The Home School Court Report
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Home schoolers win significant victory

Fourteen years after Minnesota's home school law was enacted, forces that want to restrict home schoolers made their first attempt to change the law.

Senate File 866 made numerous technical changes to Minnesota's Education Code, including two new requirements for home schoolers. First, home school parents would have to prove that they had at least a high school diploma. Second, home schoolers who are required to give their children an annual standardized achievement test would now have to submit those tests to the public school for collection, review, and approval.

Home School Legal Defense Association worked closely with the statewide Minnesota Association of Christian Home Educators (MACHE). Both organizations sent alerts to their members, urging calls to the Senate opposing the home school section of S.F. 866 and urging attendance at the Senate Education Committee hearing on March 21.

Calls began pouring in to the committee, gradually swaying senators against the threatening language.

On March 21, HSLDA Senior Counsel Christopher Klicka flew to Minnesota to testify at the hearing before the 35-member Senate Education Committee. The committee is made up of many former teachers, predominately Democrats. Then home schoolers began arriving at the capitol. As an initial crowd of 100 quickly swelled to over 600, the handful of reporters covering the hearing called in their full camera teams.

Over 150 home schoolers packed the committee hearing room from wall to wall. The rest spilled out into the hallways of the rotunda where the capitol staff set up four live video monitors so the overflow crowd could follow the proceedings. The orderly crowd and their well-behaved, quiet, and self-disciplined children impressed the scores of legislators who walked by to see what was going on.

The committee hearing opened with Department of Education officials testifying that it was important for home schooling parents have to have at least a high school diploma and for home schooled children's test scores to be submitted annually. A number of local school officials testified as well, citing notices of intent that had been submitted with misspelled street names as a reason to require high school diplomas of the teaching parents. When questioned, they could produce no statistical evidence proving the need of a high school diploma. Concerning the annual submission of test results, one school official said, "We can't help the home schoolers if we don't receive their test scores. We are here to help them."

The next panel to testify included HSLDA Senior Counsel Christopher Klicka, Roger Schurke of MACHE, and Tom Prichard of the Minnesota Family Council. Citing research studies, Chris Klicka pointed out that no positive correlation between teacher qualifications and home school student performance has been found. He urged committee members to look at the key factors that make home schooling so successful: (1) small classroom size; (2) individual attention; (3) disciplined environment; and (4) maximum parental involvement. Stressing that teacher qualification is an irrelevant issue, he urged the committee to remove this requirement from S.F. 866.

Concerning the submission of test results, Klicka demonstrated that five states recently abandoned the requirement that home schoolers be tested and submit their test scores. Klicka emphasized that the right to choose home schooling is a fundamental right guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and that the committee simply needs to "trust the parents." Roger Schurke, the other panelists, and home schoolers in the audience provided testimony describing the success of home schooling. As a whole, the testimony had a huge impact on the committee, who listened intently.

Throughout the hearing, whenever a good point was made by the panelists, the crowd out in the hall cheered and clapped-as a result, the traditionally quiet committee hearing took on the atmosphere of a rally. And the senators felt the pressure.

When it was time to vote, Senator Linda Scheid (D) made a remarkable turnaround. "Although I usually side on issues with the public schools," she said, "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 home schoolers. I hear from the home schoolers 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."

Senator Gen Olson (R) moved to strike both the high school diploma and the testing requirement. The committee voted unanimously to remove the high school diploma requirement from the bill. And only 6 of the 35 committee members voted to keep the testing requirement.

This was a tremendous demonstration of what home schoolers can accomplish if they are willing to take the time to attend hearings. Without such significant numbers of home schoolers in attendance, the committee would have never listened. We thank God for delivering the home schoolers in Minnesota from these additional, burdensome requirements.

- Christopher J. Klicka