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Nebraska

February 27, 2008

Homeschoolers Break Attendance
Records at Public Hearing

Thirteen hundred homeschoolers overwhelmed the Nebraska Capitol yesterday for a hearing on L.B. 1141, where the strongest argument raised in support of the bill was anecdotal evidence from a meter reader.

Senator Schimek Testifies for Her Bill with Meter Reader Hearsay

When Senator DiAnna Schimek introduced her oppressive testing bill, L.B. 1141, at the February 26 public hearing before the Nebraska Education Committee, she confessed that a majority of homeschoolers do a great job. Furthermore, she claimed that only anecdotal evidence of irresponsible homeschoolers exists. Her best anecdote was from a “meter reader” she knows who allegedly claimed that when reading meters during the day, he often sees children whom he believes are homeschooled. The assumption is that these kids are not receiving an adequate education.

Senator Schimek admitted knowing that her bill would be controversial, but said that she wanted to start a discussion about testing homeschooled students. She pointed to Iowa as a model for her legislation and used material from HSLDA’s website to show that Iowa is one of several Midwestern states that moderately regulate homeschoolers. She failed to mention that from Michigan to Idaho, Nebraska is also surrounded by a majority of states that have very few homeschooling regulations.

During her testimony, Senator Schimek read several emails from people, including a homeschooler, who support her bill. She also implied that legislators who passed the current homeschool law in the 1980s did not realize that it would be used by homeschoolers. However, a former legislator and chairman of the Education Committee who accompanied Senator Schimek did not concur.

Furthermore, many homeschoolers who attended yesterday’s hearing at the Capitol stated that they had testified at hearings back in the early 80s, and that it was clear to everyone that the crowds lobbying for the law were primarily homeschoolers.

As she closed her testimony, Senator Schimek acknowledged that she introduced the bill because “we don’t know what is going on” and to “catch kids who fall through the cracks.”

Homeschoolers Break Attendance Records

L.B. 1141 certainly has made people stand up and take notice. It has attracted the attention of the entire Nebraska homeschooling community and homeschoolers across the nation.

Hundreds of families attended yesterday’s hearing, overwhelming the Nebraska Capitol and amazing legislative staff with their good behavior and decorum. Ironically, the only reported issues of unruly children came from those participating in a public school scavenger hunt. Homeschoolers filled the Warner Capitol Chamber and five overflow rooms, listening intently to the two hours of testimony, which was mostly against L.B. 1141. Capitol staff informed Kathleen Lenzen, wife of Nebraska Christian Home Educators (NCHEA) President Nick Lenzen, that the crowd set a record for attendance at a hearing.

More Testimony Supporting L.B. 1141

Other testimony on L.B. 1141 was given by state government officials. Jay Sears of the Nebraska State Education Association (NSEA) testified in favor of the bill’s principles and concepts, despite the fact that the NSEA has questioned the applicability and use of tests in public schools. Brian Halstead of the Nebraska Department of Education (NDE) said that the NDE is neutral on the bill, and pointed out that the statutes and rules do not explicitly refer to homeschools, but rather to “exempt schools.”

Testimony Opposing L.B. 1141

Opponents of the legislation testified for an hour and 20 minutes, as Senator Ron Raikes, Education Committee Chairman, graciously allowed an additional 20 minutes of testimony.

NCHEA (Nebraska Christian Home Educators Association) Opens:

Dave Lostroh, former legislative liaison, homeschooling father, and veteran of the early 80s Nebraska homeschooling controversies, began the opposing testimony. He explained that the current bill would violate the religious convictions of homeschoolers operating under Rule 13. He also questioned the Department of Education’s ability to administer the new law in light of its history of scandal and current difficulty managing Nebraska’s public schools. Lostroh told the committee that Rule 13 homeschoolers believe that they are responsible to God for the education of their children and that the state does not have the authority to control them in the way that L.B. 1141 would.

Home School Legal Defense Association Speaks Out:

Lostroh’s point was underscored by testimony from Michael Donnelly, staff attorney for HSLDA, who said that “Nebraska’s current law properly balances the interests of the state and the rights of parents.” Donnelly further explained that L.B. 1141 would make Nebraska’s homeschool regulations the most restrictive in the country: “Senator Schimek’s bill combines the worst of all possible devices. And it does so with authority vested in a single state agency, the Department of Education. This is a recipe for disaster for Nebraska homeschooling.”

Donnelly pointed out that the U.S. Supreme Court has held that “children are not the mere creatures of the state,” and that while the state does have an interest in education, it does not have a compelling interest to dictate the method of education. When Senator Avery wondered if the Nebraska Constitution requires the legislature to test children, Donnelly pointed out that Nebraska compulsory attendance laws likely did not even exist when the Nebraska Constitution was ratified. Furthermore, the Constitution only authorizes the legislature to fund a free public education in common schools.

Federal Administrative Law Judge James Gillet Testifies:

James Gillet, a federal administrative law judge, compared L.B. 1141 to a bill requiring investigation of all legislators’ personal bank accounts and financial records simply because a few legislators had or might have embezzled state funds. “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence,” he argued, saying that passing a law based on limited and sketchy anecdotal evidence is bad public policy.

Dr. Brian Ray of the National Home Education Research Institute Shares:

Dr. Brian Ray of the National Home Education Research Institute reviewed widely known research that homeschoolers perform above their public and private school peers on objective measures of academic and social performance. Dr. Ray went on to assert that L.B. 1141 operates from a “flawed premise” because it assumes that the state has “prior authority” over children.

University of Nebraska Testimony:

Dr. Ken Dick, a research fellow at the University of Nebraska at Omaha put testing in perspective by saying that public schools test to let parents know that the schools are doing a good job. By requiring parents who teach their children to test, the bill effectively reverses this, forcing parents to prove that they are doing a good job. He argued that because parents are responsible for their children's education, this makes no sense. Dr. Dick also responded to questions from the committee about testing, stating that testing is a mere “surrogate for reality,” and that he prefers other evaluative measures, preferably work product, such as essays or life experience. He noted that some of his faculty colleagues have noted how easy it is to identify homeschool graduates in their classes, because these students listen, ask questions, and engage the class in a way that distinguishes them from their public school peers.

Dr. Carson Holloway, professor of political science at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, noted that the danger of mandatory testing in this context is severe because parents will be forced to teach to the test to ensure that their children are not forced back into a public school environment. He stated, “When a precious right (such as homeschooling) is at stake, parents will have little choice but to teach to the test.” And, he noted, because the test would be state-approved and administered, this is unacceptable.

Additional Testimony:

In their testimony, college professors and registrar staff indicated that Nebraska colleges and universities see homeschoolers consistently perform better academically than other students, both upon entering and graduation from these schools. Kris Udd of Grace University said that his college has decided to more aggressively recruit Nebraska homeschooled students because of these findings.

Finally, Nebraska homeschoolers testified that L.B. 1141 infringes on their freedom to homeschool, and claimed they will leave Nebraska before they will submit to such overbearing and intrusive regulation.

Reflections

With the tremendous turnout and Governor Dave Heineman's promise to veto this restrictive bill, we hope L.B. 1141 will not make it out of the Education Committee. If, however, it does begin to move, we will notify you immediately.

Of the crowds in attendance, HSLDA Attorney Mike Donnelly said, “This was an incredible work of God and an amazing testimony to Nebraska homeschoolers. Thirteen hundred people in attendance is an overwhelming number, and the decorum and behavior of all reflected greatly on the homeschool community. It is such a privilege to serve the people of Nebraska, and I pray that the Education Committee can see that there is no need or public demand for this legislation. Homeschoolers do an incredible work even as they fund the public schools without much complaint through their taxes. All they want is to be left alone to continue turning out successful graduates.”

HSLDA appreciates and thanks all Nebraska homeschoolers for attending and supporting this effort to defeat L.B. 1141. We will keep you informed of further developments.