Summary: Send this “Open Letter to Wisconsin Legislators” to your Wisconsin state Senator and Assembly Representative to reduce the chances that legislation that undermines homeschooling freedoms will be introduced. Details are below, including reasons such legislation is more likely now, why homeschoolers have opposed and continue to oppose such legislation, and what we can do. Please share this information with other homeschoolers and people you know.
As a result of WPA’s continuing vigilance concerning new legislation, here is our current assessment. The potential legislation most likely to harm homeschoolers is that offering homeschoolers tax credits for homeschooling expenses, opportunities to participate on public school sports teams, and other “favors" from the government. Such legislation is more likely to be introduced now because:
• A new legislative session begins in January, 2011. Some newly elected legislators need to be educated (and some returning one reminded) about the harm such legislation would do to homeschoolers. During this session, Republicans will control both houses of the Legislature and the Governor’s office. (In 2009-2010, Democrats controlled all three.) Some Republicans want to give us "favors" and win our support, not realizing that such "favors" actually harm homeschooling. Also, because in general homeschoolers have looked to Republicans to be more supportive of homeschooling than Democrats, some homeschoolers may push to have such legislation introduced.
• Pressure to balance the state budget will focus attention on tax dollars spent for education. (K-12 public education accounts for about 37% of the state budget.) Many Republicans and some Democrats favor privatization of education (including giving tax money to brick-and-mortar charter schools, virtual charter schools, homeschools, voucher programs, etc.) as an effective way to cut costs.
Why Homeschoolers Oppose Legislation to Grant "Favors"
• "Favors" come with strings attached. As WPA has pointed out repeatedly for many years, accepting money from the government would undermine our homeschooling freedoms. The government must account to the public for how it spends the tax dollars it collects. If homeschoolers accept such money, they are required to comply with state-mandated standards that determine what knowledge, skills, and attitudes students must be taught and take state-mandated tests. For more information and examples of WPA’s previous statements on this topic, see many WPA Newsletters beginning with #55, February, 1998; WPA Resolutions #23 (4/95), 29 (5/98), 30 (5/98), 33 (5/99), 38 (5/02), 40 (5/03), 41 (5/03), 48 (5/08) [WPA Resolutions are available on the WPA Web site]; WPA handbook pp. 160, 181-182; WPA booklet "Kitchen Tables and Marble Halls: WPA and Homeschooling in Wisconsin."
Some people may find it confusing that some of the most serious current threats to our homeschooling freedoms come from legislation that would grant us “favors,” something that many people (including some homeschoolers) assume homeschoolers would welcome. In fact, some of the pressure for legislation to grant government "favors" to homeschoolers comes from misguided homeschoolers and homeschooling organizations.
• Legislation cannot be controlled. The version of a bill that passes is often very different from the original bill. Left to their own devices, legislators will understandably represent the mainstream rather than the homeschooling minority. Some legislators and critics of homeschooling have been waiting since 1984 for an opportunity to increase state regulation of homeschooling. No matter how favorable a bill might be when introduced, it can easily be amended to increase state regulation and limit our freedom.
• Increased regulation undoubtedly would expand. Before long, regulations applied to homeschoolers who accept "favors" would undoubtedly be applied to all homeschoolers.
• Homeschoolers could easily be required to take state-mandated tests.
Standardized tests are a major way public school students are assessed today. These tests incorporate the government’s principles and beliefs, which may be very different from those of homeschooling families. Also, abundant evidence shows tests are inaccurate and unfair. Teachers, students, and parents all object. But for over 30 years, both Democratic and Republican legislators have been voting to require increased testing. They are very unlikely to sympathize with homeschoolers’ objections to such tests when their goal as legislators is to fix some larger problem. For more on WPA’s position on standardized testing, see many WPA Newsletters beginning with "White Paper on Legally Required Standardized Testing" in WPA Newsletter #14, July 1987; WPA Resolutions #3 (4/88), 18 (4/94), 32 (5/99), 36 (5/01); and the WPA handbook pp. 184-185, 219-2.
Why Homeschoolers Oppose Legislation that Supposedly Guarantees Parental Rights
• 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.
What We Can Do
• We can contact our legislators in early January. Most effective is a personal letter that includes some or all of the points in the “Open Letter.” Next most effective are conversations in person or by phone with aides in our legislators’ offices. Third (and still very effective) is sending a printed copy of the “Open Letter.” Include a note saying something like “I am a homeschooler and a constituent. I’m sending this to tell you we don’t want "favors" or any other homeschool-related legislation.” Because of the large volume of emails legislators receive, they are suggested only as a last resort.
If you call, introduce yourself as a constituent. Ask to speak with the aide who handles education. (Make note of the aide’s name.) Cover the key points from the open letter that you think would be most likely to convince the legislator you are calling. If you’re not sure which to choose, pick the ones that are most important to you. You may want to include the idea that one of the key reasons homeschooling works so well is that parents take direct responsibility for their children’s education. With "favors", parents would begin to share that responsibility with the state. We don’t want that.
For contact information for your state Senator and Assembly Representative, go to http://legis.wisconsin.gov/w3asp/waml/waml.aspx//.
• We can share this information with other homeschoolers.
If we work together and each do our part, we will increase the chances that legislation that undermines our homeschooling freedoms will not be passed.