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May 4, 2009

2009 Legislative Summary

As usual, Mississippi dealt with a good number of bills affecting homeschool families during its 2009 legislative session. Following are the most significant bills tracked by Home School Legal Defense Association, all of which died in committee or were amended to delete threatening provisions:

House Bill 133: This bill would have required that all persons under 18 complete a driver’s education course before being issued a license. Public schools would have been required to provide the training, but it appears that the training would have been limited to students enrolled in public school. HSLDA’s position was that this bill, if passed, should have been amended to provide access to driver’s education for homeschool students, either at public school or through parent-taught driver’s education.

House Bill 525: Among other things affecting only public school students, this bill would have raised the compulsory attendance age for all children from 17 to 18, thereby requiring parents conducting a home instruction program to continue doing so for an additional year. HSLDA opposed this bill. This bill passed, but the legislature amended it to remove the proposed increase in the compulsory attendance age.

House Bill 586 and Senate Bill 2320: Among other things, these bills would have required that homeschool students be graduates of an “accredited home education program” before being eligible for the Mississippi Resident Tuition Assistance Grant or the Mississippi Prominent Scholars Grant Program in order to attend college. Since home education programs in Mississippi are not accredited, HSLDA opposed this unreasonable proposal.

House Bill 670: This bill would have permitted homeschool students to participate in extracurricular activities at public school. HSLDA took a neutral position on this legislation.

Senate Bill 2156: This bill would have lowered the compulsory attendance age from 6 to 5. HSLDA opposes any such expansions of state control over education, believing that parents, not state officials, are best qualified to determine at what age a child is ready for formal education.

Senate Bill 2570: Current law requires that a child must be 6 years old by September 1 before being subject to the compulsory attendance law. This bill would have changed this to 6 years old by January 1 of the school year, meaning that children who were only 5 would have had to start school. HSLDA opposed this bill.

Senate Bill 2234: This bill would have authorized public school districts to dual enroll homeschool students to take academic courses and to participate in extracurricular activities. HSLDA took a neutral position on this bill.

Senate Bill 2354: This bill would have required all high school students, apparently including homeschool students, to be taught the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, the Federalist Papers, and the Emancipation Proclamation of 1862. The State Department of Education would have prescribed the curriculum content for each subject. While most homeschoolers probably are taught these subjects already, HSLDA opposed any effort to mandate their teaching, especially with textbooks prescribed by the state.

Thanks to the effective lobbying efforts of the Mississippi Home Educators Association in opposing threatening legislative proposals, Mississippi homeschoolers continue to enjoy one of the most favorable legal climates in the nation.