The First Decade and the Portfolio Option
by Mike Hutchison
With a vision to serve the homeschooling community, CHEWV commenced its service in 1990. Starting with a board of ten couples, the first real invitation to join CHEWV came with the invitation to the first conference, with nationally-known speaker Gregg Harris. From there, the service and membership began growing; within the first ten years, membership grew from 40 families to over 600 families!
During CHEWV’s first three years, homeschooling became more popular all across the country. While attracting the attention of more parents, however, it drew increasing antagonism from teachers’ unions and legislators. In 1994, U.S. Congressional Bill HR 6 threatened to derail homeschooling nationwide. It was during the HR6 campaign that CHEWV’s phone trees and statewide communication system was set up. The voice of our homeschooling community, heard loud and clear in the halls of Congress, made an indelible impression on our representatives in Washington! While primitive by today’s technology, that system would serve CHEWV for many years until replaced by email and electronic communication.
West Virginia legislative pressures heightened as the state’s teachers unions sought more control over homeschooling families. At the same time more families with special needs children began to consider homeschooling as an option to help their children flourish with more one-on-one, personally tailored instruction. CHEWV, in concert with HSLDA, decided to seek legislation in the 1994 session to add a portfolio evaluation assessment option to the annual standardized testing requirement. It seemed reasonable to seek a legislative remedy for the discriminatory provision of the law which made it impossible for special needs children to be homeschooled.
While a portfolio assessment option seemed straightforward and reasonable, the 1994 legislative campaign became very difficult as the state teachers unions and state Department of Education became adamant that parents were not qualified to teach special needs children and, in fact, should not be teaching any children at home unless they were state-certified teachers. God favored us with a sympathetic chairman of the House Education Committee, but the Senate Education Committee chairwoman, a school psychologist, was adamantly opposed to any more parental freedom than the law already allowed. As this was before CHEWV had a formal lobbying presence at the Capitol, the CHEWV Board asked homeschooling families from all around the state to advocate face-to-face with their own delegates and state senators. Families responded by flooding the Capitol, many bringing cookies as they sought individual meetings with their district legislators to lobby for passage.
As had been experienced in 1986, it was only by the grace of God that the portfolio option was passed that year. At one point near the middle of the session, the Senate Education Committee chairwoman told CHEWV that the House Bill would certainly not make it through her committee. What did God use to change her mind? God used our children! Conversations with our children and their respectful behavior softened her heart over the last four weeks of the session. In one of the many trips to the committee meetings and just three days before the end of the session, she shocked us when she asked the committee to report the bill to the Senate Floor – albeit with no recommendation for passage. On the next-to-last day of the session, when we were again at the Capitol, she called us aside and told one of our children not to worry about the bill – that it would be okay! The Senate passed the House Bill unanimously on the last day of the session – and it became law! The heart of the king (in this case the committee chairwoman) was still in God’s hand! Nowhere is it more evident than when Exemption B (b) of the West Virginia Code was liberalized to allow more freedom to West Virginia’s homeschooling families. Like David, we are small and have no legislative power on our own. But as with Goliath, God takes down seemingly insurmountable obstacles through the active faith of His people!