Forty-two state legislatures opened for legislative business in January.
For HSLDA Staff Attorney Amy Buchmeyer, this surge of democratic activity translated into one stark personal truth: “January required a lot of late nights.”
Each New Year’s Day, Buchmeyer and HSLDA’s legal team find themselves deluged with legislation that needs to be sifted, scrutinized, and flagged for possible repercussions to homeschooling families.
HSLDA Senior Counsel Scott Woodruff coordinates these efforts. “We watch what is happening in every state legislature, so that at a moment’s notice, we can ask homeschool moms and dads to let their voices be heard in defense of freedom.”
The legal team’s effort often involves urging homeschool families to ask lawmakers to oppose bills that would impose new restrictions.
In Washington state, for example, S.B. 5020 would mandate that children begin formal education at age 6, instead of the now required age 8. For homeschooling families, measures like this can add to the burden of sending notices and other paperwork to education officials. They can also result in children being forced to start school before they are ready.
In other cases, HSLDA is building support for proposals to improve homeschool law by eliminating red tape. In Virginia we spearheaded an effort to simplify the process of choosing a legal path to homeschool, but the proposal did not survive the committee process. Our hope is that the attempt will lay the groundwork for future success.
“We don’t just wait for opposing forces,” Woodruff said. “Every year we go on the offense and seek to win more freedom for homeschool moms and dads.”
A Lot to Process
The volume of legislation and the speed with which some state houses process bills can make keeping up to date a real challenge. Buchmeyer said hundreds of bills crossed her desk from Mississippi alone this year.
“But we narrowed it down to about 90 that we wanted to track,” she said.
In addition to identifying individual legislation that could affect homeschoolers, it’s also important to determine which bills are likely to advance through the approval process. Generally, it’s easier to exert influence on the fate of a bill while it’s still being reviewed in committee—as opposed to being up for a vote before the entire complement of lawmakers in a particular branch of the state house.
Tracking the activities of various legislative committees can quickly fill up the calendars of HSLDA attorneys.
The first week of February, for example, Buchmeyer noted her to-do list included testifying remotely in both Kansas and Minnesota, monitoring a bill hearing in Ohio, and checking to see if any other state house activity would require a trip to testify in person. In between hearings, she had at least two meetings scheduled with state legislators and frequent calls with state homeschool leaders.
Help on the Ground
Fortunately, the burden of watching so many bills is eased by the help of homeschool leaders in every state, Buchmeyer said. Many of these advocates have spent years building relationships with elected officials.
“We have a fantastic state leader, Jeff Barber, with Mississippi Home Educators Association,” she said, pointing to an example.
During the height of legislative season in Mississippi, Buchmeyer keeps in regular contact with Barber—a fellow attorney—to discuss bills and strategies for dealing with them. In turn, Barber regularly emails members of the education committees in the Mississippi House of Representatives and Senate.
“Legislators are often receptive to state leaders and will listen to changes they propose,” Buchmeyer said. Partnering with local advocates often results in the ability to tweak a bill behind the scenes before it goes up for a hearing, she added.
But sometimes it takes the voice of the people to persuade legislators to halt bad bills or to enact good ones.
When that time comes, HSLDA emails members and friends, urging them to contact their elected officials regarding specific legislation. Families are invited to visit HSLDA’s Legislative Action Center to learn more about how a bill would affect homeschool freedom, and to use our online tools to message elected officials.
For instance, we recently asked families to let Virginia lawmakers know they oppose H.B. 1508, which would approve government funds for financing homeschooling.
“Where the shadow of government money falls, the weight of government regulation will follow,” Woodruff said.
HSLDA works to keep homeschooling free of unreasonable government restrictions, because we believe children thrive most when loving parents are empowered to guide their education and upbringing.
“We need every voice,” Woodruff said.
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Learn more about homeschooling grants available through HSLDA.