January 16, 2018

Our Advocacy Goals for This Year

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Dave Dentel by DAVE DENTEL Web Content Manager

The battle to preserve homeschool freedom never ceases, but this year Home School Legal Defense Association hopes to tackle an especially daunting task—bringing reform to the last bastion of antiquated home education laws.

We have a full slate of advocacy goals for 2018. First and foremost, we will press for improvements to New York regulations that stifle the freedom of homeschooling families.

We also plan to work for legal clarity in states such as Alabama and New Mexico, ensure officials follow improved laws in states such as Pennsylvania, oppose discrimination against homeschool students in places such as Wyoming and Kentucky. And in New Hampshire, we anticipate having to defend newly won improvements to the homeschool law.

And as we do every legislative season, HSLDA plans to track hundreds of bills in various states. Rest assured we will keep our members and friends informed about proposed laws that would affect homeschool families across a broad range of issues, such as parental rights, tax changes, and even driver’s education.

New York: A System that Fails Families

In the Empire State, we hope to persuade legislators and regulators to revisit onerous laws that have remained the status quo for decades.

“The reason the regulations are so heavy-handed,” HSLDA Staff Attorney Tj Schmidt explained, “is that in the 1980s homeschooling was still a somewhat unknown entity. But since then, parents have clearly demonstrated the ability to educate their own children. The undeniable fact is that homeschool students are being educated as well as—if not better than—their public school counterparts.”

But far from recognizing the effectiveness of homeschooling, New York’s regressive approach disrupts lives and violates the rights of families.

In New York City, for example, the bureaucracy takes so long to process homeschool paperwork that home educating parents are routinely referred to CPS investigators for suspected educational neglect. This egregious practice prompted HSLDA to file a lawsuit.

Schmidt said he hopes to drive home the need for change later this month when he attends a meeting of the New York Board of Regents. These political appointees are responsible for guiding education policy; their influence is critical for prompting state education officials to amend and interpret homeschool regulations in a more beneficial way.

HSLDA is also working with the state group Loving Education at Home to lobby for legislative change. Several lawmakers in both the Senate and State Assembly have expressed willingness to introduce homeschool reform bills.

We encourage members and friends to look for ways they can help with this effort.

Alabama: Freedom on Hold

In other states, preserving homeschool freedom means getting officials to clarify and follow existing law.

In Alabama, families have experienced confusion relating to improved homeschooling options because of a leadership void in state government. The confusion has clouded the availability of a new option for homeschooling in Alabama.

As HSLDA Staff Attorney Dan Beasley explained, in 2014 Alabama enacted a law that allowed families to homeschool in a home-based private school. Before this, the only legal way to homeschool in Alabama was through a church-based school.

Unfortunately, one of several recent state superintendents of education communicated confusing advice on how to use the home-based private school option. The most recent state superintendent resigned in 2017, however, and state officials are still hunting for a replacement.

As for the law itself, said Beasley, “we have an interpretation that is sound.” HSLDA is anxious to provide further clarification when the state decides on a new top education official.

Kentucky: Arbitrary Demands

In Kentucky, HSLDA anticipates having to rein in local officials who appear bent on crafting their own homeschool regulations.

Several homeschooling families told us recently that their local public school districts had suddenly announced new—and unwarranted—oversight programs. A common demand was that parents submit a wide range of records, including daily attendance reports and student grades.

Schmidt pointed out that not only do these demands subvert the constitutional rights of families, but they also violate the Best Practices Document that guides officials’ dealing with homeschoolers.

“The only way they can request this kind of information under state law,” Schmidt said, “is if there is evidence the parents are not adequately educating their children.”

HSLDA will be working with Christian Home Educators of Kentucky to monitor the situation, protect families, and educate officials.

South Dakota: Just Sign Here . . . and Here . . . and Here . . .

In South Dakota, HSLDA hopes to get lawmakers to eliminate a single provision that places a disproportionate burden upon homeschooling families.

Currently, when homeschooling parents submit their annual notice of intent, they must ensure their signature is acknowledged by a notary or observed by two witnesses.

According to HSLDA Senior Counsel Scott Woodruff, this provision places South Dakota “in an elite group of states that hassle parents every year.” For parents, it means that “either you’re bugging people to witness your signature every year or going to find a notary.

“As far as I can tell,” Woodruff added, “there’s no rationale for it.”

New Hampshire: Reforms at Risk

In New Hampshire, HSLDA will be pushing back against legislation that could curtail homeschooling freedoms.

House Bill 1263 would impose unwarranted requirements on homeschooling parents—including a new judicial procedure that could result in students being ordered to attend public school.

The bill was introduced at the request of a single public school superintendent who alleged that at least half the homeschool students in her district were being neglected.

Staff Attorney Mike Donnelly has already alerted constituents about this dangerous legislation.

Playing Whack-a-Mole

Finally, we hope to address specific instances of discrimination and harassment. For example:

Florida: Several counties in the Sunshine State are continuing to ask homeschooling parents for proof of residency. We support legislation that will make it even more clear that local officials do not have the authority to make these sorts of arbitrary demands. We will continue to address individual districts when they make these unlawful demands.

Indiana: Along with the Indiana Association of Home Educators, we will be watching the legislature for proposals to provide state funding for homeschool programs. We believe any government money for homeschooling would be a step backward for freedom.

New Mexico: The state Public Education Department has tried to change the online notification form by adding requirements. We are working with the Christian Association of Parent Educators-New Mexico to prevent this from becoming a slippery slope toward increased bureaucratic demands.

West Virginia: We plan to support legislation that would make it easier for homeschool students to obtain a driver’s license and to qualify for state higher education scholarships without taking the GED. We also expect a bill to be introduced that would allow homeschool students to participate in public school athletics. (HSLDA is neutral on sports access bills, but supports the equal treatment of homeschool students.)

Wyoming: HSLDA is working to end a policy that refuses to accept homeschool diplomas as a sufficient credential for seeking employment in law enforcement.

Our team at HSLDA will be constantly monitoring your state’s laws and regulations, to make sure that you know of anything that might affect you and your family. This is just one way that we make homeschooling possible for you.