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This was a year of both setbacks and victories for the cause of homeschool freedom in the South Dakota legislature.
Despite overwhelming evidence that children do not benefit from such laws, the legislature lowered the age of compulsory attendance from 7 (with a waiver) and 6 (without a waiver) to 5, regardless of a waiver. Strong citizen opposition killed the bill in its original form as House Bill 1234, but through the parliamentary sleight of hand known as "hog housing," the contents of the bill were inserted into another bill, H.B. 1275, which passed. The new law does not take effect until July 1, 2010, so there is time to seek to replace the waiver provision the bill eliminated.
The legislature created a public-school-at-home program through House Bill 1236. It is a compliment to homeschooling that public educators have largely dropped efforts to ban homeschooling and have now switched to see how they can make money from it. This program will recruit homeschoolers across the state and try to persuade them to give up some of their freedom in exchange for anticipated perks such as a free computer, free Internet access, free government-approved books, etc. Thousands of dollars of tax money will get sucked into the program for every former homeschool student who enrolls. Each family who participates will lose a corresponding amount of freedom. Students in this program will be public school students and therefore not eligible for membership in the Home School Legal Defense Association.
Homeschoolers were successful, however, in stopping House Bill 1160, which would have given local school districts a financial windfall by giving them 25% per pupil funding for every homeschool student in their district. The only requirement was that they merely make their programs "available" to homeschool students. School districts would have received the money even if no homeschool student ever signed up for any public school program!
An effort to expand the upper limit of compulsory attendance from 16 to 18 via House Bill 1235 was finally killed on the Senate floor after passing the House by a wide margin. The efforts of homeschoolers were pivotal in blocking this attempt to expand government control over our children.
Homeschoolers did not even let a bill get out of committee that could have made it impossible for children with attendance problems in public school to get a fresh chance through homeschooling. If the school filed a truancy petition against a student, Senate Bill 110 would have reduced the right to homeschool to a mere privilege dependent on the will of government officials. Rising up to protect the rights of children who may need homeschooling the most, families across the state poured in phone calls opposing the bill. A legal letter from HSLDA was read to the committee pointing out the bill's many constitutional infirmities. The Senate Education Committee killed the bill by a narrow 3-2 vote.
Thank you for the many phone calls you made, and the trips to Pierre to carry your message to the lawmakers. The rights of all parents and taxpayers took a hit through House Bills 1236 and 1275, but homeschool advocates could claim victories in defeating the House Bill 1160 boondoggle and the ill-advised House Bill 1235. And homeschool freedom was fully protected from the most direct attack, Senate Bill 110.
Thank you for standing with us for freedom.