Legislators have approved a bill that blocks school boards from requiring that home-schooling parents meet minimum credential requirements and keep records of what they teach and of student attendance.
Also under the legislation, school boards could not require standardized testing of home-schooled students.
Instead, Senate Bill 59 simply requires parents to sign an affidavit pledging that their children will go to school the same length of time as public school students. Parents would be responsible for choosing all textbooks and teaching materials.
After lawmakers were blanketed with notes from home-schooled students who gathered Monday on Capitol Hill - including one who asked her mother how to spell "regulate" while writing her note - representatives lauded parents who teach their children at home.
Rep. Mike Morley, R-Spanish Fork, noted that three of the top students at Yale this year were home-schooled. "It would be difficult to hold public education to the same standard that home school is achieving," he said. "In most standards, we judge our parents as competent and fit unless otherwise proved."
But House Democrats questioned the hands-off legislation home-schooling parents requested. "It sounds a little like: 'We don't want you involved or interfering in any way,' " said Rep. Carol Moss, D-Holladay, a retired high school teacher.
Rep. LaWanna Shurtliff, D-Ogden, another retired schoolteacher, tried unsuccessfully to amend the bill to eliminate exemptions for parent record-keeping and testing. "I want to be sure every child has an opportunity to be schooled in the very best way they can," Shurtliff said.
But Republican lawmakers vouched for the expertise of Utah parents, who teach between 25,000 and 30,000 students at home.
Arguing that most Utah schoolteachers are single young women who leave work early to get married and have children, Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper, said, "We have an abundance of mothers uniquely qualified to provide home schooling."
Rep. Ben Ferry, whose children are home-schooled until sixth grade, said it is hard to find tests that will challenge some students. "What do you do when the child is off the charts?" the Corrinne Republican asked.
Utah Education Association official Vik Arnold warned that lawmakers are taking a chance that some children will fall through the cracks.
"That's the risk one takes with home school education," Arnold said. "But parental rights and responsibilities are well-respected in this state."
House members voted unanimously to send the bill to Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. for his signature.
Huntsman spokeswoman Tammy Kikuchi said she is not sure how the governor feels about home schooling in general, but said the office will review the bill.