Reprieve for Families Missing Test Payment Deadline
Intervention by Lieutenant Governor Mike Huckabee on behalf of home schoolers who missed the state fee deadline for standardized achievement tests resulted in the families being given another opportunity to pay and have their children tested at a later date.
This drama began to unfold on April 18, 1996, when two Home School Legal Defense Association member families contacted attorney Dewitt Black seeking assistance. Both families had been notified by Yvette Dillingham, Home Schools Program Support Manager for the Arkansas Department of Education, that state law prohibited them from participating in the standardized testing program because of their failure to pay for the state's tests by the deadline. In addition, Ms. Dillingham informed the parents that since their children would not be able to satisfy the testing requirement, the families would be prohibited from home schooling during the 1996-97 school year.
Having previously heard of the lieutenant governor's interest in other non-member home schoolers facing this same problem, Mr. Black telephoned Tom Holiman, Executive Director of the Arkansas Christian Home Education Association (ACHEA), to discuss the position held by the Department of Education. In a two-pronged strategy, Mr. Holiman contacted the lieutenant governor's office on behalf of the HSLDA families, while Mr. Black faxed a letter to Mrs. Dillingham setting forth HSLDA's interpretation of state law. A copy of Mr. Black's letter was also faxed to the lieutenant governor's office.
In his letter to Ms. Dillingham, Mr. Black pointed out that while state law requires the cost of testing be reimbursed to the state by the established deadline, there is no provision which authorizes the state to refuse a child's participation in testing because of a late payment. Additionally, there is no provision in the law which would disqualify a family from home schooling altogether because of a late payment. Mr. Black reminded Ms. Dillingham that HSLDA was already challenging the propriety of the testing fee on behalf of an indigent family in a federal case in Arkansas and stated that HSLDA was prepared to go to court over this issue as well.
Within 24 hours of being contacted by Mr. Holiman, Lieutenant Governor Huckabee sent a letter to Gene Wilhoit, Director of the Department of Education, seeking administrative relief for those parents who had inadvertently missed the deadline for payment of the test expense. Lieutenant Governor Huckabee recommended that these parents be permitted to make late payment, so their children could be tested at a make-up test session for families in this predicament. In his letter of April 19, 1996, to Mr. Wilhoit, Lieutenant Governor Huckabee said:
"I understand that rules and deadlines are necessary to the efficient functioning of any administrative body. But failure to send payment shouldn't be seen as irresponsibility on the part of the parents. These parents often go 'beyond the call of duty' by devoting a major portion of their lives toward the education of their children. These same parents would not intentionally or haphazardly disregard the administrative procedures that enable them to home-school their children in the first place."
On Monday, April 22, 1996, three days after receiving the Lieutenant Governor's letter, the Department of Education agreed to permit late payment of the test expense and scheduled a special make-up testing date for these families. The home schooling families of Arkansas owe Lieutenant Governor Huckabee a debt of gratitude for his intervention on their behalf in successfully appealing to the Department of Education to change its position.