Advocacy through Legislation: Proactively Preserving Freedom
HSLDA IS BEST KNOWN for its staunch defense of homeschooling families when their individual right to homeschool is threatened by the state. But did you know that as part of its mission to advance the cause of homeschooling, HSLDA daily monitors legislation in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Congress?
On January 13, 2010, New Hampshire homeschoolers rallied at the state capitol to oppose H.B. 368.
During 2010, HSLDA’s legislative tracking system scanned the nearly 110,000 bills that were introduced at the state level. Of those 110,000, our legal department flagged close to 6,000 for further review. A team of 12 legal assistants and attorneys (including attorneys from Family Protection Ministries, our legislative partner in California) carefully reviewed those 6,000 bills and identified 670 to watch closely. Many of those were posted on HSLDA’s website with a synopsis of each bill, HSLDA’s position, and the bill’s current status, which is updated each time a bill is acted on by a legislature. (View an example.)
HSLDA’s 2010 advocacy also included hours of legislative work done by our federal relations department. Following a system similar to the legal department’s, federal relations scanned nearly 9,900 bills, reviewed 488, and tracked 84. For a summary of key 2010 federal issues, see Freedom Watch.
When legislators need to be urged to vote for or against a bill, HSLDA sends an email to our e-lert subscribers (176,218 U.S. recipients) asking them to contact key lawmakers and voice their opinions. While homeschoolers are lobbying from the grassroots, HSLDA attorneys are strategizing with state homeschool leaders and with lawmakers to ensure the best possible outcome for homeschooling families. Our attorneys even travel
to testify in state legislatures as needed. Meanwhile, state homeschool organizations play a crucial role on the ground, attending legislative hearings and communicating with all relevant parties. This teamwork is vital for success in legislative battles.
Over the course of a legislative session, HSLDA helps homeschoolers fight many battles for freedom at many levels. The following stories capture the essence of what we do.
Back in 2006, New Hampshire’s home education law was amended to reduce reporting requirements, which relieved some of the heavy administrative workload on families. Since then, however, various bills have been introduced to impose more burdensome requirements. Home education opponents claim that more data is needed to ensure that homeschooled students do not “fall through the cracks,” and leaders of the pro-regulation force have cited a handful of anecdotes as evidence that reducing reporting requirements has contributed to educational neglect.
In January 2009, House Bills 367 and 368 started their journey through the New Hampshire General Court to impose additional regulatory burdens. H.B. 367, the worst of the two bills, required that each homeschooled student be tested and undergo a portfolio review every year and that the results of those assessments be submitted to the local superintendent or a nonpublic school principal for discretionary review. The bill increased the possibility of arbitrary enforcement by creating undefined terms and vague guidelines.
After much hard work by HSLDA, Christian Home Educators of New Hampshire, and individual homeschooling families, H.B. 367 was killed. H.B. 368, however, was retained for “further study.” An unprecedented five subcommittees analyzed different aspects of the bill throughout 2009. Finally, at the end of the year, the majority committee report recommended the bill as “inexpedient to legislate”—in other words, the bill should not be passed. A minority report, however, recommended amending the bill to add some of the burdensome requirements from H.B. 367.
HSLDA Legal Assistant Eric Johnson (left) testified before the Louisiana House Education Committee about the need for a bill recognizing homeschool diplomas.
On January 13, 2010, after months of emailing and calling their legislators, New Hampshire homeschoolers showed up at the capitol in full force for the vote. State representatives had to walk through hundreds of families holding signs in opposition to H.B. 368, and it is clear that the message was well communicated. The bill died in a final vote of 324 to 34—a landslide victory.
Mike Donnelly, HSLDA staff attorney for New Hampshire and former resident of the state, commented,
When you look at the crowd who showed up with their homeschooled students, politely but firmly making their wishes known, I can see why the vote was so lopsided. Legislators had to walk through a sea of homeschoolers—that kind of grassroots presence is almost irresistible. As a former New Hampshire homeschooling parent, I am so proud of the dads and minute-moms who stood up this week to defend their freedoms. This is what happens when homeschoolers join together—our cause is just, and united we win battles.
This year, HSLDA played a unique role in the passage of Senate Bill 798, which grants state recognition of approved home study students and treats their transcripts and diplomas as equal to those issued in other state-approved nonpublic educational settings.
From the bill’s introduction, Christian Home Educators Fellowship of Louisiana worked to secure support for it from the Louisiana Department of Education and Governor Bobby Jindal. Homeschooling families lobbied their legislators to cast a favorable vote, and HSLDA helped spread the word to its large network.
While HSLDA attorneys often testify on homeschool legislation, in this case, HSLDA Legal Assistant Eric Johnson, a Lousiana native and homeschool graduate, was invited to Baton Rouge in June to share his story of discrimination by a government agency against his high school diploma. After a thorough debate, the Louisiana House Education Committee recommended S.B. 798 for passage. The House vote was 79 to 17, and on June 29, the bill was signed into law.
Thanks to the combined efforts of so many, Louisiana homeschool graduates are now assured much more equal treatment in the workforce and in postsecondary education.
Oklahomans fought two homeschool bills in 2010 that would have dramatically restricted the freedom parents have to homeschool. These battles serve as a warning to all homeschoolers to remain vigilant, as Oklahoma has arguably the best protection for home education freedom in the nation.
H.B. 3099 would have added the word adequate to the compulsory education statute, defined the type of education parents were required to provide, and opened the door for local school officials to exercise subjective evaluation of the instruction provided. This appeared to be an attempt to circumvent the state constitution’s protection for homeschooling without going through the tedious process of amending the Oklahoma Constitution itself.
The second bill, S.B. 1403, would have required parents to notify their local school district of their educational decision within 10 days of beginning their homeschool program.
Thanks to Oklahoma Christian Home Educators’ Consociation’s (OCHEC) spectacular Homeschool Capitol Day, over 1500 homeschoolers lobbied at the capitol in person and hundreds more contacted their legislators to oppose these bills. A few days later, the chairman of the committee contacted OCHEC with the news that the bill was dead.
A Key Component of Freedom
While these victories give homeschoolers much to be thankful for, not all battles ended positively. Despite all efforts, Colorado and South Carolina tax credit bills for homeschoolers were voted down. Tennessee and Alabama killed bills that would have granted homeschoolers equal access to public school extracurricular activities, and the West Virginia compulsory school attendance age was raised from 16 to 17. As this article goes to press, it appears likely that Pennsylvania H.B. 1217, eliminating the superintendent’s portfolio review requirement, will also die.
Though legislative work can be tedious and time-consuming, it is key to protecting your freedom to homeschool. Good legislation advances and preserves your freedom as parents to direct the education and upbringing of your children. And when that freedom exists, it protects families from legal threats because of homeschooling.
Rather than be discouraged by losses, HSLDA is continually reminded of the importance of remaining vigilant, and we are excited about more opportunities to preserve freedom legislatively in 2011. We are grateful for our members—your support enables us to participate in this important aspect of advocacy. Thank you for standing with us for freedom!
|About the author
Leah Dobler is HSLDA’s senior legal assistant.