In 2004, homeschooling freedom experienced more victories than defeats around the country, even though it faced intense attacks in two states. Home School Legal Defense Association is keenly aware of and grateful for our members' faithful support and quick action in response to e-lerts. We know that it is solidarity among our members and the state homeschooling organizations that ultimately wins these battles. Let's take a brief look at HSLDA's legislative work over the past year.
Implementing child welfare reform
You may recall reading in the Court Report that the Keeping Children and Families Safe Act of 2003 made important amendments to the federal child welfare law. HSLDA is finding, however, that state social workers are not implementing these mandated changes. This situation is exacerbated by the Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) failure to institute a procedure for monitoring state applications of the new law.
This year, after concluding that the best solution is to codify the federal amendments in state laws, HSLDA launched an initiative to pass state legislative amendments that restrain overly aggressive social workers from harassing innocent citizens. Like their federal predecessors, these state amendments require all social workers to be trained in their duty to protect the "constitutional and statutory rights of the family," including Fourth Amendment rights. (Social workers do not presently receive this trainingand it shows!) The amendments also require social workers to reveal the allegations against families "at the initial time of contact." All too often, social workers refuse to reveal allegations until they have gained entrance into a home and interrogated the parents and children.
Examples abound of state violations of the federal amendments. Maryland claims it is in compliance with the law, but its new state policy only requires social workers to reveal the nature of (not the specific ) allegations "during the interviews" (not at the initial time of contact).
In Colorado, the social services department informed the legislature that it did not want to follow the federal law. When HSLDA's implementation initiative was defeated in the state legislature, the Colorado Senate Welfare Committee chairman reported to HHS that the social services department had refused to implement federal law, thus threatening the department's federal funding.
|In Colorado, the social services department informed the legislature it did not want to follow federal law.|
Further south, a Florida sheriff involved in a social services investigation told an HSLDA attorney (who was barring him from a member's home through phone negotiations) that he did not have to follow the federal law. "I am a Florida guy," the sheriff insisted. "We don't have to tell the family the allegations."
Thankfully, HSLDA's child welfare amendments passed unanimously in nearly every state in which they were introduced, even without the additional support of e-lerts and special witnesses. Amendments were signed into law in Texas, Virginia, Iowa, California, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Louisiana, Tennessee, Oklahoma, and Arizona.
In Texas, the amendment was attached to a budget bill. Michigan Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Allen Cropsey worked tirelessly to move the amendments through the legislature and convince the governor to sign them. In Illinois, HSLDA Senior Counsel Chris Klicka strategized with house and senate sponsors on how to pass the reform bills in a very liberal legislaturewhich they accomplished. Similarly, in Louisiana, amendment sponsors consulted with Klicka and the bills passed easily. In Tennessee, Mike Bell, a lobbyist for the Tennessee Home Educators Association, consulted with HSLDA, negotiated with social services and legislative committees, and was able to get the amendments passed.
We could add more examples, but above all we thank God for granting victory in these states. In 2005, we will target over 20 more states with similar legislation.
Improving homeschool laws
Two states came close to relaxing restrictions on homeschoolers. In the Empire State, Rich and Pam Stauter of New York State Loving Education at Home (NYSLEAH)helped push through the senate a new homeschool law that would eliminate 75% of the current homeschool requirements. Unfortunately, the session ended before the bill passed the state assembly, but we anticipate passage in 2005.
In the Old Dominion, homeschooling families, HSLDA, the Home Educators Association of Virginia, and other homeschool groups lobbied hard for an amendment to the homeschool law, which then passed both houses of the legislature. This measure would have ended the requirement that homeschooling parents with only high school diplomas be "approved" by the local superintendent. Klicka met with and secured the support of Senator Russ Potts (a former opponent of homeschool freedom), and also testified before the senate education committee. In spite of the overwhelming evidence validating the measure and thousands of calls in its support, the governor vetoed the bill twice. (His final veto was in response to the assembly's rejection of restrictions he had inserted into the bill.)
A Rhode Island bill would have required homeschools to register with the government under certain circumstances. HSLDA persuaded the sponsor to amend the measure, and it later died.
|Paving the way for deregulation:Events like Maryland’s annual Shine on the State House Day, sponsored by the Christian Home Educator’s Network, give legislators a glimpse of homeschooling’s success.|
Fighting expansion of attendance laws
Often due to the pressure of the National Education Association, a number of states tried to expand their compulsory attendance ages. HSLDA is one of only a few organizations consistently working to defeat these bills, and, thanks to the involvement of our members and state organizations over the last 20 years, 95% of these bills never became law.
This year, homeschoolers defeated attempts in Michigan to raise the compulsory attendance age from 16 to 18. Similar bills lost in Maryland, New Jersey, South Dakota, Massachusetts, Kentucky, and Arizona. Measures to raise the compulsory age from 16 to 17 were defeated in Idaho and Georgia. Mandatory kindergarten bills bit the dust in Hawaii, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Georgia, Mississippi, California, and Pennsylvania.
However, massive changes in the Illinois legislature cost us a battle against a bill to raise the compulsory attendance age from 16 to 17. A similar bill passed in New York State.
A number of miscellaneous bad bills were also defeated. For example, HSLDA worked with the Idaho Home School Coalition (IHSC) to defeat a bill that would have required family services to investigate every time a school official expressed mere "concern" for a student. In addition, the IHSC stopped the introduction of a bill that would have regulated homeschoolers.
A New Jersey measure would have required homeschoolers to register, submit annual health reports, and submit test scores (using the same tests as the public schools) to the school district. The measure would also have given the state department of education nearly unlimited power to add more regulations. HSLDA Attorney Scott Woodruff worked with a coalition of state homeschool associations to host a rally of homeschooling families, sending a clear message that they would fight to the end against the measure. Such organized opposition stopped the bill for the 2004 session. But the bill has been refiled for the 2005 legislative session, and homeschoolers are already gearing up for next year's battle.
In West Virginia, homeschoolers halted a bill that would have imposed more stringent immunization requirements on families who do not immunize, regardless of their religious convictions or philosophical reasons.
|Homeschoolers defeated a Rhode Island bill that would have required them to register with the government under certain circumstances.|
In Missouri and Oklahoma, HSLDA worked with state organizations to defeat bills that would have tied extra academic requirements to driver's license qualifications for homeschoolers.
South Dakota homeschoolers killed a bill requiring public schools to monitor homeschool assessment testing.
In Alaska, a particularly onerous bill would have created an invasive tracking system for all school-age children in the state, as well as those under school age but attending school. Intense opposition led by the Alaska Private and Home Educators Association brought the bill down in defeat.
Arizonans launched and passed a bill requiring their board of regents to write admissions policies that grant equal treatment to homeschoolers applying to Arizona colleges. (Some state colleges were discriminating against homeschooled students because their documents are different from those of traditionally schooled students.)
New York homeschoolers used a three-point strategy suggested by HSLDA to eliminate discrimination against homeschooled college applicants. Homeschoolers objected to having to obtain a GED, which carries the stigma of being a high school dropout, in order for their college applications to be considered. The three-point plan involved first contacting the New York Board of Regents, especially the chairman, to convince them to abandon the GED requirement. Second, HSLDA and NYS LEAH sent out numerous alerts, prompting thousands of phone calls to the regents. Third, HSLDA filed a civil rights case against the regents for dematriculating a homeschool student halfway through his college degree program because of his lack of a GED. (See Paul Owens story, November/December 2003 Court Report. ) We're happy to report that this strategy was successful. New York homeschoolers no longer have to obtain a GED in order to gain entrance to college; they can now be admitted on the merits of their homeschool diploma and transcript only. In addition, they now need only 16 credit hours in certain subjects (essentially required for all students) to graduate. As an alternative, they can obtain a letter from their local superintendent indicating they received an equivalent education in their high school years. We salute local homeschoolers and LEAH for their efforts, and we thank God for this victory. Q