Governor Nixon Signs Three Bills Impacting Home Education
by Kerry Messer, FHE Lobbyist
Today, Monday, July 13, 2009, Missouri Governor Jeremiah (Jay) Nixon signed into law Senate Bill 291. Like many bills that are adopted by the Legislature, SB 291 started out only as a simple one page bill. However, as the bill advanced through the legislative process, it gained weight. A week and a half before the annual General Assembly finished its work in mid-May, the House Education Committee force fed the bill amendment after amendment until it swelled to an obese size. Tipping the scales at just under 300 pages, SB 291 was now the "omnibus education bill" containing provisions to over fifty different areas of education policy.
In reviewing the bill prior to floor debates, I was aghast to discover two separate proposed policies which were designed bad public policy. Immediately I went to work preparing amendments, securing sponsors for the amendments to remove or drastically rewrite these offensive sections, and working to gain the needed votes to finish the project. In the end we were completely successful and these issues were out of the bill. Then a strange thing happened - the House voted to kill the bill! SB 291 was dead. I, like everyone else, tossed the bill in the trash can and refocused on the twenty or so other bills demanding attention.
A plan was then hatched to resurrect the bill as a leaner and healthier proposal. Agreements were worked out to send the bill back to committee and put it on a crash diet to lose a third of its weight, leaving only about 200 pages of the less controversial portions.
This is when I received "the phone call." (You know...the kind of phone call that makes you swallow a big gulp of air.) FHE Executive Director, Brad Haines, was on the other end asking me about a portion of the bill I had not yet reviewed. (After all, the bill had died and I tossed it in the recycle bin with everyone else's.)
There it was, as plain as day, just further into the bill than I had had time to get to. SB 291 proposed changing the generations old education paradigm of compulsory education. Rather than mandating school attendance until a student reaches age 16, Missouri would now base mandatory education on how many credits a student accomplishes. Until they accumulate at least 16 "credits," a student must remain in school and cannot drop-out.
Public school students are required to fulfill 24 credits in order to graduate under the authority of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Compulsory attendance law, however, is established under state statutes and apply to all minors in the state, regardless of their education venue. These are two related, yet totally separate, policies. Since about 80% of Missouri students are enrolled in public schools (the other 20% in home and private schools) the idea behind changing the compulsory education law is to try to motive high school drop-outs by requiring them to earn their right to drop-out rather than just sit and do nothing until they reach age 16. The hope is that potential drop-outs may get over whatever barriers have discouraged their participation and that a significant portion of them might rediscover the interest and value of staying in school until graduation.
Upon checking, it became clear that few folks had taken any notice of this provision since it was added of late and had never had a public hearing or any public discussion - ever. Upon further checking, this provision was slated to stay in the resurrected version of the bill. And upon even more digging, I uncovered the full plan that this once dead bill was greased for ultimate passage.
This was now a full blown threat to home schoolers due to the fact that a "credit" is never defined in statute, only under the rules and regulations of the Department of Elementary & Secondary Education (DESE). This proposal would result in the public school system having the authority to define and verify any credits earned in a home school setting!
In short, I had to start drafting an amendment, garner support for it from the right legislative leaders, sell the idea to alter the provision to public education lobbyists who have the greatest influence over such a bill, and keep everyone happy and on track with the idea of amending a bill that had already been virtually sealed against such amendments.
All this led to a special called rally. As many as 3,000 of you showed up with only 21 hours notice from the first network email. Those of you who attended heard the commitments from the lawmakers handling the bill. About an hour later our protective amendment was adopted, as was a second amendment in response to FHE criticisms. Only FHE pointed out to lawmakers that the new proposal would leave some students held under compulsory education into their twenties! As a result the second amendment added would drop the "16 credit" requirement after the student reaches 17 years of age.
Missouri's new compulsory education standard will require an adjustment for everyone. Public, private, parochial, charter, magnet, virtual, and home schools will all have to work out management details to satisfy the law. Thankfully home schoolers will continue to be self-guided under state law and will not have to submit to any controlling government agency. And to make things even better, our amendment clarifies that no social worker, juvenile officer, or truancy officer has any right to review any home school records! While SB 291 does create a new paradigm for compulsory education, it also closes the gaping loophole used by various state agencies and public schools to harass home schoolers!
Meanwhile: Just days prior to all the activity on SB 291, we had finally received the last votes on SB 47 and SB 232. Both now signed into law by Governor Nixon (7-9-09) address government discrimination against home schoolers.
SB 47 sponsored by Senator Delbert Scott proposed changing an old antiquated law that predated the contemporary state home school law established through FHE and the hundreds of home education families that forged the legal genesis of Missouri's modern home school movement in 1986. Prior to the State's home school statute being in place, any high school graduate that did not have a diploma from an "accredited" high school had to obtain a GED (general education diploma) from the State before they could be admitted to the State Highway Patrol Academy. This made perfect sense thirty years ago, but now amounts to unfair discrimination as the Academy is required to reject home school graduates who already fulfilled all the State's education requirements!
It is bad enough for a private employer or institution of higher learning to question the validity of a home school graduate's education. But for a state agency to do so when the State itself already authorizes home schooling - is clearly discriminatory. In all fairness this contradictory law was unintended and even the Highway Patrol stood with FHE to have the law repealed. In the end it took three years of legislative haranguing to get this bill passed even though no one ended up voting against it. Sadly, far too many home school graduates who did not expect to jump this additional hurdle either missed their opportunity to enter the academy or were too offended to pursue a law enforcement career.
SB 232 sponsored by Senator Jane Cunningham took on a much broader challenge while addressing the same type of anti-homeschool discrimination. Following the lead of the State's Highway Patrol Academy, some local fire and law enforcement academies also have GED requirements. Even several local government agencies refuse to recognize home school graduations in their hiring policies. This bill requires all local and state government policies to recognize any "nonaccredited" graduation diplomas as long as the student's education was legally authorized under state statutes. Thus the bill prohibits any government agency, state or local, from discriminating in this way against home school graduates.
Senator Cunningham worked with us to draft SB 232 and to nurture the bill through the difficult legislative process. As these bills go into effect on August 28, 2009, she would like to hear from any home schooler who faces illegal discrimination from any government agency. You may contact her office by phone, letter, or fax, (all publicly available) or email Senator Jane Cunningham at email@example.com with any problems you may have with discriminatory government agency hiring policies.
SB 47 and SB 232 have no impact upon private industry. However, SB 291 impacts every home school in Missouri. Thankfully this impact is only a procedural one that may affect the way we keep records or manage certain subjects. The fact that home educators came so close to falling under the authority of the public school bureaucracy reminds us how important it is to join and support FHE!
Please pray that FHE continues to survive into the future. Please pay your annual membership to FHE as we fight every year to protect and promote your freedom to home school. Please provide FHE with an occasional donation of support, and please promote FHE to your fellow home school friends as we defend them also.
Kerry Messer serves as FHE's full time lobbyist.
As the head of Missouri Family Network, he also
serves as the state's leading pro-family lobbyist,
addressing a broad scope of topics. After 25 years
of work in this faith ministry, he has well earned the
respect of Legislators and leaders across Missouri.
Details and Results of May 14, 2009 Rally and Legislative Alert on Senate Bill 291
Late afternoon on May 13, 2009, due only to the Grace of God, FHE’s newest Regional Director was listening to the Mo House debate a bill of interest. After the debate was done, she continued to listen and learned of a change to Missouri’s “Home School” law. She alerted FHE’s Executive Director, who immediately called FHE’s lobbyist. The change would have allowed the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to monitor and regulate home schools during high school, and would have controlled curriculum and when a student was no longer under the statute.
FHE and HSLDA coordinated, sending out alerts within minutes of each other. The alerts were forwarded and the FHE Board and many of our families changed plans and arranged to be in Jefferson City on Thursday, May 14. Meanwhile, our lobbyist (the ONLY registered home school lobbyist in Jefferson City) worked late into the night hammering out a “fix.”
On May 14, the weather was perfect, and an estimated 2000 home schoolers were on the front lawn of the Capitol at 1 pm. (The Kansas City Star article says “hundreds,” but I guess 20 hundred is “hundreds.” The Star also misrepresents what the final bill does.) After opening with prayer, the crowd was briefed on what the current status was for the bill, then Kerry Messer, FHE’s lobbyist, explained the compromise amendment to which all had agreed. The House sponsor apologized for any problem his language caused home educators, as that was never his intent. He also promised the assembled crowd that if our “fix” was not adopted, he would pull the bill, killing it for 2009. About 1:30 pm, we began a “walk around the legislature.” Parading all 2000 home educators thru the Capitol took over one hour! About 2:45 pm, SB 291 was introduced, amended (as promised) and passed. Later in the evening of the 14th, the Senate passed it, and it is on its way to the Governor’s desk. (We also got language that clarifies that the county prosecutor is the ONLY person who can review home school records.)
Several legislators remarked that they had never seen such a large group, and the capitol police said they had never seen such a respectful protest! Thank you to all who came, to all who couldn’t but prayed, to Sheryl Schmidt, Kerry Messer, Scott Woodruff (of HSLDA) and to all the FHE Directors, support group leaders and faithful supporters who passed the word. You made this happen, and the Lord has blessed your efforts.
Legislative Alert for May14, 2009!
Senate Bill 291 modifies the language in 167.031.6 to extend compulsory attendance indefinitely, based on an unidentified standard of 16 high school credits before a student is released from the compulsory attendance statute. This means, home educators would have to prove their student had 16 acceptable credits before considering their mandatory education complete. While this MAY occur at an age younger than 16, it could also extend to 18 or even 20 if the un-named authority did not accept the credits of the home school. And again, just who assesses the validity of those 16 credits is not defined in the bill.
Therefore, we need as many home educators as possible to attend a Rally on the Capital Steps at 1 pm, Thursday, May 14, 2009 (yes, tomorrow, if you get this Wednesday evening).
It is ABSOLUTELY CRITICAL WE HAVE A MASSIVE TURNOUT. This is the gravest threat to Missouri’s homeschool freedom since it was secured 25 years ago.
FHE will organize the Rally on the steps at 1 pm, and will have flyers and talking points to pass out, as well as instruction on which offices are most critical.
Please pass the word and make a commitment to attend.
In Christ's Service to Home Educators,
Brad L. Haines
Families For Home Education
(877) MY MO FHE (877-696-6343)
PO Box 742, Grandview, Mo 64030
The Second Regular Session of the 94th Missouri General Assembly, 2008, began with a measure of optimism. The 2007 legislative session had come to an end with our highway patrol academy legislation sitting on the brink of passage. However that bill, along with a list of other non-controversial proposals, fell victim as collateral damage to political infighting amongst lawmakers. Needing only a single vote in the House, members ran out of time to work on the “Consent Calendar” after partisan bickering bogged down the last day of session.
Your Students or Your Lawmakers – Who needs the Education?
This year the same basic bill, now SB 723, came even closer to passage but needed an additional approval vote back in the Senate. Having passed both the Senate first and later being adopted in the House, the bill had no outward opposition. Alterations in the bill in a House committee deemed it necessary to go back to the Senate for additional approval. This is where many bills commonly fall through the cracks of the legislative process as final days’ major priority debates overshadow time consuming technical procedures on otherwise noncontroversial issues.
This proposal, which will be back on the table again in 2009, addresses an archaic law that prohibits home school students from entering the Missouri Highway Patrol Academy without first obtaining a GED. This old law predates our 1986 home school statute and was originally intended to discourage high school dropouts from entering the academy.
Families for Home Education, with the active support of the Missouri Highway Patrol, helped members of the Legislature understand that any education venue recognized and accepted by the State should not be discriminated against in any way by any of the State’s agencies. The only problem getting the legislation finally passed is that it pales in contrast to the many ‘big’ issues facing lawmakers.
There are a number of additional local governmental agencies guided by political subdivision policies, which also fail to recognize Home Education graduates. FHE is actively working to address these unfortunate situations among fire and police departments or other entities. By addressing the State’s own obsolete law enforcement law FHE is able to educate lawmakers about this problem and how it can develop in any area of Missouri.
If any home school family becomes aware of discriminatory policies within government bodies, please contact FHE. We will not only strive to address the problem locally but can use your information with Legislators around the state. Together we will continue to advance the values of home education and protect every family’s right to raise and educate their children according to their convictions. Our partnership is what makes FHE a respected institution within the capitol culture. As we continue to polish our public image together we can increase the shine of home education in the eyes of all Missourians.
Today’s home school families seem to be more and more in the view of policy makers as well as the voting public. As we are now standing on the threshold of the 2008 General Elections (November 4), it is a wonderful time to utilize practical civics projects. Any number of civics projects can set the political stage in the capitol by demonstrating home school values to candidates from every corner of Missouri.
Home educators in Missouri’s 7th Senatorial district (West St. Louis County) had a rough primary election experience. In the three-way race there were two front running contenders who tried in every way to prove each was more home school friendly than the other! While this did develop into a problem for some families as the home school community faced divisions and frustrations over not being able to ‘come together’, what a wonderful problem to have.
With hundreds of candidates fighting over Missouri’s 163 House seats and half of the State’s 34 Senate seats every two years, one theme is played out over and over. All across the land, in urban, suburban and rural districts alike, candidates always point out their commitment to government school support. But home education parents and leaders have worked so well in West St. Louis County to ‘raise the bar’ with lawmakers, a new paradigm came into focus. Interesting to note, the one candidate who tried to dually align herself with both public and home schools actually lost. The winner was Jane Cunningham, a current state representative, who was opposed by the public school machine!
If only every House and Senate campaign were to be more focused on courting home schoolers rather than pushing for more money for government schools. Just imagine how different life would be for us in the state capitol. Instead of non-stop cliché questions we regularly address (socialization, curriculum, diplomas and legal issues) we could spend more time reminding lawmakers that we don’t want anything other than to be treated equally and left alone.
As most always do, 7th district home educators will continue to focus on what unites us instead of continued divisions. Meanwhile the rest of the state’s home school families will continue to envy the “problem” of too many overtly supportive candidates with too few public service offices to fill. The rest of us can also learn from the 7th district home school community to aggressively engage in practical civics projects that can lead more areas of the state into sharing this wonderful problem.
Likewise, FHE will continue the nonstop fight to advance, protect and represent home education in your state capitol. As we do so it is your civics projects from around the state that prepares the minds and hearts of the Missouri General Assembly to receive our face-to-face work with individual lawmakers.
While “back to school” for the majority of the population means separating children and parents in order to receive the best government education the State has to offer, it can take on a very different meaning for us. While 80% of the general population is limited in civics participation due to the constrains of their public school involvement, home schoolers remain free to select and fight for those who will be running the State for years to come.
So remember your core curriculums, reading, writing and other language arts, arithmetic, history, science, and civics. That’s right, for home schools civics is NOT a non-core elective (defensively speaking). Practical civics projects should always be treated as a core subject area. Students of all ages can learn to be the best they can be, not just for themselves but for their fellow man, while framing Missouri’s future and gaining a superior education all at the same time.
After all – who needs more of an education, your children or your lawmakers?