March 31, 2003

Dueling Bills in Nevada

Nevada homeschoolers spent much of last year fighting for their liberty. The State Department of Education claimed that homeschoolers had to meet Nevada's new "content and performance standards," insisting that all homeschool curricula had to meet state standards. Nevada homeschoolers formed a brand new, state-wide homeschool organization, drafted new homeschool language, lobbied each member of the State Board of Education, rallied for multiple hearings, survived a surprise attack from unexpected sources, and won a great victory by getting new homeschool regulations enacted. Now, as the Nevada Legislature opens for business, homeschoolers are confronted with legislation that would force every homeschooler to take Nevada's state-mandated assessment tests.

Homeschoolers across the United States have been defeating legislation that would force families to take the new "high stakes" tests that are now required for every public school that wants to receive federal funds. The No Child Left Behind Act requires public schools to take these new tests, but prohibits states from requiring home or private school students to take them. This has not prevented a number of legislatures from making the attempt, but homeschoolers in Wyoming, Nevada, North Dakota, and South Dakota have already defeated efforts to require them. Given the hard work and organizational ability of Nevada homeschoolers, this newest effort is likely to join the list of defeated bills.

HSLDA Senior Counsel Chris Klicka is presently working with Assembly Bill 264's sponsor, Assemblywoman Giunchigliani to remove the homeschool testing provision. He has spoken with her and sent her a memorandum explaining how her provision violates federal law. We are awaiting her response.

But it will not be without a fight. Every Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee of the Nevada Assembly is a co-sponsor of this bad legislation, and every Democrat but one is a co-sponsor in the Assembly Education Committee. In all, twenty-one Democrats, including the Speaker of the House, are co-sponsors of this seventy-one page bill, which, along with homeschool testing, mandates school uniforms across the state, abolishes multiple school districts, sets minimum salaries for teachers, requires all-day kindergarten for poor children, sets up school-based clinics, and a host of other expensive goodies. Assembly Bill 264 is a veritable "grab-bag" of pet projects. Not a single Republican supports it.

The Republicans in the Assembly have all lined up to support a competing bill, Assembly Bill 311. This bill would allow homeschoolers to participate in interscholastic sports. Every Republican on the Education Committee and Ways and Means Committee is a co-sponsor of this bill. One Democrat on the Education Committee has joined the Republicans to support homeschool sports. The result is a six-six split: five Republicans and one Democrat supporting homeschoolers, with six Democrats supporting homeschool regulation.

No one can predict the outcome of a legislative confrontation like this. As a wise nineteenth century judge said, "No one's life, liberty, or property are safe when the legislature is in session." With liberty on the line, however, we can be sure of one thing: homeschoolers will exercise their First Amendment right to peaceably assemble and petition their government for redress of grievances. In Nevada, when the going gets tough, the homeschoolers get going! This will be one legislative battle worth watching.