by Christopher J. Klicka, Esq.
The cause of homeschool freedom saw many victories in the 2003 legislative session! Home School Legal Defense Association's solidarity with homeschoolers throughout the 50 states, through our membership and our working relationships with state homeschool leaders, gave us a strong voice in the state legislatures. Without your faithful support and willingness to respond to our e-lerts, we could have made little impact last year.
Following is a brief summary of HSLDA's legislative activity and the trends we tracked in 2003.
Some states lift regulations
The cooperative efforts of HSLDA, state organizations, and homeschooling families eased restrictions in several states.
After working together with John Carey and Christian Home Educators of West Virginia for three years on this issue in the legislature, we were finally able to help enact a new law in 2003 eliminating the infamous four-year homeschool teacher qualification requirement. Parents in West Virginia may now teach their children with only a high school diploma or equivalent.
Until 2003, the four last "approval" states were Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Utah. In Maine last year, a completely new homeschool law was passed, ending the "approval" requirement and allowing homeschoolers in Maine to simply notify the local school board and the commissioner of education of their intent to homeschool. We worked closely with Ed and Kathy Green and Kathy Kearney of Homeschoolers of Maine to pass this bill. This is a tremendous step forward for Maine, and HSLDA looks forward to the day when the other three approval states will recognize parents' right to homeschool without state "permission."
In New York, HSLDA lobbied with Rich and Pam Stauter and other homeschoolers of Loving Education at Home to pass a law in the senate eliminating approximately 75% of current homeschool requirements. Although the session ended before the assembly could vote on this bill, we anticipate its passage in the 2004 session.
Oregon homeschoolers and the Oregon Christian Home Education Association Network also lobbied hard for a new homeschool law which passed both houses. The legislation would have repealed the notice and testing requirements of Oregon's homeschool law. Unfortunately, the governor vetoed the bill. But these committed parents are determined to try passing the bill again next year.
Some states try more regulation
Four states (Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, and Wyoming) attempted to pass testing bills that would have required homeschoolers to take the state assessment test. But homeschoolers quashed each bill by pointing to the new federal ban on making homeschoolers take such tests. Additionally, homeschoolers defeated anti-homeschool legislation in Michigan, New Jersey, and Wisconsin before it even left the starting gate. A barrage of phone calls halted a New Jersey measure, and conference calls to likely sponsors in Michigan and Wisconsin prevented hostile legislation from ever materializing.
Some states opt for more schoolTexas sees an abundance of action
Several states, including New Hampshire, Texas, Florida, and Maine, tried to expand their compulsory attendance ages. Homeschoolers worked hard to defeat each measure, and as a result, not a single compulsory attendance bill passed!
In addition to defeating dangerous homeschool "registration" legislation and a proposal to expand compulsory attendance ages, HSLDA lobbied with Texas homeschoolers for a bill which will prevent Texas state colleges from discriminating against homeschoolers. This measure passed, as well as another important bill requiring social workers to be trained in the 4th Amendment and parental rights. Additionally, homeschoolers persuaded the legislature to replace the term "home school" with "private school" in eight bills to remain consistent with the Texas Supreme Court Leeper case.
Solutions on the federal level
Occasionally problems that crop up across the states can be more effectively addressed at the federal level. Several such solutions were reached last year.
The most important was amending the Keeping Children and Families Safe Act to protect innocent families who are investigated by social services. The act now requires all 50 states to train social workers in the 4th Amendment. In addition, social workers must inform families of the allegations against them. This is the most significant reform of the decade in social worker investigations! During the 2004 legislative session, we will focus on codifying these requirements at the state level.
Among the many other victories of 2003, HSLDA obtained a guidance letter from the United States Department of Education solving college discrimination problems and amended the Federal Student Aid handbook to allow homeschoolers to obtain federal financial aid for college.
We also added language to the "Head Start" bill that prohibits states from requiring 3- and 4-year-olds to attend school. The District of Columbia had tried to force young preschoolers into the public school system. This language will provide a tool to use against the legislative trend of lowering compulsory attendance ages.
Thanks to you!
HSLDA thanks all of the state homeschool organizations and homeschooling families who called, wrote, attended hearings, and lobbied state legislatures. These victories were made possible by thousands of dedicated homeschoolers who care about preserving and expanding our freedoms.
Together we are making a difference!