that is why they sit in the top 2 seats in state government. To throw Shumlin under the bus while flat out refusing to even mention Scott’s dismissal of the people in favor of his political allies is about almost as slippery as Scott’s response. True North Reports has tried to brand itself as investigative journalism– news from the “other side”. What you’ve shown is that the “other side” is still not the People’s side. You have done a disservice to homeschoolers in Vermont by leaving out what was for me and the other parents I have spoken with the most informative part of our time in the building Tuesday.

    Jessica Bernier
    Barre, VT

  3. If Shumlin truly wants students to “get what you need to learn the way you learn,” then he will stop raising property taxes (Act 60/68) so families have more of their own money to spend on the education of their choice.

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