Home School Court Report
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No. 1

In This Issue

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by Christopher J. Klicka
- disclaimer -
Homeschool Freedom Advances in the 2007 Legislature

Now at the close of the 2007 legislative season, we can look back at many victories for homeschoolers. This success would not have been possible without the faithful support of Home School Legal Defense Association members and your willingness to work together with us to protect and preserve homeschool freedom.

Virginia’s new Religious Freedom Act will help protect the religious freedom of all citizens of the Old Dominion.

As we head into a new year, it is important that homeschoolers remain connected with each other throughout the 50 states, in order to give homeschoolers a strong voice in the legislatures. A great way to stay connected is through HSLDA’s free e-lert service. If you haven’t yet signed up for it, we encourage you to do so today by visiting our e-lert subscription webpage.

HSLDA Legislative Team

Led by HSLDA Senior Counsel Christopher Klicka, our legislative team is comprised of five lawyers and six legal assistants. We monitor hundreds of bills affecting homeschooling throughout the 50 states, and work with homeschoolers to defeat bills restrictive to homeschool freedom. We also seek to advance homeschool freedoms through lobbying for family-friendly legislation. Each year, our attorneys travel to various states, testifying for or against key legislation. They also help draft legislation and amendments and send out HSLDA’s email “e-lerts” that ask you to call committees or your state legislature to help pass or defeat legislation.

HSLDA is especially grateful to all the statewide homeschool organizations, generally made up of volunteers, who work closely with us in monitoring and lobbying the legislatures. We are also thankful for each homeschooling family who took the time to call, email, or write their legislators concerning important bills. Together, we can make a difference!

Bad Bills Defeated

Legislation which would have reversed Oklahoma’s status as one of the most homeschool friendly states in the nation was introduced in 2007. Senate Bill 375 would have required homeschooling parents to notify their school district, report their child’s academic progress at the end of each academic semester, and be subject to the jurisdiction of the local attendance officer (who could take custody of any child found away from his or her home during school hours). However, largely due to behind-the-scenes work by Oklahoma Christian Home Educators Consociation, S.B. 375 was defeated.

In Oregon, House Bill 2979 would have required annual notification of intent to homeschool, and would have raised the minimum required score on the standardized achievement test. Working in cooperation with the Oregon Christian Home Education Association Network (OCEAN), HSLDA Staff Attorney Thomas Schmidt sent out several e-lerts, which contributed to hundreds of calls pouring in to the state legislature and hundreds of homeschoolers gathering in attendance at the hearing for the bill. Following this demonstration of unified opposition to the bill along with intensive lobbying by OCEAN and homeschoolers and testimony by OCEAN, H.B. 2979 died in committee.

Another Oregon bill would have required a person to have a teaching license if he or she was paid to teach any students from kindergarten to 12th grade. This would mean that even a homeschooling parent who receives remuneration for teaching in a homeschool co-op would have to possess a teacher’s license. Thanks to your swift response to HSLDA’s e-lert regarding the danger of this bill, it was defeated.

In Mississippi, S.B. 2380 would have authorized the state board of education to establish “student testing proficiency standards for promotion in grade levels for students in home instruction programs which are equivalent to requirements applicable to students in public schools.” If this legislation had passed, homeschooling parents would no longer be allowed to determine the grade placement of their students based on the individual needs of their students! The Mississippi Home Educators Association lobbied hard against this bill, and it died in committee.

Montana homeschoolers gave the final death blow to S.B. 458, which would have required homeschoolers to register their homeschool with the county superintendent. The chairman of the Senate Education Committee attempted to get the full Senate to override the committee’s decision to table the bill, but an overwhelming majority of senators voted against this proposal. Meanwhile, homeschoolers joined forces to defeat the bill. The Montana Coalition of Home Educators organized a demonstration at the capitol, and HSLDA Senior Counsel Dewitt Black sent out e-lerts.

Homeschoolers in Arkansas lobbied against H.B. 2714, which would have required homeschooling parents to possess a high school diploma. The bill died quietly.

Good Bills Pass

The most significant state-level victory in 2007 was in Nevada. S.B. 404 was introduced through the tireless efforts of Frank Schnorbus and Barbara Dragon of the Nevada Homeschool Network. Klicka helped draft and amend the bill, and kept Nevada homeschoolers updated through e-lerts.

The bill would eliminate the unconstitutionally vague requirement that homeschoolers provide “equivalent instruction” to that of the public school, establishing instead a one-time notification of intent to homeschool. Furthermore, the measure would include an optional privacy statement which, if signed by parents, would prevent information on a family’s homeschool program from being released beyond school district officials.

One of the most amazing aspects of S.B. 404 was the inclusion of a religious freedom clause. Klicka helped draft the clause and based it upon the Religious Freedom Acts which HSLDA has helped pass in nearly a quarter of the other 49 states. This time, the clause was applied in a purely educational context: Nevada parents who are homeschooling due to religious conviction would be able to invoke the clause any time a school district became abusive in its treatment of homeschoolers. Once the religious freedom clause was invoked, the school district would have to show that its application of the law was the least restrictive means to further the interest of the education of the children involved.

Finally, after many emails, phone calls, and appearances at committee meetings by homeschooling parents throughout Nevada, S.B. 404 became law. Surprisingly, the bill passed during just one legislative session. Many times, bills such as this—which eliminate over 50% of regulations—take several legislative sessions to pass. The bill not only passed and was signed by the governor, but it was passed unanimously by the Senate!

In Maine, Legislative Document 150 removed the ability of the state department of education to regulate homeschooling. In order not to draw undue attention—and perhaps opposition—to the bill, Pine Tree State homeschoolers kept a low profile, allowing the bill to pass quietly.

After HSLDA sent an e-lert, hundreds of Texas homeschoolers called their legislators, convincing them to pass a bill allowing homeschoolers to take Advanced Placement (AP) tests and the Preliminary SAT National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT) at public schools.

Louisiana homeschoolers championed H.B. 634, a proposal making it easier for homeschoolers to be eligible for a college scholarship through the Tuition Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS). Thanks to the support of these homeschoolers, HSLDA’s e-lerts, and the work of Christian Home Educators Fellowship of Louisiana, H.B. 634 passed.

Also in Arkansas, a bill was passed which broadens the definition of homeschooling, allowing individuals other than a child’s parent to homeschool him.

In Virginia, the Religious Freedom Act (RFA) passed after attempts in four legislative sessions. January 2007 saw William Thro, state solicitor with the state attorney general, and HSLDA Staff Attorney Scott Woodruff testifying in support of the RFA before the House Subcommittee on Civil Courts. Simultaneously, Virginia homeschoolers flooded the offices of the subcommittee members with phone calls, providing enough momentum to push the RFA through committee to a floor vote in the full House of Delegates. Homeschoolers once again inundated their elected leaders with phone calls, and the bill passed in time for it to cross over to the Senate.

In February, Thro and HSLDA Senior Counsel Chris Klicka testified in favor of the RFA before the Senate Committee of Courts of Justice. Although the American Civil Liberties Union attempted to sabotage the bill, the attempt was rebuffed. The RFA passed the committee and went to the full Senate. Homeschoolers again poured phone calls into the Senate, and the bill passed 28-11.

After Governor Tim Kaine added a slight modification to the bill, it again passed during the veto session of the House of Delegates. The bill became law in July 2007.

Expansion of the State’s Jurisdiction

Not every battle was won. Unfortunately, some legislation negatively affecting homeschoolers and traditional families passed in 2007.

Legislation expanding the compulsory attendance age was introduced in at least 23 states, although the legislation passed in just a few states. Expanded compulsory attendance laws require parents to follow the state’s homeschool law that much longer. One of the goals of the National Education Association has been to lower the state’s compulsory attendance age to 3 and to raise it to at least 18. Many of the 23 states sought to raise the age from 16 to age 18; others tried to lower it from age 6 or 7 to 5.

Even though HSLDA and homeschoolers are often the only force to oppose compulsory attendance expansion throughout the country, the bills were defeated in Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New York, Texas, West Virginia, and Wyoming. As this issue of the Court Report goes to press at the end of 2007, we expect that compulsory attendance legislation in Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania will die by the end of the year.

The only states where the bills passed were South Dakota and New Hampshire (raising the age from 16 to 18), and Nevada (raising the age from 17 to 18). In Colorado, due to the efforts of Treon Goossen, a home education legislative analyst/liaison for Colorado, and thanks to Concerned Parents of Colorado, the legislation lowering the compulsory attendance age from 7 to 6, contained an exemption for homeschoolers.

State constitutional amendments protecting traditional marriage were also introduced in many states. HSLDA works to promote marriage between one man and one woman because it is the foundation for homeschooling. Although these marriage amendments have been passed in other states in previous years, this year showed the changing wind of politics. Not a single marriage amendment passed in any of the states where it was introduced: Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and West Virginia.

Courtesy of Chad Roach
Homeschoolers met with Governor Bill Ritter (center, back row) as part of the 2007 Colorado Homeschool Day at the Capitol.

Capitol Days

In 2007, many state homeschool organizations sponsored a homeschool day at their state capitol. These gatherings help homeschoolers get to know their legislators and learn how to lobby effectively, and they give state leaders the chance to hear directly from their constituency and meet real homeschoolers face-to-face.

For example, on January 17, 2007, nearly 300 homeschoolers arrived at their state capitol as part of the Nebraska Christian Home Educators Association’s first Legislative Day. Intent on developing positive relationships with their elected officials, families met with almost every senator, passing out information on homeschooling.

On March 14, 2007, scores of homeschoolers attended the Minnesota Association of Christian Home Educators (MACHE) Day at the Capitol, organized by MACHE board members and legislative liaison John Tuma. They visited with legislators, chatting and thanking them for their service.

About a month later, on April 13, 2007, Christian Home Educators of Colorado (CHEC) sponsored a Homeschool Day at the Capitol to promote homeschool freedom. HSLDA’s Christopher Klicka was the main speaker for the rally. Although the temperature was hovering in the 30s, over 1,500 Coloradans assembled in front of the capitol. Many state senators and representatives, as well as Colorado Secretary of State Mike Coffman, greeted the crowd and met with CHEC board members and Klicka. Several senators agreed to introduce a religious freedom act in Colorado in 2008.

Though it initially seemed as if it might be canceled because of the weather, the Colorado rally at the capitol turned out to be one of the largest homeschool rallies ever held in front of any state capitol. We are thankful for God’s gracious provision and CHEC’s tremendous organization of all the details of the event.

Continuing to Advance in 2008

As we review the legislative battles of 2007 and begin a new year, we thank God that homeschooling in all 50 states remains free. In fact, in some states, homeschooling became more free over the course of last year! Our goal at HSLDA—in the past, and now as we enter 2008—has always been to advance toward greater freedom, never to go backwards. And we thank you for standing with us for freedom.