S P E C I A L R E P O R T
written by Christopher J. Klicka, Esq.
Standing Against the Legislative Tide
The legislative battles described in this article represent a mere sampling of the over 1000 bills monitored by HSLDA this past year. We actively lobbied on hundreds of these measures. From January to June 2001, HSLDA attorneys sent out scores of legislative alerts, called state legislators, and drafted language for bills and amendments.
Every year during state legislative sessions, we work with state home school organizations to track legislation. Twice a week, through the StateNet program, we run a query of all the bills introduced in the 50 states that involve the right to home school, 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 affecting home schooling families. When potentially harmful-or beneficial-legislative initiatives surface, we use HSLDA's e-lert system to keep our members up-to-date.
In 2001, we saw two major legislative trends threaten to reduce our parental rights: mandatory state assessments and "government nanny" programs.
Assessments sweep through states
Attempts to require home schoolers to take state assessments surfaced around the country, an apparent revival of an old effort to conform home schoolers' curriculum and teaching methods to the public schools. (In the 1980s, many states required home schoolers to be approved by the local school district and to take the state assessment. These battles were finally won by the mid 1990s.)
Colorado: Stopped before the first shot was fired
Last fall, the Colorado Association of School Boards (CASB) urged its 60th annual general assembly to pass an amendment to "require home school students to participate in the Colorado Student Assessment Program" (CSAP). The association reasoned that "one way to assure some accountability in the home school program is to have these students participate as a group in the state assessment program."
CASB's goal was to include these amendments in Colorado Senate Bill 98. However, 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 discussions, CASB abandoned the amendment and home schoolers were spared a major legislative battle.
Maine: Complete defeat
On February 27, over 400 Maine home schoolers packed a hearing room to demonstrate their opposition to Legislative Document 405, a measure that would have forced home school families to take the Maine Educational Assessment test. At the hearing, HSLDA attorney Scott Woodruff gave persuasive testimony against L.D. 405. During the weeks leading up to the hearing, HSLDA and Home Schoolers of Maine (HOME) e-mailed legislative alerts that resulted in hundreds of home schoolers calling the education committee members urging them to oppose the bill. Between the phone calls and crowded committee room, the bill didn't have a chance and it died in committee.
Mississippi: Never saw the light of day
House Bill 60 would have required home schooled 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 home schoolers' calls poured in to the House Education Committee. H.B. 60 died quietly.
Virginia: Sneak attack
Home schoolers and private schools worked diligently to pass a tuition tax credit through the House Finance Committee. Unfortunately, the teachers unions attached an amendment on the House floor requiring home schools students to take Virginia's state assessment test. Since this was an unacceptable loss of freedom, the bill's pro-home school sponsor, Jay Katzen, quickly struck the entire bill.
Michigan: "Maybe" is not an answer
House Bill 4521 would have amended Michigan's compulsory attendance law to require all home schooled children to take the Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) test and submit the scores to the state. H.B. 4521 was referred to the House Education Committee on March 27. On April 2, HSLDA sent our first e-mail alert on this bill to member families, urging them to contact the measure's sponsors and express their opposition. Some legislators said "maybe" they would oppose the bill in committee, but that was not good enough for home schoolers. HSLDA sent out two more strategic e-lerts (April 6 and 16), giving an update on the status of the bill and urging more calls.
Michigan home schoolers responded in overwhelming numbers. One of the bill sponsors, Representative Mark Schauer, received 700 calls-the highest number of calls his office has ever received over a single piece of legislation. Representative Julie Dennis received over 500 calls in one week, and Representative Michael Switalski, the main sponsor, received 100 calls in one day.
Due to such strong opposition, bill sponsors Representatives LaMar Lemmons and Mark Schauer withdrew their support. In an e-mail to constituents, Schauer said,
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 home schoolers 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 House Education Committee Chairman Wayne Kuipers, urging him to oppose this bill. On May 11, HSLDA asked Representative Kuipers to formally declare his position. Representative Kuipers responded that he "[did] not support H.B. 4521 and [would] not bring it up for discussion or vote in committee." The bill was finally dead.
Minnesota: Home schoolers flood the capitol
HSLDA tracked the source of another recent assault on home school freedoms to the Minnesota School Board Association (MSBA), which passed the following resolution:
1.45 - The MSBA supports legislation that provides that home school students must participate in the statewide testing program for public schools. The test results must be reported by the home school to the Commissioner of Children, Families and Learning who must aggregate the test scores and report the scores to the public.
Although MSBA obviously wanted a mandatory state assessment bill, the closest they were able to come this year was Senate File 866, which would have required home schools to submit annual test scores to the public school. S.F. 866 was expected to sail through the very anti-parent Minnesota legislature.
|Inside the Minnesota capitol: Over 600 home schoolers opposing Senate File 866 packed the Minnesota Senate Education Committee hearing room and spilled out into the hallways of the rotunda.|
Working closely together, Home School Legal Defense Association and the statewide Minnesota Association of Christian Home Educators (MACHE) immediately 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 persuading senators to vote 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, which was made up of many former teachers, predominately Democrats. 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.
|"Although I usually side on issues with the public schools, I'm going to make a change when it comes to this vote. . . . I'm going to err on the side of the family. I think we should, as it's been said, trust the parents"|
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.
This 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. "We can't help the home schoolers if we don't receive their test scores," one school official said. "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, Klicka said that home schoolers did not want help and demonstrated that home schoolers were doing fine without state assistance or regulation. The state simply needs to "trust the parents," he asserted.
Throughout the hearing, whenever a speaker made a good point, the crowd in the hall cheered and clapped-a 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."
Scheid's amazing switch helped swing other pro-child votes, resulting in only 6 of the 35-member committee voting to save the testing requirement! By demonstrating a united front and sacrificing their time to show up in significant numbers at the hearing, home schoolers once again made a difference.
A national solution pending in Congress
While we are grateful for all of these state-level victories, we are also aware that a single federal act could impact home school freedoms in every state and instantly undo hard-won state-level work. In order to counter this danger, HSLDA has worked for the last three years to get an amendment attached to the big federal education bill-the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, or ESEA.
This year, our language has been included in both the House (H.R. 1) and the Senate (S.1) versions. It is now in conference committee, and the president is expected to sign it. HSLDA's language completely exempts home schoolers 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 home school, whether or not a home school is treated as a private school or home school under state law.
Another H.R. 1 amendment drafted by HSLDA prohibits states that receive federal funds from requiring home or private school students to take state assessments. This would make most of the state bills we fought earlier this year a violation of federal law! We hope that this amendment will also survive conference committee. (See Freedom Watch on page 24 for an update on these bills.)
"Government nanny" bills target pre-schoolers
Comprehensive "government nanny" bills purport to determine if new parents need government help. Such measures have been introduced in Oregon and Florida and are already in place in various states including Hawaii and Missouri.
For example, Hawaii boasts that 70 percent of its 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.
Earlier this year, Florida home schoolers delivered over a thousand calls and e-mails to Governor Jeb Bush to defeat one of these onerous bills. 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 to new mothers by trained staff.
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 assessed and referred families for "needed" services and developmental monitoring. This program would have saddled taxpayers with huge expenses and would have subjected parental 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. Although the governor did not fully support this bill, there was little active opposition to it and children's rights groups were pressuring him to sign it.
So HSLDA sent out two e-lerts, urging our Florida members to ask Governor Bush to veto this dangerous measure. HSLDA Senior Counsel Christopher Klicka spoke with Governor Bush's staff and sent the governor a letter outlining eight reasons why the bill should be vetoed.
At the Florida Parent-Educators Association's state home school convention May 24-26, Klicka was able to alert hundreds more Floridians to the dangers of this bill.
|About the author|
|As Senior Council for Home School Legal Defense Association, Chris Klicka has intervened on behalf of thousands of home school families across the coutry threatened by prosecutors, social workers, and truant officers. A popular national speaker, he is the author of The Right Choice: Home Schooling and several other books. Chris and his wife, Tracy, educate their seven children at home.|
The Florida home school community responded strongly with hundreds of phone calls and e-mails. The governor's staff reported receiving calls opposing S.B. 1018 "every few minutes," as well as 300 e-mails. Governor Bush vetoed S.B. 1018 on May 31.
Home schoolers do make a difference. Without your calls and support, this work could not succeed. Thank you for caring enough to stay informed and involved. To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin: If home schoolers do not hang together, most assuredly, we will hang separately.