Ad Hoc Report

There was a lot of activity in the legislative arena in the past year's legislative session. But first I'm going to quickly explain who I am and what I do for those who do not know.

HOUSE (Home Oriented Unique Schooling Experience) is a statewide network of nonsectarian homeschooling support groups. There are several other such networks of homeschoolers: ICHE (Illinois Christian Home Educators), ILARCHE (Illinois Association of Roman Catholic Home Educators), CLA (Christian Liberty Academy), and IUN (Illinois Unschoolers Network). These five organizations, recognizing that we all benefit by keeping Illinois laws favorable to Illinois homeschoolers, join together in the Ad Hoc Committee for Home Education Legal and Legislative Matters. I am HOUSE's representative to Ad Hoc.

Ad Hoc meets at least once a year in person. But we also discuss issues as they come up throughout the year via phone and email. Ad Hoc also sends a representative (currently me) to ICNS (the Illinois Coalition of Nonpublic Schools). That group represents private schools as diverse as the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago and the Associated Talmud Torahs of Chicago and us homeschoolers!!.

ICNS for its part has a paid lobbyist who very carefully reads upcoming legislation to decide if it might have anything to do with private schools and whether we might want to use the influence of that group to affect such legislation. We truly benefit from this association with the greater private school community. For one, we get alerted when there is a bill we should be concerned about. And for another, we (often) have their support if the bill would affect us, because they know that we homeschoolers are like the canary in the coal mine. If something targets us, they may be next.

Last year there were two bills that concerned homeschoolers and which we acted on through ICNS, on our own as HOUSE, and also through Ad Hoc.

The first bill would have effectively changed the reporting requirements for all public and private schools and would have required homeschoolers to register with a state agency. SB550 is about lead testing in every public and private school in the state serving students between pre-K and 5th grade. When I first heard of this bill at the September ICNS meeting, I realized how that would have affected us. ICNS managed to insert wording to the effect that this would only apply to schools with more than 10 students. Rather than create an exception for "homeschoolers," which would have set us apart from other private schools, we decided that this bottom limit for number of students would be best for all very small schools and should rule out any home-based school.

Another bill, HB0230, was meant to make admission to public universities more equitable across all high schools around the state, but would have actually hurt homeschoolers, since it would have required the public state universities to give automatic admission to the top ten percent of students from all accredited high schools. Homeschoolers are not accredited, so they would have been left out of this privileged group who might fill all available freshman admissions to the public universities.

We tried to work with Representative Thapedi, the bill's sponsor, on wording that would add us to the favored group. He took our amendment, and used part of it, unfortunately leaving out the most important wording and leaving the issue of homeschoolers' status ambiguous. We presented him with another amendment which would have corrected his mistake, and though he seemed to be amenable to putting it in, at the last minute, he failed to attend the committee meeting that would have made the amendment part of the bill. We continued to oppose the bill, and our allies in the legislature helped us defeat it.

All this was made possible because of our alliance with other organizations in Illinois and ICNS's lobbyist's ability to talk to those who were able to help. Do not underestimate the importance of these relationships. Homeschoolers in Illinois enjoy a freer existence than those in almost any other state. But this situation almost changed twice in the past year, completely unnoticed by most of you.

I want to urge all homeschoolers to please go to all the websites I linked to above. Become familiar with the Illinois laws that pertain to homeschoolers and why we have such a favorable legal position. It is only because we watch it carefully that our freedoms have been retained to the extent that they have. It is by no means a sure thing that it will remain like this. The more people stay active and vigilant, the better off all homeschoolers will be.

I have always offered to help anyone who is interested in getting involved to do so. But now I am insisting. My involvement is coming to an end. My youngest child is 27. There is no HOUSE group where I am currently living. I am obviously not homeschooling any more. I am being pulled in many other directions. I've been helped by two wonderful alternate Ad Hoc reps, but their children are also fully grown. We all know it is time to pass this job to others who still actually homeschool and who are fully motivated to stand guard awhile.

I hear from people how busy they are. It's true about everyone. I was also especially busy the year I helped found Champaign HOUSE (1990-91) and started getting involved in State HOUSE issues. That year my mother and grandfather both died and my father-in-law became ill with a terminal cancer. That was also the year I discovered that my youngest child had autism and was going to require a lot of attention. Life is always busy; would adding state regulators to your homeschool administration help with that?

Being active in HOUSE, learning about our laws, and helping to maintain our freedoms should come naturally to anyone committed to homeschooling. When something is that important, you make time for it. You homeschool because you won't leave something as important as your child's future to other people. Your freedom to do this should also be something you do not simply wait for other people to take care of for you. Paying for HSLDA's legal insurance would not have been enough this year. They became involved with HB0230 only after ICNS's lobbyist and I noticed the problem and HOUSE circulated a letter outlining the diminished college-admission chances it left for bright (up to 90th percentile) kids and all homeschool students. HSLDA's clout is wonderful, but their sensitivity to Illinois-specific issues is too low. Once again, HOUSE activists held back the intrusive forces of Illinois government.

I will stay around long enough to train the next Ad Hoc representative. I will even be willing to act as an adviser for years to come. But I will not do this job alone for people uninterested in learning how to help, no matter how sincerely I may be thanked for my efforts on their behalf. The work is not onerous; it comes in episodes. The biggest effort it requires is to keep cultivating statewide and cross-organizational contacts. Ad Hoc members, like HOUSE members, vary in their activism year by year; to join Ad Hoc is to accept a posture of vigilance and shared concern for the entire community of Illinois homeschoolers. Step up now.

Thank you,
Rebecca Jaxon
HOUSE member, Ad Hoc representative, and member of ICNS