- The Washington Times - Monday, February 25, 2008

Do you believe America always will be safe for home-schooling? Most people might be tempted to say yes, but the reality could be different.

We should remember that after the advent of compulsory education, it was only during the past 25 years that America formally recognized home-schooling in all 50 states. To illustrate how far we have come, as recently as 1983, seven fathers in Nebraska were jailed for their decision to home-school their children.

Also in 1983, home-schooling was effectively illegal in 45 states because those states mandated that parents must have four-year teaching certificates before they could teach their own children.

In the early ‘80s, it was clear there was a need for home-schoolers to come together and fight for their fundamental right to raise their own children without government-imposed mandates.

The Home-School Legal Defense Association is approaching its 25th anniversary. Today, home-schooling is thriving throughout the country and is acknowledged widely as an educational success story. Home-schooling, however, increasingly is being challenged in state legislatures across the country.

Every year, particularly between January and May, when many state legislatures conduct most of their activity, HSLDA’s legal department works long hours tracking legislation across all 50 states.

This year, we have seen a significant spike in the number of anti-home-school bills. The fight to maintain home-school freedom is far from over.

One of the most anti-home-schooling bills came from Nebraska. Partly because of Nebraska’s history, the legislation introduced by state Sen. DiAnna Schimek was particularly troubling.

It called for numerous state-administered tests and the approval of home-schools by the Nebraska Department of Education. If passed, it effectively would have banned home-schooling in Nebraska and could have led to parents being jailed again.

It seemed Nebraska was on the road to repeating its past mistakes. Fortunately, Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman announced that he would veto the legislation if it ever reached his desk. HSLDA is thankful that the governor stepped forward, but Miss Schimek’s action is a vivid reminder that the fight to maintain our freedom is an ongoing battle.

Several other states have introduced bills that in one way or another would increase the bureaucratic burden on home-schooling families. In particular, Tennessee and Mississippi both have introduced legislation that would force state assessments on home-schoolers. Once the government is allowed to set tests for home-schoolers, home-schooling is undermined as a viable educational choice because parents are forced to use the state-mandated curriculum and teach to the test rather than make their own choice of curriculum.

Flexibility in choosing curriculum is vital to home-schooling because each child is unique and has an individual learning style.

These types of continuing threats galvanize home-schoolers throughout the country. While home-schoolers are active and engaged citizens, we always must be mindful that home-school freedom is fragile.

It can be lost without vigilant action on the part of all home-schoolers. As an organization with more than 80,000 members, HSLDA will continue its mission — which can continue only with the active participation of our members — and work with state organizations to make sure we do not lose any of our hard-won freedoms.

We do not know what the future holds, but we do know that an active, engaged home-school community can significantly affect the outcome of legislative battles, even when the forces arrayed against home-schoolers are large and powerful.

Michael Smith is the president of the Home School Legal Defense Association. He may be contacted at 540/338-5600, or send e-mail to media@hslda.org.

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