Playing Well With Others
The 2011 legislative session in the Idaho Statehouse witnessed another step in the expansion of homeschooling families' participation in the political process.
For the past decade, it has been my privilege to participate in the Capstone Student Legislature presented by Cornerstone Family Council in January of each year at the Statehouse. Students from around the state gather in Boise during the legislative session for four days of intensive training in statesmanship.
Drafting and then debating bills teaches the legislative process. Returning students go on to research and then strategically plan complex constitutional law arguments for the mock appellate court presentations. Each year, 100 students and their parents learn how the government works as they dig deeply into the principles that should guide the crafting of our nation's laws. For many students, the week culminates in an optional day of training and practice in the nuts-and-bolts of the art of public speaking.
Students and parents leave Capstone with a deepened enthusiasm and conviction for their active participation in the political process. They understand that, particularly here in Idaho, individual citizens have the opportunity to have an impact on the passage of good laws and the defeat of ill-advised ones.
In part because of this annual experience with Cornerstone's Capstone conference, Idaho's homeschooling families wield a disproportionate amount of political clout. Nationwide, families who teach their children at home are two to three times more likely to vote and to actively campaign for candidates of their choice. In Idaho, the numbers appear to be even higher.
Among candidates for the Idaho legislature, for example, we are typically seeing 10% to 12% who have either taught their children at home or been home educated themselves. By contrast, only 1% to 2% of the students in the state are actually being homeschooled.
To this day, the gold standard for grass roots political activism in Idaho is that which was established by homeschoolers in 2004 in a tsunami of opposition to Senator Stegnor's (D-Lewiston) bill to criminalize educational neglect.
This political potency is reluctantly acknowledged even by opponents of home education in Idaho. Several years ago one particular Senator commented that sponsoring a bill to register or test homeschoolers was a quick route to defeat in the next election.
The logical outcome of this training by Cornerstone Family Council became evident this year. Homeschooled students stepped forward at the Idaho legislature to lobby and testify in support of two important bills.
House Joint Memorial #1 was a bill sponsored by Representative Bob Nonini (R-Coeur d'Alene) and Senator Russ Fulcher (R-Meridian) and co-sponsored by House Majority Leader, Mike Moyle (R-Star) and Senator Steve Vick (R-Dalton Garden). HJM1 respectfully encouraged Congress to pass the Parental Rights Amendment to the U. S. Constitution to protect the rights of all parents to direct the education and upbringing of their children.
The bill was skillfully maneuvered by its House and Senate sponsors. It was vigorously supported by the testimony of ICHE, Linda Patchin and CHOIS, Micheline Ghiorso and ParentalRights.org, and Julie Lynde and Cornerstone.
But at the committee hearings on the Memorial, it was Cornerstone's Capstone students who won the day. Rachel Hooper and Holly Monaghan each explained to the committees that they had studied parental rights in great depth at this year's Capstone Student Legislature. They had even read and argued U. S. Supreme Court decisions on the subject in the Capstone Supreme Court. They demonstrated that they understood the profound threat to parental rights that is arising both from an eroding of the right within the Supreme Court and from an unprecedented application of international law by our judiciary.
When these students stepped forward and urged their Representatives and Senators to vote in favor of the Memorial, their voices were heard loud and clear. In fact, for those of us privileged to be in the audience while Holly and Rachel spoke, it was pure delight to watch the otherwise distracted countenances of the legislators focus, and then light up, as these two skilled debaters presented their compelling arguments.
As a result of this effort, the Memorial passed both houses by substantial margins and was sent on to Congress encouraging it to pass the amendment and send it to the state legislatures for ratification. In significant part because of the studied, articulate, and passionate testimony of these two homeschooled students, Idaho became just the third state legislature in the nation to go on record in support of this amendment. And in so doing, the inertia in favor of this measure gained a bit more momentum which, in turn, has encouraged other states to step up to the plate on this issue, as well.
Homeschooled students were also active on another bill this session. Senate Bill 1165 was rooted in the solid scientific evidence that now demonstrates that an unborn child by at least 20 weeks of age is capable of feeling pain, perhaps even more acutely than the pain that is perceived after birth. Since its passage and signing by Governor Otter, the bill has prohibited abortions after an unborn child reaches 20 weeks of age.
Sponsored by Senator Chuck Winder (R-Eagle), the bill was actively supported by Kerry Uhlencott of Right to Life of Idaho and Julie Lynde of Cornerstone Family Council, among others.
Arguments in support of this bill were also developed by Capstone students Stacie Monaghan and Danielle Hooper. As a former House page and currently a nursing student in her final semester of studies at Boise State University, the comments by Stacie Monaghan in particular were given great attention by the Senate Committee.
The bill then passed both houses of our legislature and has now been signed by Governor Otter protecting those who cannot yet speak for themselves.
This year's experience has opened a whole new channel for homeschoolers' involvement in our legislative process. We look forward to watching others follow in the footsteps of Stacie, Danielle, Holly, and Rachel.
They are the trailblazers. They have shown what can be accomplished by thoughtful and passionate young men and women who are willing to step up in a statesmanlike manner to encourage our Senators and Representatives to do the right thing.
To learn more about and register for the 2012 Capstone Student Legislature for students from 8 to 18 years of age, visit Cornerstone's web site at www.cfcidaho.org. Registration closes July 1st.
BARRY PETERS is an attorney in private practice with offices in Eagle, Idaho, and is one of the legal advisors for both ICHE and CHOIS. His law practice focuses on the areas of real estate contracts, wills & trusts, and business formations