Threatening Bills Tamed in Harrisburg
by Howard Richman
In general , things look pretty safe for homeschoolers in Harrisburg. Here is a quick update on three bills that we are following in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives:
Teacher Certification Bill Amended
If House Bill 2100 passes, as it is likely to do this fall, many homeschool evaluators will get a letter five years from now from the Secretary of Education telling them that their teaching certificates are "inactive." However, they will not need to panic.
Rep. Jess Stairs, the Republican Chair of the House Education Committee, has added an amendment to HB 2100 which says that "inactive" teachers will still be able to do home education program evaluations!
Thank you to the many homeschoolers who took around our fact sheets about this bill during last September's Homeschool Excellence Day. You did it!
Compulsory School Age Bill Dying
In the last issue I wrote about House Bill 2125 which would lower the beginning compulsory school age from 8 to 6. After that many homeschoolers with Republican legislators asked their legislators to ask Rep. Jess Stairs to kill it in his committee.
We can also especially thank the Chester County homeschoolers for their action after Republican Representative Elinor Z. Taylor added her name to the list of sponsors. After receiving calls from homeschoolers in Chester County she quickly decided to take her name off of the list of sponsors.
Because of these actions, HB 2125 remains an almost purely Democrat-sponsored bill, and Rep. Jess Stairs has decided to let it die in his committee (the House Education Committee). That means that it will not be voted upon this session.
New School Age Bill Introduced
A new bill (HB 2344) was introduced on March 12, 1998. Like HB 2125, it would lower the compulsory school age and has very little chance of passage this session. However, a bill like it may pass during some future session, especially if Democrats regain control of the House and Senate.
Those whose representatives are co-sponsors, may want to contact their representatives and express their disagreement and perhaps get others in their district to do the same. It would do all of the following:
ü Lower the compulsory school age from 8 to 6.
ü Require all school districts to provide all-day kindergarten. (Currently most school districts only provide a half-day kindergarten.)
ü Require school districts to make schooling available for all children 5 and up. (Currently it is 6 and up.)
The sponsors of the bill are:
· Connie Williams, Democrat, Montgomery
· Fred Bellardi, Democrat, Lackawanna County
· Patricia Carone, Republican, Butler County
· Mark Cohen, Democrat, Philadelphia
· Frank Dermody, Democrat, Allegheny County
· Mike Horsey, Democrat, Philadelphia
· Harold James, Democrat, Philadelphia
· Babette Josephs, Democrat, Philadelphia
· Kathy Manderino, Democrat, Philadelphia
· Anthony Melio, Democrat, Bucks County
· William Russell Robinson, Democrat, Allegheny
This bill is unlikely to pass given the fact that Republicans are currently in control of the PA House and Senate and the Governorship and it only has one Republican sponsor, Rep. Carone whose home office is in Cranberry Township of Butler County.
Apparently, the goal of those who want to lower the beginning school age is to get ever earlier education into the public schools and make it compulsory. l
by Howard Richman
On April 22 the first bill that would have saved homeschoolers some income tax money passed the United States Senate It is called "Sen. Coverdell's A+ Education Savings Accounts Bill."
During the week leading up to April 22, the National Center for Home Education (an offshoot of the Home School Legal Defense Association) mounted a very strong lobbying effort. As part of that effort, we passed on their e-mail messages to recipents of Pennsylvania Homeschoolers e-mail tree.
Meanwhile in Washington Jon Matias, a homeschooled senior in the Pennsylvania Homeschoolers Accreditation Agency diploma program, was active lobbying for the bill. Jon has served as an Intern with the HSLDA for the spring term while finishing up his requirements for high school graduation. Next fall he plans to attend Northland Baptist Bible College in Wisconsin.
On Monday morning, the 20th, he met with the staff members of various Senators including Molly Birmingham, a legislative assistant for Senator Specter. She was basically non-commital. "Senator Specter never tells me or anyone else how he is going to vote," she said.
That afternonn Jon attended a rally and press conference in favor of the bill hosted by its sponsor, Senator Coverdell. Jon helped hold up the back drop behind the Senators while they spoke.
On Tuesday, Jon spoke with Senator Santorum's office by phone. He asked the receptionist if she was receiving any phone calls in favor of Coverdell's bill and the receptionist said, with weariness in her voice, “hundreds and hundreds and hundreds.” When he called Senator Specter's office they told him they were flooded also.
On Wednesday, Jon monitored the votes live on C-Span while sending out Fax and e-mail alerts to homeschoolers around the country about their results.
The key vote occurred on April 21 when the Senate voted by 60 to 38 to defeat Senator Glenn’s Amendment which would have excluded homeschooling and other forms of private school education from the A+ Accounts. Both of Pennsylvania's senators voted against that amendment.
On Wednesday amendments were added which would eliminate Goals 2000, School-to-Work, and national testing. Senator Santorum voted for these amendments while Senator Specter voted against them. Then the bill as a whole came up for a vote and passed 56 to 43 with Senator Santorum voting for and Senator Specter against.
If this bill passes, parents and relatives of homeschoolers could contribute to savings accounts which could accumulate tax free and then eventually be spent for educational expenses. However, don't start your children's savings accounts yet. This bill is expected to be vetoed by President Clinton and the proponents do not currently have enough votes to over-ride his veto.
Stay tuned for the next installment. If you join the Pennsylvania Homeschoolers e-mail tree you will be informed right away so that you can register your opinion with your legislators whenever this or any other bill that affects homeschoolers is about to come up for a vote. l