|Victory in Montana
February 14, 2005. It was just like the old days in Montana yesterday!
During my first 10 years at HSLDA (1985-95), I participated in many legislative hearings where hundreds of home schoolers packed the hearing room and halls. I saw many bad bills defeated and laws changed for the better as God's people got active.
But people can get apathetic when freedom reigns.
Not so in Montana yesterday. Montana was faced with the worst bill of the decade and a completely Democratic legislature. Yet 1200 home schoolers turned out in force and the bill was killed! Praise God!
Dee Black of our staff was there and testified against it. Steve White did a masterful job of organizing the event and preparing and rallying the people.
God bless you all!
The bill was sponsored by Senator Don Ryan, a Democrat from Great Falls. He says his Senate Bill 291, called the Quality Home School and Child Protection Act, was designed to prevent abusive and neglectful parents from hiding their children from authorities. It would have required the state's 3,900 homeschool children to register with their local school district and required them to take standardized tests in the 4th, 8th, and 11th grades. It also imposed monitors on those parents who lack a college education.
Every legislator but Ryan on the Democratic-led Senate Education Committee voted against the bill immediately after it was heard. Normally they wait a few days before voting on a bill.
The majority of state legislatures have started their 2005 session, and not surprisingly the regulation of homeschooling has been a hot issue in several states. Several states have introduced bills that would restrict the freedom to homeschool.
Attempts To Impose State Assessments on Home Schools
For example, both New Mexico and South Dakota filed bills that would force homeschool students to take state-selected standardized tests in the public school or under the supervision of a certified teacher. (These bills violate a federal prohibition, drafted by HSLDA and added to the No Child Left Behind Act, that forbids states to require that homeschoolers take the state assessment.)
Unlimited State Powers Over Homeschoolers
New Jersey introduced a bill in 2004 that would give the state Board of Education virtually unlimited power to impose new restrictions on homeschoolers, force homeschoolers to take a state assessment based on public school curriculum, and turn over private medical information to the public schools. The bill was defeated last year after hundreds of homeschoolers and HSLDA staged large rallies at the capitol in opposition, but reintroduced at the beginning of the 2005 legislative season. The sponsor is making a mistake to think the homeschoolers will give up!
Worst Bill of the Decade
After Democrats took over the House, Senate, and Governorship in Montana, a long-time anti-homeschool Senator filed one of the harshest bills we have seen for a long time. The bill would transform one of the best homeschool laws in the nation to one of the worst. It would require that homeschools be supervised by a certified teacher and monitored bi-annually by the school district. Among other restrictions, it would even prohibit the homeschooling of any child with developmental disabilities in spite of HSLDA studies proving that special needs students learn better in a home-school setting. It also prohibits homeschooling by stepparents and legal guardians!
HSLDA Attorney Dee Black is working closely with Steve White head of the Montana Coalition of Home Schoolers to stop this bill. Dee flew out to Helena on February 14 to testify at the hearing.
An Attempt To Turn Back the Clock
An Oregon Senate bill turns the clock back by requiring families to submit a yearly notice and standardized test results to their local school district. The legislature had previously removed these requirements from the law. HSLDA Attorney Thomas Schmidt is working with the state homeschool association, OCEAN, to defeat this bill.
Expansion Of the State's Jurisdiction
Besides these legislative challenges, families are also facing major expansion of state jurisdiction over their children in Michigan, Wyoming, Hawaii, Colorado, Indiana, New Jersey, and Iowa. All seven of these states have introduced one or more bills expanding the compulsory attendance age in the state, thus requiring parents to comply with school regulations that much longer. The goal of the teachers unions is to lower the mandatory school age to three years of age and raise it to at least 18 years old.
Believe it or not , Indiana has a bill to require children stay in school until 19 years old!
HSLDA Legislative Team
Our legal legislative team at HSLDA, is headed up by myself and is comprised of five lawyers and six legal assistants. We are actively working around the clock to defeat all of these restrictive home school bills and monitor hundreds of bills in all 50 states. We are also working on promoting many bills that will advance home school freedoms.
South Dakota Restrictive Bill Defeated
The first restrictive homeschool bill to fail was in South Dakota. In below zero temperatures, I had Attorney Scott Woodruff travel to South Dakota in mid-January to testify against the testing bill, pointing out how it violated both federal law and parent's right to direct their children's education. Hundreds of homeschoolers packed out the hearing room clinching the victory. The committee ended up unanimously voting against the bill!
We stand ready to take similar action in other states to ensure that freedom is maintained and advanced.
Remember, we need you stand with us in order to fight these battle for home school freedoms. Without those tens of thousands of you who have joined HSLDA, we could not exist. Thank you for your continued support!
As Benjamin Franklin once said, "We must all hang together or, most assuredly, we will all hang separately!"
Nonetheless, to end on a positive note, while we have seen many legislative attacks against homeschooling this year, the new session does hold bright spots for parents in several states across the nation. This includes six states making long-needed improvements in their homeschool laws, along measures in other states for tax credits, religious protections, child welfare reform, and college scholarships. We at HSLDA have worked on drafting much of this legislation and presently lobbying and sending out alerts to our members to generate thousands of calls.
Here is a brief look at some of the good legislation.
Rolling Back Restrictions on Homeschooling
Utah has a chance to finally join the twenty-first century by removing the approval provision from its homeschool law. We have knocked out most of these "approval" laws over the years but Utah is one of only three states left with such an onerous oversight. This year homeschoolers have a bill that is moving swiftly and if finally passed, it will remove a school superintendent's ability to disapprove a homeschool notification at his discretion.
Oregon's homeschool law, while less restrictive than others, still requires parents to regularly administer a standardized achievement test to their children, as well as annually notifying school officials of their homeschool program. The "Home School Equity bill introduced by Senator Bruce Starr would remove both of these unnecessary requirements.
Pennsylvania homeschoolers may finally experience some relief from that state's burdensome homeschool law if the "Home School Freedom" bill the legislature. The primary purpose of the bill would be to remove the arbitrary authority a school superintendent has to "approve" a student's school portfolio. This would be a huge step towards freedom from government oversight for homeschool parents in the state.
North Dakota law currently denies parents the right to homeschool their developmentally delayed children, such as those with Down's syndrome. Autistic children are given an exception, but all others must attend public or private school. New legislation drafted by HSLDA has passed the House of Representatives that would allow all children with developmental delays to be homeschooled
New Hampshire's homeschool law would be made much simpler by a bill currently in the House Education committee. The bill would remove the current requirement to include curriculum information on the annual notification and would give parents more flexibility in what to include in their portfolios.
Protecting Religious Freedom
The 2005 legislative session has also seen the introduction of two Religious Freedom Restoration Acts, one in Oregon and one in Indiana. These bills give religious homeschoolers another legal means to protect their right to home school. If the parents' free exercise of religion is substantially burdened by having to comply with the homeschool law, the parents may use the RFPA as a defense or file suit against the state. The bills would restore the highest protection of the individual's right to freely exercise his religious beliefs taken away by the U.S. Supreme Court in its 1997 City of Boerne decision. If these bills pass that will make 16 states that we have helped pass RFRAs.
I urge all of us to work together to keep homeschooling free. The forces gathered to stop homeschooling will not quit.
Neither must we.
As Alexander Hamilton said, "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance."
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