The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly:
2006 ICHE Legislative Summary
By Barry Peters, Esq. (07.11.06)
A well-orchestrated, taxpayer-funded assault on home education by the Governor's Task Force on Children at Risk, followed by seesaw efforts to protect marriage and the family and then to undermine them, defined the 2006 session of the Idaho legislature.
The Good: High Honor for Marriage
For the third year in a row, the legislature considered a bill that would amend our state Constitution to elevate the definition of marriage from its current place in the statutes to a more secure home in our Constitution. This year's bill passed both houses by a substantial margin. The amendment simply states that Marriage between a man and a woman shall be the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state. The amendment will now be on the ballot in the general election in November. If a majority of the voters approve it, the amendment will become the law of the state.
Marriage is fundamental to the family which is fundamental to home schooling. Although with extra effort other family arrangements may be able to care for and teach their children at home, a large body of research demonstrates that children thrive most with both a mother and a father in the home. For the sake of our children, Idaho should never willingly create a home that is either motherless or fatherless.
The amendment will not only define marriage carefully, it will prevent the state from honoring alternatives to marriage such as domestic partnerships or civil unions. It will, likewise, keep Idaho from officially recognizing marriages that do not involve "a man and a woman" that may have arisen in another state or country. It will prevent activist judges from misconstruing our existing Constitution to force Idaho to accept the "marriage" of persons other than a man and a woman.
The Bad: It Takes a Village
A total of five separate bills were introduced this session seeking to expand state-operated early childhood education programs. Some were minimal changes such as requiring every school district in the state to offer kindergarten programs. Other bills were far more aggressive, permitting school districts to offer programs to children as young as newborns. Ultimately, none of these bills became law due to the diligence of home educators in strongly opposing them. ICHE opposed these bills for several reasons.
First, significant research demonstrates that such programs produce only a short-term improvement in academic achievement. By the end of elementary school, no discernible difference has been found between the scores of those students who participated in preschool and those who did not.
Second, the programs will be very expensive. For each year that Idaho lowers its definition of "school aged childen,' the taxpayers of this state will have to pay $150 to $200 million more in educational costs. It has been evident for many years that more money spent on a failing government program does not magically produce a successful result. The solution to our state's declining educational achievements is not an expansion of the existing system.
Third, children thrive best when they are able to spend their early years at home with their biological parents. Even if the preschool programs are optional instead of mandatory, their very existence would give tacit approval for parents to spend less and less time with their children. And what is optional over time becomes mandatory. The state should instead find ways to encourage parents to stay home with their children, especially during the early years.
Those legislators who joined us in opposition to these bills expressed deep appreciation for the substantial number of emails and other messages they received from home educators. They also found the statistical research on the subject compelling in its demonstration that early childhood education programs are ineffective as a means of improving the long-term academic achievement of Idaho's students.
Despite this, Senate Minority Leader, Clint Stennett (D-Ketchum) has commented that, although "none of the legislation on this topic passed both Houses, . . . it has began the discussion. We will likely see more on this topic." In fact, none of these bills passed either house this year. But those in the legislature who believe that it takes a government program to raise a child will undoubtedly revisit this issue for years to come.
The Ugly: "The Missing Children"
For nearly 20 years, the governor's office in Idaho has included a Task Force on Children at Risk. The purpose of the Task Force is to improve the methods for discovering, prosecuting, and treating child abuse and neglect in the state. The Task Force is staffed with representatives from a number of disciplines, but is heavily influenced by persons from the Idaho Department of Education and the Department of Health and Welfare.
The Task Force has apparently concluded that home education represents a real threat to the health and welfare of Idaho's school children. In January, they were presented with the results of a $78,000 "study" they had commissioned three professors from Boise State University to conduct. The study concluded that Idaho has nearly 14,000 "missing children" that have slipped through the regulatory cracks. They further concluded that these are the home schooled students in the state. They proposed to remedy this situation by imposing mandatory registration and annual testing of all home schooled students. In addition, the comments by the professors made it clear that they intended to export their report for use by bureaucrats throughout the country to help other states gain greater control of their home schoolers.
The report was breathtakingly flawed both in its methodology and in its conclusions. ICHE presented a detailed critique of the report to the Task Force. Dr. Brian Ray of the National Home Education Research Institute in Salem, Oregon, did the same in a peer-review of the professors' work. Although the Task Force initially seemed quite pleased with the report, after the critiques were received, the report was quietly shelved. However, this experience confirms what has been noted for several years by ICHE: the greatest contemporary threat to our freedom to teach our children at home comes from a coordinated effort by educational professionals and health and welfare professionals.
Although these are ongoing battles, the stakes are high with these issues that will impact home education for many years. Just 105 legislators and one governor will determine the outcomes. For the "good" to prevail, your willingness to work hard this fall to elect those who will protect our freedom will be required to fend off the "bad" and the "ugly."