The Front Lines
By Chris Klicka
As I travel around the country defending homeschool families in court, speaking at conferences, and testifying before legislatures, I am convinced of the crucial war that is waging over the control of the children. Families trying to diligently teach their own children are being harassed and intimidated by local public school authorities.
Many families have been charged with truancy or child neglect for personally taking an interest in educating their children and following God’s call on their lives. Some families are even threatened with having their children taken away. Every issue of this newsletter is filled with examples of battles in this war all across the nation. Every now and then I wonder: how could the right of teaching our own children, one of the most basic of all rights, be in jeopardy in a free country such as ours? I don’t want to believe it is really happening, but the fact is that it is happening.
It is clear that homeschoolers are literally fighting on the front lines for the preservation of basic First Amendment freedoms. If the homeschoolers lose, the Christian schools will lose, the church will lose, and ultimately the family will lose. Homeschoolers must not take this war lightly.
It is becoming increasingly apparent that the issue is not whether the children are being educated, because in virtually every case HSLDA has ever been involved in, the children have performed above average on standardized test scores. In fact, the study of John Wesley Taylor on homeschooling (summarized in another article in this issue) found that homeschooled children in court, on the average, scored in the 80th percentile on nationally recognized standard achievement tests. The real issue involves who has the authority to dictate how the children are educated: the parents or the public school authorities? This issue can be further divided into two underlying themes: control and money.
Philosophy of Control
The state, in the form of the public school system and the National Education Association (NEA), believes that it alone has sufficient knowledge and ability to control the education of the children. In my speeches before public school administrators and teachers and in my discussions with local superintendents, I have found this belief to be very common. Time and time again superintendents have told me that parents who have not had at least seven years of higher education cannot possibly provide their children with an adequate education. Some superintendents have personally admitted to me that no form of homeschooling is adequate and as a result, these superintendents have refused to allow homeschools to operate in their school districts.
Other superintendents have denied homeschoolers the right to exist because they assert that the children will not be properly socialized since they are not in class with other children. One outrageous argument was raised in a homeschool trial in North Dakota by the prosecutor. He stated that homeschooling was inadequate because the children did not have the educational advantage to be pushed around by a school bully! In other words, it is harmful for the child to be sheltered from bullies because he will miss an important social experience which would have prepared him for life. Of course, this is the exact type of “negative” socialization which homeschoolers want to avoid and replace with godly standards and church involvement.
Some homeschoolers have been prosecuted because the superintendent does not personally like the family. Others have been prosecuted because their curriculum was not patterned close enough to the public school’s curriculum.
The crux of the matter that I see is that many of the school administrators actually believe that both the authority and the responsibility to teach the children reside in the state. They believe that they are the “guardians” of the children and their authority surpasses that of the children’s parents. They reason that the education of the children should be left to the professionals who have teaching certificates and are specially trained. Therefore, many superintendents operate on the assumption that they have virtually unlimited authority to control the homeschool program. Their pride is often damaged if the homeschooler tries to resist their attempts to control the homeschool.
The largest union in the country, the NEA, contributes to this statist mentality that demands control over homeschoolers. In 1986, the NEA published Today’s Education, a 166-page yearbook documenting what they want to accomplish in the schools. Some of their agenda includes pushing for mandatory kindergarten (page 148) and teaching sex education (page 150), reproductive freedom (page 138), affirmative action (page 138), disarmament and nuclear freeze (page 165) in the classroom. Also they are against teaching creation in the schools (page 156), against a balanced budget (page 139), against aid to freedom fighters (page 144), and against tuition tax credits (page 139).
As far as homeschooling, the NEA recommends that its members push for laws that require homeschool teachers to be certified or “meet special requirements approved by the state.” They also recommend that the law contain annual approval of the homeschool, monitoring by the local public school, instruction comparable to the public schools, mandated testing, and records of progress, attendance, and instructional time. (The above is from a Report on Home Schooling by NEA Standing Committee on Instruction and Professional Development, October 11, 1984.)
In every legislative battle over homeschooling, the proponents for greater regulation have always been supported by the NEA. They need the tight controls in order to achieve their agenda. They would like to create homeschools into small public schools. In fact, I have personally talked with dozens of public school superintendents who have claimed that homeschools are “extensions of the public school,” thus justifying restrictive standards and tight monitoring. The pervading philosophy held by the public school administrators is that homeschooling is a privilege, not a right.
Philosophy of Money
The other issue besides the statist philosophy of control is the issue of money. Your child is worth about $2000 to $3000 in tax money which will be designated to the school district if your child is enrolled in the public schools. It is to the advantage of public school officials to deny a homeschooler the right to exist in order to get the child back in public school. With an estimated 1 million homeschool students in the country, that is quite a bit of lost revenue for the public schools. The more lenient the laws and policies, the more likely larger numbers of students will leave the public schools. The survival of public schools and the NEA teacher union is dependent on the number of children in the public school system. They have a vested interest in public education and homeschooling is competing with that interest.
The public officials have two choices in order to receive more money for their school districts. 1) They can disapprove or make it impossible for homeschools to exist in their locality, thereby forcing the child back on the public school rolls and subsequently collect the tax money for that child. 2) Or they could try to collect the state money for each homeschool student anyway. Now this second option may seem ridiculous since the state is not providing an education for the children. The parents are doing all the work. However, superintendents in several states are collecting state aid for homeschoolers. For example, in Ohio, State Representative Tom Watkins confirmed that the basic amount of tax dollars that is appropriated per child is $2,080. Of this amount, 80% is distributed for employee salaries and pensions and the remaining 20% is distributed for school textbooks, equipment, and the general maintenance of the school properties. Watkins emphasized that “even if the student was in a home schooling program, the public school district will still receive that child's allotment. Reason being, there would still be records to administer and update for that child.” It costs the taxpayers $2080 so that the state can keep academic records on your child!
There is evidence that superintendents in other states are also receiving state aid for homeschoolers. That is why they insist on strict monitoring procedures because they feel they have to provide a service to the homeschoolers that will justify the per-pupil state aid they are receiving.
On March 24, 1987, a bill (H.P. 659) was introduced in the Maine House of Representatives (Education Committee) which would specifically allow public school districts that keep track of homeschool students to count those students in their pupil count used in computing their state school subsidy under the School Finance Act. If this bill passes, the local school district will have the financial incentive to locate all homeschoolers and place extensive controls on them to insure additional state aid.
This incentive for collecting state aid must be cut off. This can be done through blocking present legislation or passing legislation that would take the right of approval away from the public schools. All discretion must be removed from the school officials in order to preserve the homeschoolers’ right to due process. As mentioned in the last issue of the Home School Court Report, one of the elements of due process is that individuals have the right to have a neutral decision maker preside over whether or not they can exercise a certain right (such as to homeschool). This neutral decision maker must be available at the first instance. This means that a superintendent or school board who has a vested financial interest in homeschoolers cannot be allowed to determine if a homeschooler can operate or not because he cannot be neutral.
From our perspective at HSLDA, we see that the battles are intensifying. The spiritual warfare is growing fierce. Nearly 85–90% of homeschoolers are teaching their own children for religious reasons. They believe God has called them to personally teach their children so they can apply the principles of God’s Word to every subject. These parents want to protect their children from the humanism and from the negative “socialization” (drugs, violence, sex) that is occurring in the public schools and some private schools. They also want their children to be able to read and write so that they can read God’s Word. They don’ want their children to become one of the 27 million illiterate children graduating from our nation’s public schools.
I believe the next generation of God-fearing leaders will come from the homeschool movement. The right to homeschool is one of the most crucial rights to preserve in our country and it is guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth amendments of the U.S. Constitution. I think the enemy sees the danger of this growing movement and is seeking to regulate the homeschoolers out of existence or into conformity.
The war has two fronts. It is a spiritual war that requires constant commitment and prayer by God’s people. Also, this spiritual conflict takes the form of physical persecution as many families are intimidated and sometimes prosecuted for their conviction to homeschool.
Secondly, it is a legal battle, taking place in the courts and legislatures of this country. The staff of HSLDA is dedicated to fighting the encroachment of the state into the home. HSLDA, by God’s grace, has been able to win hundreds of negotiation battles with the school districts (avoiding prosecution of homeschoolers altogether) and dozens and dozens of administrative hearings and court cases. Some of these court cases have set major precedence across an entire state or impacted the country in favor of homeschooling.
However, we need a commitment from our members and homeschoolers in general to continue their support for our ministry even if their state becomes “safer” due to a victory in the court or legislature. We need your commitment until every state is safe from attack. As long as homeschool families continue to be harassed, threatened, prosecuted, or arrested in any state, HSLDA is committed to keep defending homeschoolers even if the case precedence in that state is against us. We need your continued prayer support and financial support. The right to teach our own children free from unreasonable government restrictions and threats is too precious of a right to lose.