J. Michael Smith, Esq.
Michael P. Farris, Esq.
Home School Freedom Advances
in the 2007 Legislative Season
The 2007 legislative season saw many victories for homeschoolers. Without the faithful support of HSLDA members and your willingness to respond to our urgent emails, the good bills would not have passed and the bad bills would not have been defeated.
It is important we remain in solidarity with homeschoolers throughout the 50 states, through Home School Legal Defense Association membership, in order to give us a strong voice in the legislatures and the means to back it up.
HSLDA Legislative Team
The legal and legislative team is led by Senior Counsel Christopher Klicka and is comprised of five lawyers and six legal assistants. We work around the clock to defeat bills restrictive to homeschool freedom and to monitor the hundreds of bills from all 50 states. We also work on advancing homeschool freedoms through lobbying for family-friendly legislation. Each year, attorneys travel to states to testify for or against key legislation. The attorneys are also involved in drafting legislation and amendments and sending out e-lerts which ask you to call committees or the legislature to help pass or defeat legislation.
HSLDA is especially grateful for all the statewide homeschool organizations, generally made up of volunteers who closely work with us in monitoring and lobbying the legislatures. We are also thankful for the homeschool families who took the time to call, email, or write their legislatures on important bills. These victories would not have been possible without the thousands of homeschoolers who care about preserving and expanding our homeschool freedoms. Together, we can make a difference!
The hundreds of bills that HSLDA tracks each year include various parental rights and religious freedom issues, as well as bills that have a direct impact on homeschooling. For instance, HSLDA tracks bills which expand the age of compulsory attendance, immunization bills, truancy laws, parental rights bills, religious freedom issues, and many more.
Fighting To Maintain Homeschool Freedoms
Legislation attempting to “turn back the clock” was introduced in Oklahoma this year. Senate Bill 375 would have required homeschool parents to notify their school district and report their child’s academic progress at the end of each academic semester. The bill also would have subjected homeschoolers to the jurisdiction of the local attendance officer, who can take custody of any child found away from his or her home. Currently in Oklahoma, homeschoolers are not subject to any of these things. Thankfully, this bill was defeated after OCHEC worked behind the scenes to oppose it.
In Oregon, legislation was introduced to require annual notification and to raise the score required on the standardized achievement test. After several HSLDA e-lerts from attorney T.J. Schmidt resulting in hundreds of calls and attendance by hundreds more homeschoolers at the bill’s hearing, intensive lobbying and testimony by OCEAN, House Bill 2979 died in committee.
Another bill was introduced in Oregon which would have required a person to have a teaching license if that person were paid to teach anything from kindergarten to 12th grade. Even if a homeschool parent taught at a co-op, he would have had to have a teacher’s license if he was paid. HSLDA asked for action, and you responded—this bill was defeated.
In Mississippi, Senate Bill 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, parents would no longer have been allowed to determine the grade placement of the students they homeschool! The Mississippi Home Educators Association worked hard at lobbying against this bill, and it died in committee.
In Montana, Senate Bill 458 was given a final death blow by homeschoolors. The bill would have required homeschoolers to register 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. The Montana Coalition of Home Educators organized a demonstration at the capitol to show their opposition to the bill, and HSLDA Attorney Dee Black sent out e-lerts asking homeschoolers to work together to kill the bill.
Advances to Homeschool Freedoms
The most significant victory in any state to improve homeschool freedoms this year was in Nevada. Senate Bill 404 was introduced through the tireless efforts of Frank Schnorbus and Barbara Dragon of the Nevada Homeschool Network. Klicka was involved in minute-by-minute drafting and amending the bill, as well as orchestrating e-lerts to Nevada homeschoolers.
Finally, after many emails, phone calls, and appearances at committee meetings by homeschool parents throughout Nevada, S.B. 404 became law. Amazingly, this bill passed during just one legislative session. Many times, bills such as this, which eliminate over 50% of the regulations, takes many legislative sessions to pass. The bill not only passed and was signed by the governor, but it was passed unanimously by the Senate!
The bill eliminates the troublesome requirement that homeschoolers provide “equivalent instruction” as that offered in public school and establishes a one-time notification to homeschool. Furthermore, it includes an optional privacy statement which, if signed, will prevent information on each homeschool program from being given to anyone else.
One of the most amazing aspects of S.B. 404 is 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 states. This time, it is applied in a purely educational context. Parents in Nevada who are homeschooling due to religious conviction can invoke it any time a school district gets abusive. Once invoked, the school district must show that their application of the law is the least restrictive means possible to further the interest of the children’s education.
In Texas, HSLDA worked with hundreds of homeschoolers who called to convince the legislature to pass a bill that allows for homeschoolers to take AP and PSAT tests at public schools.
In Arkansas, a bill was passed which broadens the definition of homeschoolers, allowing those besides a parent to homeschool.
Expansion of the State’s Jurisdiction
Besides these legislative victories, families also faced major expansion by the government over their children in many states. These states introduced one or more bills expanding the compulsory attendance age in the state, thus requiring parents to follow the state’s homeschool law that much longer. The goal of teachers unions is to lower the state’s compulsory attendance age to 3 and to raise it to at least 18 years. Twenty-eight states introduced legislation to expand the compulsory attendance age. Many of them sought to raise it from age 16 to age 18; others tried to lower it from 6 or 7 to 5 years.
Even though HSLDA and homeschoolers are the only force to oppose these bills throughout the country, these bills were largely defeated. Compulsory school attendance bills were defeated in Wyoming, New York, Arizona, Texas, Iowa, Maryland, West Virginia, Missouri, Kansas, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Alaska, Georgia, Montana, and Mississippi. Similar bills in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Massachusetts are expected to die when the legislative session ends.
The only states where such bills passed were South Dakota and New Hampshire (age 16 to 18), and Nevada (17 to 18). In Colorado, due to the efforts of Treon Goossen and Concerned Parents of Colorado, the efforts to lower the compulsory attendance age from 7 to 6 had an exemption for homeschoolers!
In California, we worked in close partnership with Family Protection Ministries (FPM), who serve on the front lines at the state Capitol as the legislative watchdogs for homeschoolers, monitoring and taking action on targeted bills.
A.B. 755 would have had the practical effect of making a non-injurious spanking with an object such as a ruler, small paddle, etc. a crime. A.B. 755 did not pass in 2007 and is being held in committee at this time.
On the opposite coast, House Bill 3922 has been introduced in Massachusetts to prohibit corporal punishment. The bill would make it unlawful for parents to use corporal discipline in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. It would also create a presumption that any spanking is child abuse and neglect.
The sponsor, Representative Jay R. Kaufman, asserts that his bill is designed to “eliminate the use of corporal punishment to discipline children, because of the emotional harm and risks of bodily harm associated with corporal punishment of children.” Homeschoolers hope to defeat it in committee as they flood them with calls.
HSLDA has worked to promote marriage, since it is the foundation for homeschooling. Although amendments promoting marriage have been passed in previous years, this year showed the changing winds of politics. Not a single marriage amendment passed in all the states where they were introduced: Maryland, Minnesota, West Virginia, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Delaware, Iowa, Illinois, and New Jersey.
The Nebraska Christian Home Educators Association (NCHEA) held its first Legislative Day on January 17, 2007. Nearly 300 homeschoolers arrived at the state Capitol in Lincoln from as far as six hours away to meet with their state senators, tour the capitol building, and hear from encouraging speakers. With the objective of developing positive relationships, homeschoolers visited nearly every senator, chatting with them about homeschooling and presenting information packets containing the studies Homeschooling Grows Up and Home Schooling Achievement.
Senators in Nebraska’s unique unicameral legislature were impressed as nearly 150 homeschooled students, ranging in age from 1 to 18, politely sat through speaker after speaker, including HSLDA Attorney Mike Donnelly.
On March 14, 2007, scores of Minnesota homeschoolers attended the Minnesota Association of Christian Home Educators (MACHE) Day at the Capitol, organized by MACHE board members and legislative liaison John Tuma. In between meetings with their legislators, homeschooling families took walking tours of the historic St. Paul Capitol building and enjoyed the beautiful spring weather. Most legislators were visibly relieved and pleased to find that the families weren’t asking for anything—they simply wanted to thank the legislators for their service and help them put faces on the homeschool movement in Minnesota. Because there was no high-profile legislation to discuss, families could simply meet and talk with their legislators without having to pressure them for votes.
While attending MACHE’s Day at the Capitol, Donnelly was also able to meet with House Minority Leader Marty Seifert.
On April 13, 2007 Christian Home Educators of Colorado (CHEC) sponsored a Homeschool Day to promote homeschool freedoms on the Capitol steps in Denver. Klicka was the main speaker for the rally. CHEC hoped that at least 1,000 people would turn out for the rally to remind the legislators, once again, that homeschoolers are watching.
Although the temperature was still cold and only the 30s, over 1,500 Coloradans assembled in front of the Capitol. Many senators and representatives, as well as Secretary of State Mike Coffman, greeted the crowd and met with CHEC board members and Klicka. While talking with the legislators, Klicka found several senators who agreed to introduce a Religious Freedom Act in Colorado next year.
Klicka then addressed the homeschoolers who had gathered for the rally and reminded them why they were there: to protect parental freedom. He urged them to remain eternally vigilant and to fight the good fight. The Colorado Rally at the Capitol, which at one point seemed as if it would be canceled, was one of the largest rallies that any state has held in front of a state capitol. We are thankful for God’s gracious provision and the tremendous organization of all the details of the event by CHEC.
Religious Freedom Victory
In Virginia the Religious Freedom Act (RFA) passed after attempts in four separate legislative sessions. Passage of the RFA demonstrates the principle of the widow at the judge’s door in the Gospel of Luke. In that story the widow kept pleading with the unjust judge, asking for justice. He would not respond to her, but finally, in exasperation, said “Even though I don’t fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming!” Luke 18:4-5.
William Thro, state solicitor with the state attorney general’s office, supported the bill. Thro and HSLDA Attorney Scott Woodruff testified before the House Subcommittee on Civil Courts in January 2007. This, along with Virginia homeschoolers flooding the offices of the committee members with messages, gave the RFA a good start. The next target was the House of Delegates. Homeschoolers once again poured out phone calls and the bill passed in time for it to cross over to the Senate.
In February, Klicka and Thro testified before the Senate Committee of Courts of Justice. After an attempt by the ACLU to sabotage the bill was rebuffed, the RFA passed the committee and went to the full Senate. Homeschoolers again poured out phone calls in the Senate, and the bill passed 28-11.
After a slight modification regarding prisoners that was added by Governor Tim Kaine, the slightly altered bill again was passed with flying colors during the veto session of the House of Delegates.
Virginia becomes the 15th state to enact a Religious Freedom Act. HSLDA and homeschoolers have helped enact them in Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Texas. They have also passed in Alabama, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Arizona and South Carolina.
Once again, homeschooling in all 50 states remains free. In fact, in some states, homeschooling became more free! Our goal at HSLDA is to always advance toward greater freedom, never to go backwards.