May 10, 2011

27 Bills Tracked During 2011 Legislative Session

Homeschool Legal Defense Association tracked 27 bills introduced in the Mississippi Legislature this year, all of which affected the rights of home educators or parents raising their children. The most notable among the bills tracked are as follows:

House Bill 636: Current law provides that students transferring from a public school to another public school and students transferring from a private school to a public school may be tested to determine the proper grade level placement in the public school. This bill changed the law to include in the testing students transferring from a homeschool to a public school. This bill passed the legislature and was signed into law on March 16, 2011.

House Bill 383: This bill would have created the Mississippi Foundation for Early Childhood Development, whose purpose would have been to “deliver quality early care and education experiences in parent education for families whose children are at risk of being unprepared for school.” Under this program, the state would have established criteria to determine such “at risk” children and then instructed parents how to raise their children according to state standards. This bill passed the House of Representatives but died in the Senate.

House Bills 439 and 1056: These bills would have permitted students in a home instruction program to participate in extracurricular activities at public school. Both of these bills died in committee.

House Bill 543: This bill would have created a deduction to gross income for state income tax for cost of purchasing textbooks and supplies in a home instruction program up to $300 per student. This bill died in committee.

House Bill 917: This bill would have created “Vision 2020: An Educational Blueprint for Two Thousand Twenty.” Among other things, this act would have created a universal prekindergarten system for 3- and 4-year-olds. This bill died in committee.

House Bill 962: This was a “government nanny” bill that would have created a “Motivating Parents and Children” pilot program, one of the purposes of which would have been “to provide grants to certain local school districts for innovative local programs that target juvenile crime by coordinating school and support services to children-at-risk and their families with required parental involvement.” The program would have included homeschooling families because the bill stated that it would “apply to all compulsory-school-age children residing in the pilot school district and their custodial and noncustodial parents or legal guardians.” The Mississippi State Department of Education would have developed policies and procedures to implement the program, including how to determine who are the “children-at-risk.” The program coordinator in each school district would have been responsible for planning and coordinating activities for parents of schoolchildren, including parenting classes for parents to be instructed in how to be effective parents according to state standards. This bill passed both houses of the legislature in different forms but died when the conference committee could not agree to reconcile the differences.

House Bill 970: This bill would have raised the compulsory attendance age from 17 to 18 or graduation from high school. A student who was 17 or 18 would have been permitted to withdraw from school with the parent’s permission after an exit interview at public school. This bill died in committee.

House Bill 985: This bill would have brought Mississippi into full compliance with the federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), requiring that social workers be trained to protect the constitutional and statutory rights of children and families during an investigation. This bill passed the House but died in the Senate.

House Bill 1203 and Senate Bill 2831: These bills would have created “Mississippi Upstart,” an internet-based, computer preschool program for children 3 and 4 years of age who are not in kindergarten. Part of the program would have been to “test the feasibility of scaling a home-based curriculum in reading, math, and science delivered by computers and the internet to all preschool children in Mississippi.” While this would have begun as a voluntary program, it had the potential to become mandatory. The House bill passed the House, but both the House bill and the Senate bill died in the Senate Education Committee.

Senate Bill 2052: This bill would have required that the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, the Federalist Papers, and the Emancipation Proclamation of 1862 be taught to all Mississippi high school students, including those in a home instruction program. State law does not now prescribe required courses for students in a home instruction program. This bill died in committee.

Senate Bill 2310: Current law requires that a child be 6 years old by September 1 in order to be of compulsory attendance age. This bill would have required a child who turned 6 by January 1 of the school year to attend school. This would have meant that some children would have been compelled to attend school at age 5. This bill died in committee.

Senate Bill 2360: This bill would have lowered the compulsory school attendance age from 6 to 5. This bill died in committee.

Senate Bill 2555: This bill would have permitted dual enrollment of homeschool students in public school in order to participate in academic and extracurricular activities. It died in committee.

Senate Bill 2750: This bill would have required that an intermediate driver’s license be issued only if a person at least 16 years old had completed a driver’s education course approved by the Mississippi Department of Education or taught by a person approved by the department of education. HSLDA and Mississippi homeschool leaders were concerned that this course would only be offered in public school, thereby denying homeschoolers access to a driver’s license. This bill died in committee.

Senate Bill 2786: This bill would have amended the Mississippi Resident Tuition Assistance Grant Program and the Mississippi Eminent Scholars Fund to, among other things, require that homeschool students had attended an “accredited” home education program. Since home education programs are not accredited, this bill would have eliminated homeschool students from participation in these scholarship programs. This bill died in committee.

Many thanks to the Mississippi Home Educators Association for its lobbying efforts on behalf of Mississippi homeschoolers.