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New Hampshire

January 14, 2010

Grassroots Activism, National Attention Keys to Lopsided Victory

New Hampshire representatives had to walk a gauntlet of homeschoolers this week as hundreds of families demonstrated in Concord in opposition to House Bill 368. Families waved signs and engaged legislators individually as the legislative body prepared to debate whether there should be additional homeschool regulations. The drama that preceded Wednesday’s vote was heightened by the national media coverage of the issue.

In the end, HB 368 was defeated by a vote of 324–34. (See the HSLDA media release: “Huge Victory for Homeschoolers in New Hampshire”.)

For the past four years, New Hampshire homeschoolers have been on the defensive against a series of bills filed to increase reporting requirements on homeschoolers. Various legislators, mostly from the Democratic party, have filed bill after bill seeking more data, more reporting and more restrictions on parents who home educate.

Among the leaders of the pro-regulation movement were House Education Committee Chairman Emma Rous and fellow Democrat Judith Day. The rationale repeatedly given by Rouse and others is that they want “more data” to ensure homeschooled students receive adequate care and education and do not simply “fall through the cracks.” However, when pushed for evidence, they cannot point to more than a handful of individual anecdotes hinting at possible neglect.

“We have an obligation to ensure that every child has an adequate education,” Rous said at a hearing last year. Thousands of homeschoolers were in attendance to testify against the pair of outrageous bills, HB 367 and HB 368, that were filed last year. Parents of both parties rallied on January 13 to voice their opposition to any further restrictions on their rights to educate their children. This year, first-term Republican Rick Ladd, from Haverhill, joined Rous in supporting regulation changes. However, he changed his position after being contacted by constituents and others from all over the country. The Concord Monitor reported that Ladd said he supports the changes but no longer considers legislation the right way to enact them.

“Pushing it for a floor fight is not going to fix the issue,” Ladd said.

A YouTube.com video shows homeschoolers gathering by the hundreds to greet legislators on the day of the vote. One mother said that the proposed law would “hurt special needs kids more than anyone else.” The proposed amendment would have required standardized testing for every child every year. And because New Hampshire law requires that a child achieve at least a 40% score when a test is used as an option for assessment, the mother indicated that children who don’t test well would have had difficulties under the proposal. Under current law parents have a choice of assessment options.

Laurie Catour and her son Bryce from New Market, N.H., were lined up inside the entrance of the Capitol to greet legislators as they arrived. Bryce said that his family was “very Democratic and very strong homeschoolers.” Mrs. Catour agreed, noting that as a liberal Democrat she was opposed to government regulation of her right to teach her son.

“I believe as a liberal Democrat that it is absolutely imperative that children have the right to learn and live in freedom, and nobody can teach my child better than me,” she said.

HSLDA Staff Attorney Michael Donnelly, a former New Hampshire resident himself, has for the past few years helped lead the fight against these bills. He was delighted with the results of Wednesday’s vote.

“When you look at the crowd who showed up with their homeschooled students, politely but firmly making their wishes known, I can see why the vote was so lopsided,” said Donnelly. “Legislators had to walk through a sea of homeschoolers—that kind of grassroots presence is almost irresistible. As a former New Hampshire homeschooling parent, I am so proud of the dads and minute-moms who stood up this week to defend their freedoms. This is what happens when homeschoolers join together—our cause is just, and united we win battles.”

Donnelly noted that it required team effort to build the needed opposition.

“There are many courageous leaders in New Hampshire who worked hard night and day to make sure that the information was available and that the word got out. And homeschoolers responded. I’m particularly grateful to Christian Home Educators of New Hampshire. HSLDA works closely with this group, and they were on the front lines of working to lobby legislators and to coordinate the details so that homeschoolers were able to rally at the State House the last two weeks. We are so thankful to the many homeschool families and national media organizations who focused attention on this issue.”

Mary Faiella, a longtime homeschool activist and legislative liaison, was also pleased with the outcome.

“It was a busy day for homeschoolers at the Capitol today,” said Faiella. “We had a hearing before the State Board of Education on new rules which seems to have gone well. And putting HB 368 behind us with such an overwhelming vote is a real joy. Many of us have been at the Capitol so much recently, and it’s good to have time now to put the ‘home’ back in our homeschooling.”

Jim Parison, president of Christian Home Educators of New Hampshire, praised homeschoolers and noted HSLDA’s important role in the outcome.

“The heroes of this victory are in large part the many moms who showed up at meetings and at the State House time after time to capture the debate, disseminate information and attend these important rallies in the face of brutally cold weather. We are also happy to have HSLDA as such a supporting partner,” Parison declared. “HSLDA helped create national awareness and support. I’m convinced that this was a key factor in our tremendous victory. Homeschoolers all over should make sure they support HSLDA and homeschool organizations by joining. There is strength in numbers and having a national organization of the caliber of HSLDA is invaluable.”