April 26, 2004

Legislative Rollercoaster

Nebraska families rode a legislative rollercoaster this year as Legislative Bill 868 worked its way through the Senate. The bill, originally introduced by Senator Pam Redfield, was an unorthodox attempt to expand parental rights by increasing state power. The bill raised the compulsory attendance from 16 to 18, giving parents the right to opt their child out of the last two years of compulsory attendance. This bill, according to Senator Redfield, was designed to solve the problem of 16 year olds who refuse to obey their parents, who wanted them to go to school. By using the power of the state to force them into school, and allowing parents the option of letting their 16 year old quit school, 868 was intended to be a family-friendly bill.

Unfortunately, 868 went through a number of changes on its way through the legislature. Mark Twain once said that "no one should see how laws or sausages are made," and LB 868 is a good example of what he meant. The bill was merged with another piece of family-friendly legislation, but was then amended, based on testimony from public school officials, to lower the compulsory attendance age by 1 ¾ years. As homeschoolers expressed their concerns about these changes, Senator Redfield's original family-friendly bill mutated into something that HSLDA had to oppose. Repeated efforts to amend the bill solved some problems, but created others.

In the end, LB 868 came out of the legislature and was signed by the governor on April 15. The final version has some excellent provisions for homeschoolers, even though it still contains objectionable features. Parents are allowed to opt their children out of school after the age of 16. Homeschool parents can graduate their own children upon completion of the homeschool program of instruction. Parents can keep a child out of school until they turn 6 (on January 1st) if they sign a sworn statement indicating that they intend to teach the child at home the next year. And, finally, in a surprise move at the very end of the session, homeschool records are finally protected as "private information," instead of "public data." HSLDA has repeatedly asked the Department of Education to solve this persistent privacy problem. LB 868 finally provides homeschoolers with the privacy they deserve.

HSLDA would like to publicly thank Senator Redfield for her efforts, from start to finish, to protect parental rights and respond to homeschoolers concerns. Although LB 868 was a real rollercoaster, she has proved herself a friend of Nebraska homeschoolers.