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Home Education Magazine

November-December 1999 - Columns

Taking Charge

Convincing Others We Don't Want Homeschooling Legislation - Larry and Susan Kaseman

Convincing Others We Don't Want Homeschooling Legislation
Proposals are frequently made for new legislation affecting homeschoolers, including the following:
* An increase in state regulation of homeschooling. Depending on what a given state already requires, this may include state-mandated standardized tests, review and approval of curriculum by school officials, periodic reports, etc.
* Daytime curfews, truancy sweeps, and other measures supposedly designed to reduce truancy
* Tax credits for educational expenses, vouchers, and other programs that would give government money to homeschoolers and other private school students
* Legislation intended to ensure that homeschoolers can participate in public school courses and programs, including sports
* Legislation or constitutional amendments that supposedly guarantee parental rights and responsibilities
* Legislation to prevent allegedly unqualified families from homeschooling
Many homeschoolers strongly oppose all of these proposals. However, we need to work hard to communicate our opposition to other homeschoolers and to legislators, especially since some homeschoolers, legislators, and members of the general populaion assume at first glance either that such legislation is necessary or that it would be welcomed by homeschoolers.
One way opposition to such proposals can be effectively communicated is through a brochure. It could be titled, "Legislation That Undermines Homeschooling Freedoms." Since home- schooling laws vary from state to state, the wording suggested below needs to be modified to suit the circumstances facing the homeschoolers writing the brochure.
Note: Although this column is copyrighted, we the authors hereby give readers permission to use any of the suggested language in a brochure.

PART I: Introduction
The brochure could begin with an introductory section that said something like:
To maintain our homeschooling freedoms in a society in which homeschoolers are a small, often misunderstood minority, we need to oppose a variety of proposals that would increase state regulation of homeschooling [Here could be added several specific examples of requirements that your state does not currently have, such as: by requiring that our children take state-mandated tests or that we submit our curriculums for review and approval. These requirements would force us to adopt state goals and curriculums. We could no longer homeschool according to our principles and beliefs.]
Your action is needed. Your call to a legislator matters. We have succeeded in maintaining our freedoms by showing legislators that a significant number of families are committed to homeschooling freedoms.
Read this information. Share it with others. [If there is a state organization or a support group that publishes newsletters that cover legislation, the brochure could say: Keep informed through {name of organization} newsletters and special bulletins.] Communicate with your legislators.

PART II: How Legislation Undermines Homeschooling Freedoms
Next could come a section that explains the ways legislation undermines homeschooling freedoms by saying something like:
* Legislators, left to their own devices, will understandably represent the mainstream majority rather than the homeschooling minority. Unless we educate them, most people assume that children need to attend a conventional school to learn basic skills and become socialized. Since the government oversees and regulates public schools, many people assume it should regulate homeschools in the same way. They also assume that homeschoolers want legislation that gives us benefits like tax credits or that supposedly guarantees that we can participate in public school courses or programs.
* Legislation is very difficult to direct and control. Anytime legislation is introduced that includes homeschooling provisions (even if it is not a homeschooling bill as such), an amendment could easily be added that would increase state regulation of homeschools. It's not a question of what we could gain if legislation were introduced to give us tax credits or some other benefit. It's a question of what we could lose through the legislative process.
* Once legislation is passed, government agencies write regulations that have the force of law even though they are not written by a representative body. Again, minority groups run the risk that regulations will reflect mainstream values rather than their own and turn the law against them.

PART III: Proposals That Undermine Homeschooling Freedoms
Next could come a list of specific proposals followed by homeschoolers' responses. Here are some examples:
Increased state regulation of homeschooling by [give one or two examples that are not now required in your state but have been suggested]
Our response:
* Homeschooling works! In recent years, thousands of homeschoolers have entered conventional schools, gone to college, or entered the work force. There is no evidence that the law needs to be changed.
* Increased regulation would force homeschools to become more like conventional schools and interfere with homeschools that are working well.
* [Here and following the other points below, include references to relevant articles in a homeschooling newsletter, if available.]
Daytime curfews and truancy sweeps
Our response:
* Allowing police to stop young people who are in public places during school hours threatens the basic civil liberties of all of us.
* Curfews do inconvenience homeschoolers. But it's not a question of minimizing inconvenience to homeschoolers. It's a question of protecting everyone's civil liberties. Curfews are not a homeschooling issue, and there are no good curfews.
Tax credits for educational expenses, vouchers, and other programs that would give government money to homeschoolers and other private school students
Our response:
* Recipients of government money are held accountable by the government. (Taxpayers want assurance that recipients of road contracts build satisfactory roads, for example.) Therefore, government money would mean increased regulation of homeschools. There is no such thing as a free lunch.
* Tax credits are reimbursements. We would have to spend our own money on educational expenses approved by the government to be eligible for tax credits.
* Tax credits cost the government and taxpayers money, so they are designed to sound like a good deal but limit what anyone can receive. Usually only people with incomes under a certain level qualify.
* Expenses for religiously-based educational materials probably would not qualify for tax credits.
* Only homeschools that are somehow accredited or approved by the government would qualify for vouchers, so vouchers would inevitably increase government control of homeschools.
Legislation intended to ensure that homeschoolers can participate in public school courses and programs
Our response:
* Such legislation is unnecessary. The few homeschooling families who want to participate in public schools can make arrangements with their local school districts, as homeschoolers have been doing. Legislation would make such arrangements more difficult.
* Such legislation (and the regulations that follow) give the government more opportunity to define and regulate homeschools.
* Many homeschoolers feel that there is nothing schools have to offer that is not available in the community, often in a better form. Many feel the cost of participation in public schools is too great in terms of disrupted schedules, stress on family relationships, influence of the culture of school, and loss of flexibility.
Statutes or regulations that would allow homeschoolers to play on high school sports teams
Our response:
* Team members must maintain a certain grade point average, so homeschoolers would be required to prove they were academically qualified to be on a team by passing tests or submitting portfolios. Once requirements were in place for athletes, there would be great pressure to apply them to all homeschoolers.
* Homeschoolers who want to play sports have many options, including community sports teams, individual sports, sports camps, etc. Or they can enroll in public school if public school sports are that important to them. But if we lose our homeschooling freedoms through regulations originally designed for high school athletes, there will not be a way we can homeschool without unnecessary and restrictive regulations.
Legislation or constitutional amendments that supposedly guarantee parental rights and responsibilities
Our response:
* Parents already have rights and responsibilities. They come from God or nature, not the government.
* Such proposals backfire because they give the government a way to define and control fundamental rights.
Legislation to prevent "unqualified" families from homeschooling
Our response:
* There is no evidence of significant numbers of "unqualified families" or habitual truants escaping to homeschooling.
* Allowing the state to determine who can homeschool would undermine parental rights and responsibilities and homeschooling freedoms. It would also interfere with all the thriving homeschools.
* "Hard cases make bad law." In other words, a law designed to take care of the worst possible hypothetical case is almost certain to be long, difficult to enforce, and more likely to prevent good people from doing good than bad people from doing bad.

PART IV: What We Can Do Finally, there could be a section addressed to homeschoolers that explains what we can do by including points such as the following:
* We can work NOW to prevent the introduction of legislation by explaining to our legislators that we oppose the proposals listed above. If we don't, proposals that undermine our freedoms are likely to be put into effect for one or more reasons. (1) Legislators may give in to pressure for increased regulation of homeschools. (2) Legislators may assume homeschoolers would like money from the government and legislation to guarantee that we can participate in public school programs. (3) Legislators who hear from a few vocal homeschoolers who do want such legislation (despite the ways in which it undermines the freedoms of all homeschoolers) may respond by introducing it. Legislators may not wait to hear from the majority of homeschoolers or ask whether most homeschoolers really want such legislation.
* When legislation that we oppose is being considered, we can contact our legislators to share our concerns. [Name of state organization] keeps its members informed about legislative issues through newsletters and special bulletins.
* We can inform other homeschoolers by distributing copies of this brochure at support group meetings and discussing it.
* For more information, we can read [name of state organization] newsletters and handbook. We can also attend conferences [if available]. The next conference will be [date and location].
* We can become a member of [state organization] so homeschoolers can continue to work together through it to maintain our homeschooling freedoms. Membership includes [briefly list benefits].
Working together, we can make a difference! Your participation is needed! Isn't your family's freedom worth the effort?

How These Brochures Can Be Used
Such a brochure could be put together and printed by a state-wide grassroots organization or, if need be, by a local support group. Copies could then be distributed to homeschoolers, perhaps through newsletters, and discussed at support group meetings and conference workshops. Brochures can also be given to legislators, ideally by constituents who can briefly cover the points and answer questions that legislators or their aides may have. Since most legislation relating to education is on the state, rather than it federal level, it makes most sense to communicate with state legislators and sometimes with local officials. However, if federal legislation were to be introduced on any of these topics, the brochure could be given to federal legislators.
When we are discussing such a brochure (or other topics, for that matter) with our legislators, it is important to make it clear that we are representing ourselves, unless we are the officially designated representative of an organization. However, even when we are an official representative, we need to make it clear that we do not represent all homeschoolers and that other people do not, either, even though they may give the impression that they do. Homeschoolers are simply too diverse and independent for any one person or organization, however broadly based or however large its membership, to represent us.

Conclusion It is to our advantage to work now to try to convince other homeschoolers and legislators that proposals that are sometimes made for legislation relating to homeschooling are not a good idea. Prevention is much easier and more effective than waiting until such proposals are introduced and have begun to take on a life of their own, and then trying to stop them. One way we can work to prevent such proposals from being introduced is by preparing and distributing a brochure that briefly explains our position on a variety of legislative issues.

(c) 1999, Larry and Susan Kaseman

....(articles list) | columns list)....

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