A homeschool student waits for his turn to urge lawmakers to vote against AB 2756 at the state Capitol on Wednesday. (Vanessa Rancaño/KQED)
Two legislative proposals aimed at providing greater oversight of California's estimated 15,000 homeschools died this week after a massive lobbying effort waged by parents and homeschool supporters.
Homeschools are private schools under California law. Neither the state, county or local district has any legal responsibility to monitor conditions, or oversee academics. Kids don’t have to meet standards or take standardized tests.
Lawmakers introduced two bills aimed at strengthening the rules, but faced fierce opposition capped by a marathon hearing Wednesday before the Assembly Committee on Education.
Before the hearing began, families pushing kids in strollers or with babies strapped to their bellies clogged entrances to the Capitol building. The line to get into the hearing room wound around the fourth floor.
The hallway became a sauna, with people battling the humidity any way they could, fanning themselves with hand-drawn signs that read “I love homeschooling” and “I’m a homeschool kid. The whole world is my classroom.”
They had traveled from all over California to voice their opposition to AB 2756, introduced by Assemblyman Jose Medina, whose 61st district includes Riverside County.
AB 2756 began as a bill requiring fire inspections, but Medina's office was so inundated with calls that he scrapped that idea.
By Wednesday’s hearing, the bill had been reduced to an effort to keep better tabs on how many home schools exist in California.
Even in such a watered-down form, Berkeley-raised Aaron Haiman opposed the bill.
"It’s still basically forming a database of what parents are doing, how they’re doing it, how many people they’re doing it for," he said.
Haiman was homeschooled himself and is now homeschooling his daughter. What worried him is the long game.
"This is exactly the kind of database that can be mined for more restrictive regulations," he said.
Haiman also opposed another bill that would have created an advisory committee to assess how the state regulates homeschooling and make recommendations.
Assemblywoman Susan Eggman pulled it after her office received thousands of calls.
Anne Teagarde, who described herself as a Santa Clara homeschool mom, said the message to lawmakers was clear.
"We want to show you we’re paying attention," she said. "This is just showing if you want to do more, look at how we’re reacting to something small."
Opponents of Medina’s bill spoke for three hours straight. Then committee member Kevin Kiley asked Medina what the point of his bill was.
"I think it would give a better picture of the educational landscape in California," Medina replied. "I disagree that there’s any sinister purpose for it."
To that Kiley responded, "I’m deeply troubled by the direction of this legislation and I think it would be a great act for you to reconsider it and to abandon it at this point. And if not, I encourage the committee to vote the bill down."
In the end, the bill died. None of the committee members even called for a vote.