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Home-school records now on states shoulders
New bill goes into effect July 1
Kendra Stephenson goes over home-school lessons Thursday with her children Gray, left, and Brooke in a classroom in the family’s basement. - photo by Tom Reed

Local school districts won’t have to worry about keeping up with home-schooled students anymore.

That responsibility has shifted to the state.

Last Thursday, Gov. Nathan Deal signed into law House Bill 706, which states that parents of home-schoolers must file the declaration of intent and attendance reports with the Georgia Department of Education instead of the local district.

Senate Bill 227 has not been signed but essentially presents the same changes for home-school accountability.

Sponsors of the bill said it would “streamline” the record-keeping process.

“This bill removes an unfunded and burdensome mandate on local school superintendents,” said Sen. Barry Loudermilk in a Senate press release. “Home schooling reports will be centralized in one location rather than at local school districts, where a large part of these reports remain untouched until a student needs proof of
education in order to apply for a Georgia driver’s license. The home school community, local school superintendents and the Department of Education all support this much simpler and streamlined process.”

But the local school systems haven’t seen the benefits — yet.

“I don’t feel like it was a burden,” said Susan Bagwell, director of student services for Hall County Schools. “It’s important that we track those students. As far as the work load, we haven’t had it taken away yet, so I’m not really sure how much it’s going to take away.”

Hall County reported more than 1,200 home-schooled students to the state this year.

Parents who home-school their children don’t really see it as an issue either.

“I don’t think it will affect me at all,” said Kendra Stephenson, who home-schools her children. “It’s just a different fax number to send it to.”

But Bagwell thinks that even though the tracking of these students moves to the state level, some local presence will be required to coordinate the process.

“I’m thinking that at the state level they’re probably going to have to have local people that are checking up and working with (home-schoolers),” said Bagwell. “I feel like even though they will oversee it, it will take some local time to keep up with everything.”

That obligation will not likely be placed on her department anymore, but she won’t be surprised if parents still call on it for help.

“I’ll be surprised if they still don’t call on us for the information part of it,” said Bagwell.

The bill goes into effect July 1.

The state department says the bill should save local systems money now that the personnel requirements for the record-keeping are no longer necessary.

“Essentially, the purpose for that is to assist in saving school systems money,” said Justin Pauly, a department spokesman.

Gainesville City Schools keeps up with about 40 students, according to Jarod Anderson, director of learning supports for the system.

He said it wasn’t difficult or time consuming to monitor those students.

“Now, for a larger system, it could very well take a lot more time, but it wasn’t a burden at all for us to maintain that,” said Anderson.

But there could be some future challenges once the records move to the state.

“It could be a little more challenging to verify the status of a student now,” said Anderson. “We won’t have those records any more so it would be harder to determine if that student stopped coming to school because they were being home-schooled.”

Systems wouldn’t be able to cross-reference if students who don’t show up at school switched to home-schooling instead or dropped out — they would have to rely on the state for that information.

How the state will implement the process still remains to be seen.

“Since it was just signed, the department is now working on determining how this process will work,” said Pauly.

Monitoring all the state’s home school students could prove a big task and some who have been doing it are wondering how the large-scale record-keeping will work.

“How they’re going to do that at the state department?” said Anderson. “I have no idea how they’re going to manage all that.”