State legislators with the votes to enact new homeschool restrictions changed course earlier this year after weighing what they’d heard directly from homeschool families—not outside voices.
Homeschooling parents and their kids packed the Minnesota Statehouse twice in February to protest a measure that would have restricted their ability to homeschool.
The measure would have required them to submit the results of annual standardized tests to local public school superintendents. And it would have granted these officials the authority to request ill-defined “protocols” regarding testing, as well as proof that the protocols had been followed.
“This would have made Minnesota homeschool testing law the most restrictive in the nation,” said Amy Buchmeyer, staff attorney for the Home School Legal Defense Association.
She added that the result homeschool activists achieved was equally remarkable—the test results mandate was removed from both the House and Senate education bills.
Rob Prigge, executive director of Minnesota Association of Christian Home Educators (MÂCHÉ), echoed Buchmeyer’s comment. “I’m not aware of another example where the majority of lawmakers relented from what they had planned to do,” he said during the 2023 legislative session.
Buchmeyer explained that the proposed law posed a grave concern, because it would have shifted the guidance for an important aspect of homeschooling—student assessment—from parents to government officials.
This could have undermined one of the many unique benefits of homeschooling—the ability of parents to customize educational programs to best meet the needs and interests of individual children.
“As a homeschool parent, we know what our child is learning,” Mya Stina-Hagen, a mother of four who opposed the legislation, told a local television news station. “We know when a great time to test is; we know what their strengths and weaknesses are. This bill . . . could also change how we teach our children because then we are having to teach based on a test that’s outside of what we are doing.”
Sending a Message
The impression homeschool families made on lawmakers during a pair of rallies at the capitol was crucial to preserving freedom in this case, said Rob. He noted that during hearings scheduled by the House and Senate on their respective versions of the bill, neither he nor Buchmeyer were invited to share their perspectives as advocates representing large constituencies.
The House Education Policy Committee did ask two mothers who homeschool to testify.
“I think that in some respects they were more persuasive, because they are moms,” Rob said. They were able to discuss the direct impact the law would have on their families and homes.
The efforts of MÂCHÉ in informing and organizing homeschoolers, however, certainly demonstrated the value of larger advocacy groups.
It was Julie Johnson, MÂCHÉ’s legislative affairs director, who first identified the testing mandate while combing through some 6,670 bills introduced during the legislative session. That language, which would have imposed the new restrictions, amounted to eight lines of text buried in a 110-page educational measure.
Still, said Julie, the proposal seemed momentous enough to bring to the attention of Rob and Buchmeyer. After discussing it, all agreed that that the members of MÂCHÉ and HSLDA should be asked to stand by for possible action.
Julie added that MÂCHÉ leadership is judicious in determining the proper level of response for dealing with legislation that might curtail homeschool freedom.
Quite often, troublesome bills fail to garner enough support to advance. But if they do start moving through the legislature, Julie and her colleagues can sometimes get the offending language changed by working directly with friendly legislators.
“There have been pieces of legislation every session that could have impacted homeschoolers,” she explained, “but they normally don’t get to the point where we really need to get engaged.”
In the case of the testing mandate, however, the potential consequences merited asking homeschoolers to show up for the hearing at the House of Representatives.
“We filled the room,” Julie said of the crowd of homeschoolers, which one local reporter tallied at 200. “We filled the overflow hallway viewing room.”
Rob said the impression the group made was impossible to miss.
“You could see the committee members looking around the room at this group of people, quietly, earnestly listening and very engaged,” he said
The visual impact was even more pronounced during the subsequent Senate hearing, when the crowd of homeschoolers returned, all dressed in yellow as a symbol of solidarity.
Sen. Jim Abeler affirmed in the hearing that his colleagues intended to respond positively to the message homeschoolers were sending.
“There's going to be a lot of people celebrating all across the state,” he said. “This topic has been concerning to so many people.”
Rob explained that after the hearing he received information confirming what he’d learned earlier from an official with the state Department of Education—lawmakers intended to strike the homeschool testing provision from both bills.
State education officials also said that sometime over the summer they wanted to meet with MÂCHÉ leadership and other stakeholders to revisit the homeschool testing issue. Rob said he appreciates the opportunity to confer with policymakers, and he intends to represent the group’s families and preserve their rights and protections.
“We’re going to stay close to the process, fully engaged, all the way through,” he said.
After all, he knows he can count on the support of families from across the state.