April 29, 2009

Homeschoolers Flood Capitol, ‘Change Law’ with Voice Vote!

Over 300 Vermont homeschoolers packed the State House chambers on April 21, 2009. As children and parents sat at the desks of the legislators who were taking a lunch recess, Home School Legal Defense Association Staff Attorney Michael Donnelly addressed the crowd from the House speaker’s rostrum.

“It’s a great privilege to serve parents who are willing to make the sacrifice to homeschool,” Donnelly said. “And since I’m standing here at the speaker’s post, let me make a motion. All those in favor of an annual notice only without any of the other stuff say ‘aye’!”

The resounding “aye” was heard clearly around the capitol as some legislators looked on.

Earlier in the day, Vermont Governor Jim Douglas and Lt. Governor Brian Dube addressed the large crowd and told them that they both supported a parents’ right to educate their children at home. The governor told the crowd that he had signed a proclamation celebrating homeschooling and declaring that week home education week in Vermont.

Lt. Governor Dube said that he had a sister who homeschooled. “It’s difficult. It’s challenging and it’s rewarding.”

Both men stated that they knew that homeschooling was good for children, and that they would continue to support homeschooling in Vermont.

HSLDA has seen the effectiveness of capitol days like this. When homeschoolers take the time to develop a relationship with a legislator, it helps the legislator to personally experience the benefits of homeschooling, making them more likely to support less regulation.

Retta Dunlap is the leader of the Vermont Home Education Network (VHEN). She told the crowd that she was delighted to see so many of them. She encouraged them to get involved in the process to improve Vermont’s homeschool law.

“I know there has been talk about changing the way homeschoolers have to report,” said Dunlap. “But to do that they have to change the law. And to do that they’ll have to come here to the legislature. And you can have an influence over that process. So I encourage you to get to know your legislators now, before the legislation is introduced so that every legislator has a personal connection with at least one homeschooling family and can put a face to the movement.”

Retta Dunlap told HSLDA that she hopes some Vermont homeschoolers will get more involved.

“Right now there aren’t too many folks involved in any statewide organizations. I hope that will change,” she explained. Dunlap hosted a meeting after the event for those interested in becoming more involved. Over a dozen showed up to learn more about helping organize the state’s small, spread-out homeschool population.

It is unlikely that any legislation will be introduced in Vermont during the current legislative session to change the home study law. However, because of the state’s budget crisis, the governor is looking for cost reductions, and the Vermont Home Study Department has been mentioned as one among many areas being looked at.

During his address to the crowd, Donnelly agreed that a change in the law would be a good idea.

“Vermont is the only state in the country that requires parents to prove their children don’t have a learning disability. No parent should have to prove that what they are doing is in the best interests of their children. And no parent should be called into a hearing before enrollment to prove that their plan is the right one for their children. These are a few of the areas that I hope the legislature will look at and seriously consider changing.”