An early look at the 2020 legislative season reveals that lawmakers across the country are focused on the topics of child safety and parental freedom, issues of supreme importance to Home School Legal Defense Association’s members.

Our goal of course, is to guard the ability of loving parents to teach, protect, and nurture their children. Unfortunately, the trend so far in statehouses and Congress is to aim at restricting this freedom.

“It just goes to show,” said HSLDA President Mike Smith, “that even though homeschooling is legal in all 50 states, the battle to maintain that liberty never ceases—especially when the legislatures come into session.”

Focus on Children

As of February 10, HSLDA was tracking about 300 bills in 33 states and on Capitol Hill. Among these bills, the biggest category by far includes measures dealing with child protective services (CPS) and other proposals for curbing child abuse and neglect.

A few deal directly with homeschooling.

West Virginia House Bill 4440 would prohibit families from homeschooling if the parents face a pending CPS investigation. Since the vast majority of CPS investigations result in no findings of abuse or neglect, this would unjustly prevent many innocent parents from homeschooling.

Florida Senate Bill 7000 would treat homeschools like educational institutions for purposes of mandatory child abuse and neglect reporting. This would apply mandatory reporting laws to homeschooling families as families—a serious invasion of family privacy, and one that nonhomeschooling families are not subject to. HSLDA opposes both these measures.

Defending Freedom

Smith said HSLDA’s rationale for judging the merits of legislation is really quite simple.

“We believe in empowering parents to do what’s best for their children,” he said. “That’s why, in the past several years, we’ve asked homeschool families to help us fight legislation that would have severely curtailed homeschool freedom. The commitment and passion displayed by homeschool moms and dads in answering our call resulted in many legislative victories—including a notable win in California.”

Senior Counsel Mike Donnelly, who helped arrange an upgrade to HSLDA’s online legislation tracking software, explained that tracking a wide swath of legislation does more than allow us to identify legislative trends. It also helps ensure that our members and supporters are never caught off guard.

“We try to be very comprehensive in our approach to monitoring legislation,” he said. “We have to ask ourselves: Is it possible that this bill could ever affect a single homeschool parent? If the answer is yes, we’re at least going to track it.”

Close Inspection

Even CPS-related legislation that doesn’t appear to affect homeschooling families specifically requires careful scrutiny. Child safety represents a broad area of law that is currently receiving a great deal of attention in statehouses. It’s also a historical area of focus for HSLDA.

“We have a lot of experience and perspective on what is good practice [for CPS agencies],” he said. “We want to see good public policy that will address the issues and actually help children.”

For example, HSLDA supports New Jersey Assembly Bill 568, which would make it a crime to knowingly issue a false child abuse report.

Leveling the Playing Field

HSLDA’s advocacy goes beyond merely reacting to potentially harmful legislation. Our long-term goals include advancing laws that expand homeschool freedom.

We would especially like to see more legislation enacted ensuring fairness for homeschoolers applying to colleges, trade schools, and competing for civil service jobs.

“Currently graduates are penalized in some cases because their parents chose to exercise their constitutional right to homeschool,” said Staff Attorney Dan Beasley. “This sort of discrimination is short sighted, because it deprives some schools and employers of bright, capable students and workers. It’s also just plain wrong and needs to stop.”