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Setbacks and Victories

The 2006 session of the South Dakota Legislature included both setbacks and victories for the cause of homeschool freedom.

Despite overwhelming evidence that children do not benefit from attending school before age 7, the legislature lowered the compulsory attendance age from 7 (with a waiver) and 6 (without a waiver) to 5. Additionally, the waiver provision was eliminated. Strong citizen opposition killed House Bill 1234 in its original form, but through the parliamentary sleight of hand known as “hog housing,” the contents of the bill were inserted into another bill, H.B. 1275, which passed. However, since H.B. 1275 will not take effect until July 1, 2010, supporters of parental rights still have time to replace the waiver provision that the measure eliminates.

Another disappointing outcome was the legislature’s creation of a public-school-at-home program through H.B. 1236. This program will try to persuade homeschoolers across the state to give up some of their freedom in exchange for free resources such as computers, internet access, and government-approved books. Thousands of dollars of tax money will be poured into the program for every former homeschool student who enrolls. Students in this program will no longer be homeschoolers; they will be public school students and therefore not eligible for Home School Legal Defense Association membership.

Now for some heartening news! Homeschoolers were successful in stopping H.B. 1160, which would have given local school districts a financial windfall by providing 25% per-pupil funding for every homeschool student in their district. To receive the funding, the school districts would merely have had to make their programs “available” to homeschool students. They would have received the money even if no homeschool student ever signed up for a public school program!

An effort to extend the upper limit on the compulsory attendance age from 16 to 18 via H.B. 1235 was finally killed on the Senate floor after passing the House by a wide margin. The efforts of homeschoolers were pivotal in blocking this attempt to expand government control over our children.

One especially dangerous bill did not even make it out of committee. Senate Bill 110 could have made it impossible for public school students with attendance problems to get a fresh chance through homeschooling. If a school filed a truancy petition against a student, the right to homeschool would have been reduced to a mere privilege dependent on the will of government officials. Phone calls from families across the state who opposed the bill poured into the legislature, and a legal letter from HSLDA pointing out the bill’s many constitutional infirmities was read to the Senate Education Committee. The committee killed the bill by a narrow 3-to-2 vote.

Thank you for the many phone calls and trips to Pierre that you made to carry your message to lawmakers. The rights of all parents and taxpayers took a hit through H.B. 1236 and 1275, but claimed victories in the defeat of H.B. 1160 and 1235. And homeschool freedom was fully protected from the most direct attack, S.B. 110.

— by Scott A. Woodruff