Many, if not most, children who are taught by their parents at home, instead of by professional teachers at school, learn enough to succeed as adults. Some excel and go on to high achievement in college or careers. Most end up about average, as most public school graduates do.
In those cases, home schools have earned the right to be left alone by the state.
But not all home-schooled children are getting the instruction they need to hold jobs, go to college, even communicate well outside their homes. And, for some, educational neglect rises to the level of other forms of child neglect that are outlawed under state law.
Parents are not allowed to neglect their children's physical health, for example. Education is just as important to a child's development. Utah law requires parents only to notify the state and fill out an affidavit promising to teach subjects required by state curriculum. But nobody oversees home schools, and parents face no penalty for falling short.
Home-schooled children don't have to pass any sort of test ever and that lack of oversight is risky. Utah law focuses only on parents' right to assume responsibility for their children's academic instruction. Legislators should do more to protect children's right to be educated.
Their failure to do so often goes unnoticed, since the number of home schools remains small. But it is growing. And it's apparent among children associated with the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Utah-Arizona border towns that Utah authorities will have to deal with the results.
In 2000, Warren Jeffs, the FLDS leader who is serving a prison sentence for sexually assaulting underage girls he considered his wives, ordered all FLDS children to leave school. Even the religion-based schools run by the sect were off-limits. Since then, hundreds of FLDS children have sought help from the state or nonprofit groups, and some who have failed to pass the GED or college entrance exams are stuck with few options.
These children, and others who are less visible but still are victims of educational neglect, face huge barriers to employment and financial security. Undereducated children too often grow up to depend on the state for welfare services if they are not prepared to support themselves. Their situations are especially sad because they are preventable with minor changes in state law to set standards for home schools.
Taxpayers will support the children who grow into unemployable adults. That's unfair to them and to all Utahns.