Standing Against the Legislative Tide
By Chris Klicka
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #42, 2001.
Six bad bills and how homeschoolers killed them dead. Plus some good legislative news, too!
When I started working at the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) in 1985, it was only clearly legal to homeschool in about five states. Most of the states required homeschoolers to be taught by certified teachers, submit to regular, unannounced home visits, or have their curriculum and program approved by public school authorities. Sometimes states or school districts required all three. Other states insisted that homeschoolers take the state assessment. Still other states, like Texas, simply prohibited homeschooling altogether.
The 1980's and early 1990's were scary days when homeschoolers often planned escape routes for their children in case a truant officer, police officer, or social worker came to the door. When homeschool parents were interviewed on television anonymously, showing only their shadowy silhouette.
The educational elite, including the National Education Association, National Association of School Boards, Parent Teachers Association, and all their state affiliates were arrayed against us as they pushed for legislation to restrict homeschool freedoms. The laws were already against us in so many states as we confronted prosecutor after prosecutor on behalf of homeschool families.
In spite of these great odds, the tide turned. It was by God's grace alone. HSLDA began winning in the legislatures and courts. We coordinated with the growing state homeschool associations to send out legislative alerts and to lobby the state legislatures. The numbers of homeschool families multiplied and these families cared about their freedom and the next generation. homeschoolers became a force to reckon with at the local, state, federal, and even international level. Case by case and legislative battle by legislative battle, homeschooling became legal in all 50 states by 1993 with the fall of Michigan.
Even though God has brought us so far so fast, the work is not done. As Edmund Burke once said, "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance." This legislative season has once again demonstrated that the enemies of parental rights and homeschool freedoms never give up. Neither should we.
Below are descriptions of two major legislative trends to reduce our parental rights and how God used homeschoolers to "turn the tide" causing the bills to be defeated.
As you read these true accounts, hopefully, you will support your state homeschool association and HSLDA. As Benjamin Franklin said, "If we do not hang together, most assuredly, we will hang separately." Joining HSLDA enables you in having solidarity with homeschoolers in all 50 states giving us the support we need to lobby at the state and federal levels, defend homeschoolers in child welfare investigations, and handles scores of court cases and thousands of legal conflicts each year on behalf of homeschoolers.
Legislation to Require Homeschoolers to Take State Assessments
This year attempts to require homeschoolers to take the state assessments surfaced around the country. It seems to be a revival of an old method once used to conform homeschoolers' curriculum and teaching methods to the public schools. We tracked one source of this assault on homeschool freedoms to the Association of School Boards. For instance, The Minnesota School Board Association (MSBA) passed the following resolution: "1.45 - The MSBA Supports legislation that provides that homeschool students must participate in the statewide testing program for public schools. The test results must be reported by the homeschool to the Commissioner of Children, Families and Learning who must aggregate the test scores and report the scores to the public. "
Not only did Minnesota homeschoolers face a testing bill this year, but Michigan, Mississippi, Maine, Colorado, and Virginia also fought against mandatory state assessment bills. Here are the stories.
Six Bad Bills Homeschoolers Stopped Dead
Colorado: Stopped Before the First Shot was Fired Last fall, Colorado Association of School Boards (CASB) held its 60th annual delegate assembly. During that time, CASB urged the general assembly to pass an amendment to "require homeschool students to participate in the Colorado Student Assessment Program" (CSAP). The board reasoned that "one way to assure some accountability in the homeschool program is to have these students participate as a group in the state assessment program."
CASB's goal was to include these amendments in S.B. 98. Treon Goossen of Concerned Parents of Colorado learned about this attempt and arranged a meeting with CASB's legislative counsel. HSLDA was also involved in the negotiations. As a result of these behind-the-scenes negotiations, CASB abandoned its amendment to require homeschoolers to take the CSAP. Homeschoolers were spared a major legislative battle.
Maine: Complete Defeat for Testing Bill In Maine, Legislative Document 405 was introduced, which would have forced homeschool families to take the Maine Educational Assessment test. On February 27, over 400 Maine homeschoolers packed the hearing room opposing the bill and HSLDA attorney Scott Woodruff testified. For the last few weeks prior, HSLDA and Home Schoolers of Maine (HOME) e-mailed legislative alerts that resulted in hundreds of homeschoolers calling the education committee members urging them to oppose the bill. As a result of these efforts, the bill died in committee. It did not even survive as a resolution to create a study commission, which is what the bill's sponsor sought after facing overwhelming opposition to his bill in its original form.
Mississippi: Bill Never Saw the Light of Day House bill 60 would have required homeschool students to participate in the statewide testing program along with public school students. The purpose of the testing would be to verify that the student is performing at or above the child's "appropriate grade level." This was defined as the grade in which the public school students typically are enrolled when such students are the same age as the child in the home instruction program and not the grade level at which the child of a home instruction program purportedly is performing. HSLDA attorney Dewitt Black sent out an alert and the homeschoolers poured calls in to the House Education Committee where it died quietly.
Virginia: Sneak Attack Defeated Homeschoolers and private schools worked diligently to pass a tuition tax credit through the House finance committee. This would allow parents to save their hard-earned tax dollars. Unfortunately, the teacher's unions used the tactic of attaching an amendment on the House floor requiring homeschool students to take the Virginia state assessment. Since this was an unacceptable loss of freedom, homeschoolers quickly had the bill's pro-homeschool sponsor, Jay Katzen, strike the entire bill.
Michigan: Homeschoolers Do Not Take "Maybe" for an Answer In Michigan, H.B. 4521 would have amended the compulsory attendance law to require that all homeschool children take the Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) test and submit the scores to the Michigan Department of Treasury. H.B. 4521 was read for the first time in the House on March 27, 2001, and referred to the Education Committee the same day. HSLDA's first e-mail alert went out to member families on April 2, 2001, urging them to contact the sponsors of the bill and express their opposition.
Some legislators said "maybe" they would oppose the bill in committee but that was not good enough for the homeschoolers. So HSLDA sent out two more strategic "E-lerts" (April 6 and 16) updating the status of the bill and urging more calls. The freedom-loving Michigan homeschoolers responded in overwhelming numbers. Rep. Mark Schauer received 700 calls - the highest number of calls his office has ever received over a single piece of legislation. Rep. Julie Dennis received over 500 calls in one week, and Rep. Michael Switalski, the main sponsor, received 100 calls a day.
Due to the overwhelming opposition, Rep. LaMar Lemmons, one of the sponsors of H. B. 4521, withdrew his support of the bill. Rep. Schauer, another sponsor of the bill, stated in an e-mail to homeschooling constituents: "Based on your input, I have concluded that H.B. 4521 misses the target in many ways, and I have decided to no longer support this bill. H.B. 4521 threatens to remove the flexibility that you enjoy in customizing your child's education. It could also result in encouraging homeschoolers to 'teach to the test' - a phenomenon that I don't feel is healthy in any setting."
Dennis Smith of Information Network of Christian Homes (INCH), Attorney Dave Kallman, and others visited Rep. Wayne Kuipers, chairman of the Education Committee, also urging him to oppose this bill. On May 11, HSLDA contacted Rep. Kuipers asking him to formally declare his position. Rep. Kuipers issued a statement that he "does not support H.B. 4521 and will not bring it up for discussion or vote in committee."
The bill was finally dead!
Minnesota: Homeschoolers Flood the Capitol The bill that was expected to easily pass in the very anti-parent Minnesota Legislature would have required homeschools to submit annual test scores to the public school. HSLDA, working closely with MACHE (Minnesota Association of Christian Home Educators), the state homeschool organization, sent alerts to their memberships urging calls to the Senate opposing the homeschool section of SF 866 and urging homeschoolers to attend the hearing before the Senate Education Committee on March 21. Calls began pouring in to the Senate committee, gradually changing the minds of some of the Senators.
On March 21, I flew to Minnesota to testify at the hearing before the 35-member Senate Education Committee. The committee has many former teachers and is predominately Democratic.
Then homeschoolers began flooding the capitol. First there was a crowd of 100. Soon it swelled to over 600. The press, who were lightly covering the hearing, called out for their full camera teams to cover this unusual phenomenon. A crowd of over 150 filled the committee hearing room from wall to wall. The rest of the homeschoolers spilled out into the hallways of the rotunda where the capitol staff set up four different monitors so the homeschoolers could hear the proceedings that were taking place in the committee room behind closed doors.
The homeschoolers impressed the scores of legislators who walked by to see what was going on. The homeschool children were well behaved, quiet, and self-disciplined. The homeschoolers conducted themselves in a very orderly manner.
The committee hearing began with testimony by Department of Education officials. Concerning the test, one school official said, "We can't help the homeschoolers if we don't receive their test scores. We are here to help them."
I spent the next 15 minutes informing the committee that we did not want their help because homeschoolers were doing fine without them. The state needed to simply trust the parents. Homeschoolers have proved through many studies all across the United States for the last 15 years to be educating their children above average.
Humorously, but effectively, whenever I made a good point, the crowd out in the hall cheered and clapped so the committee hearing, although quiet and serene, had somewhat of a rally atmosphere.
The Senators felt the pressure. When it was time to vote, one Democrat Senator, Linda Scheid, made a remarkable statement. She said, "Although I usually side on issues with the public schools, I'm going to make a change when it comes to this vote. I've heard the education officials stating that they want these test scores simply to help homeschoolers. I hear from the homeschoolers that they don't want their help. I think, in this instance, I'm going to err on the side of the family. I think we should, as it's been said, trust the parents."
This amazing "conversion" helped turn other "pro-child" advocates resulting in only six members of the 35-member committee voting to save the testing requirement! By hanging together and sacrificing their time, the homeschoolers once again made a difference.
"Government Nanny" Bills Go After Pre-School Children
Comprehensive "government nanny" bills to determine if new parents need government "help" are being introduced in states like Oregon and Florida, and are already in place in various states including Hawaii and Missouri. Hawaii boasts that 70 percent of new mothers are being visited in hospitals and homes to determine if they are "fit" parents and to determine if the children are emotionally at risk.
If the children are determined during a short visit to be "at risk" (e.g., nothing bad has happened to the children yet but the state visitor thinks something might happen in the future), the state then has the option to remove the baby (and possibly other children as well) from the family, or to offer a variety of "services," typically consisting of some form of psychiatric counseling and/or training in parenting methods approved by the state. Such services require the family to remain under state scrutiny and under the threat of losing custody of their children if the parents are not deemed cooperative.
Florida homeschoolers delivered over a thousand calls and e-mails to Governor Jeb Bush to defeat one of these onerous bill that would have laid the foundation for transforming Florida into a "government nanny" state. Senate Bill 1018, sponsored by Senator Ken Pruitt, would have created a new Big Government program called "Learning Gateway," resulting in systematic hospital or home visits by trained staff to new mothers. Collaborating with the Florida Department of Children and Family Services, the Learning Gateway program would have screened children from birth to age 9 for biological, environmental, and behavioral risks and learning problems. Further, Learning Gateway providers would have conducted needs/strength-based assessments of families, and would have referred families for "needed" services and developmental monitoring.
All this would have created a huge expense for Florida taxpayers and would have subjected parents' rights to the control of the government.
S.B. 1018 passed both chambers of the legislature (by unanimous vote in the House) and only required Governor Jeb Bush's signature to become law. Governor Bush was not fully supportive of this bill, but there was little active opposition to it. The child's rights groups were placing tremendous on pressure on the Governor to sign the bill.
So HSLDA sent out two E-lerts notifying our Florida members of this dangerous measure, urging them to call Governor Bush and express their opposition to S.B. 1018, and ask him to veto it. Additionally, I spoke with Governor Bush's key staff official and sent a letter outlining eight reasons why this bill should be vetoed.
The Florida homeschool community responded strongly with hundreds of phone calls and e-mails.
Meanwhile, I was asked to speak at the Florida Parent-Educators Association's state homeschool convention May 24-26. When there was still doubt as to whether Bush would veto, I was able to persuade over 500 people to raise their hands to commit to call the governor the next week to veto the bill. God's timing was perfect because the Florida conference was planned a year earlier!
Governor Bush's staff reported receiving calls opposing S.B. 1018 "every few minutes," as well as a total of 300 e-mails. This response by homeschoolers in Florida persuaded Governor Bush to veto S.B. 1018 on May 31.
Awesome Amendments Passed In Congress
The battle each year state by state is intense but Federal Acts passed by Congress could undo all the work at the state level. For years, Federal education acts like Goals 2000 have impacted homeschool freedoms in the states. In order to remedy the federal control problem, HSLDA has worked for the last three years to get an amendment to the big federal education bill (The Elementary and Secondary Education Act).
We have good news to report. Our language has been included in both the House (H.R. 1) and the Senate (S.1) versions. It is presently in conference committee and is expected to be signed by the president.
The language we wrote completely exempts homeschoolers from all federal control in all federal education acts: "Nothing in this Act or any other Act administered by the Department of Education, shall be construed to permit, allow, encourage, or authorize any federal control over any aspect of any private, religious, or homeschool, whether or not a homeschool is treated as a private school or homeschool under state law."
This is an awesome development. It will end and prevent federal intervention into homeschools.
Further, we were able to get an amendment in the House Bill (H.R. 1) that will prohibit states that receive federal funds to require home or private school students to take the state assessments. This make the state bills described above a violation of federal law! We hope to get it through conference committee.
Homeschoolers Do Make a Difference
This represents only a small sampling of the over 1,000 bills monitored by HSLDA and the hundreds actively lobbied. From January to June, HSLDA lawyers sent out scores of legislative alerts, called state legislators and drafted language for bills and amendments. Every year during the legislative sessions, we monitor, twice a week, all the bills introduced in the 50 states that involve the right to homeschool, the child welfare code, child abuse definitions, immunization exemption laws, compulsory attendance ages, truancy laws, religious freedom acts, parental rights acts, curfews, parent-taught driver education, and other parental rights issues that will affect homeschool families. We send out weekly e-mail updates to HSLDA members to keep them up-to-date. Without your calls and support, this work could not be done or succeed.
Thank you for caring enough for our freedoms to stay informed and involved. Remember, freedom is not free.