|The Washington Times||January 30, 2006|
Washington Times Op-ed—Remaining Vigilant Protects Gains by J. Michael Smith
by J. Michael Smith
Thomas Jefferson's famous quote "the price of liberty is eternal vigilance" accurately reflects the experience of the homeschool community. The price of liberty was the need for homeschoolers to come together to form the Home School Legal Defense Association, which was founded in 1983, when only five states formally recognized homeschooling.
Fortunately, because of the tenacious involvement of the homeschool community, many burdensome state laws have been eliminated, or amended, because homeschoolers understood the necessity of being eternally vigilant.
Consequently, the door to homeschooling has been opened for hundreds of thousands of families, and today, there are an estimated 2 million homeschooled children being educated by their parents in all 50 states.
Despite the successes, Jefferson's quote is still relevant to homeschoolers. In particular, the start of every year is the time when many states begin their legislative sessions, and unfortunately, attempts to impose burdensome regulations on homeschoolers frequently occur.
Often the goal is to transform homeschools into public schools at home by introducing curriculum restrictions and giving the public school oversight of the homeschool program. These types of restrictions are excessive for homeschool families because parents have the right to educate their children without excessive government interference.
The gains made by homeschoolers are tested by attempts to impose burdensome regulations. When harmful legislation is proposed, it forces homeschoolers to evaluate how far they've come and reflect on what they have to lose.
Regrettably, the first piece of bad homeschool legislation has already surfaced. In South Dakota, Senate Bill 110 would have empowered a judge to deny the right of a parent to begin a homeschool program merely if the child is accused of being truant. Therefore, the proposed law would have interfered with a parent's fundamental right to choose home education.
The procedure is also a violation of due process because the proposed legislation provides no guidelines to follow and there's no guarantee of a trial before a decision is rendered.
Allowing judges to determine who can homeschool and who cannot before the homeschool program is even established invites abuse. School officials have an incentive to keep children in the public system because they receive thousands of dollars in per pupil funding.
Thankfully, due to an outpouring of opposition, the South Dakota proposal was narrowly voted down 4-3 in committee last week.
If this legislation had passed, it would have severely impacted home-schooling in South Dakota.
Over the years, homeschoolers have learned that they must stand together to prevent this method of education from being regulated out of existence.
The most effective way to ensure that homeschooling remains free is to speak with one voice and actively oppose attempts to turn the clock back. HSLDA is an organization with more than 80,000 members.
Currently, the stakes are high for homeschoolers. One victory for opponents of homeschooling in a particular state could destroy homeschooling in that state. But the public school establishment, which typically supports increasing homeschool regulations, can afford to lose contest after contest and still maintain its monopoly position.
Despite the advances homeschooling has made, it is still vulnerable to reversal. If homeschooling families stop being active, then homeschooling will wither. Joining organizations like HSLDA, or a state-based homeschool organization, will bring success and can effectively stop bad legislation.
Liberty comes at a price, and homeschoolers must be informed and aware to ensure that their rights and freedoms are not diminished. Homeschoolers, who are able to stand together, have brought great rewards, and if we continue to play our role then we will be successful in defending homeschool freedom in the future.
Michael Smith is the president of the Home School Legal Defense Association. He may be contacted at (540)338-5600; or send email to email@example.com.
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