During Home School Day at the Capitol, several CHEWV families gathered in the House Education Committee room to review how a bill becomes a law. We highlighted how difficult it is to write an effective law while avoiding unintended negative consequences. We also discussed the challenge faced by legislators as they seek to understand and evaluate hundreds of proposed laws in each annual 60-day legislative session. In fact, they rely on staff attorneys to both draft the wording as well as summarize the purpose and effect of many of the bills that they consider.
Little did we know how prophetic that meeting would be.
While all seemed quiet on the homeschool legislative front, a mere ten days later HB 3408 was introduced in the House, quickly passing through the Education Committee without discussion. According to the stated purpose of the bill – to “clean up statutory language related to the Hope scholarship program” – it was intended to fix a glitch in the wording of the law regarding scholarship funding. Sounds fine, right?
As we quickly discovered, though, HB 3408 had a number of problems, not the least of which was the serious unintended consequence of placing private homeschoolers’ hard-earned freedoms at risk. This led to a labor-intensive two weeks as we all worked together to get the bill fixed. After the bill was amended on the House floor, it then survived a rather divisive debate over another proposed amendment and passed out of the House on a rare unanimous vote, just in time to be considered by the Senate. Ultimately, however, the bill died in the Senate without being taken up in committee.
Looking back, here are some important takeaways from the 2023 West Virginia Legislature:
- The voice of homeschool families matters hugely. When we asked homeschool families to contact members of the House of Delegates to express their opinions, we heard from legislators that it was by far the most communication they received on any bill this year. They worked quickly to address our concerns, and the House then passed it on a unanimous vote.
- Don’t underestimate relationships and face-to-face contact with legislators! No legislator can ignore a family who’s stopped by to speak with them about homeschooling – your face will come up before them when they go to cast their vote. It gives your legislator a connection with you – “my family stopped by your office and met with you briefly a couple of weeks ago” is a much stronger opening to an email than “I live in your district.” Finally, you will be more comfortable contacting members of the legislature on specific issues if you’ve been able to meet and talk with them previously.
- Thank God for homeschool advocates in the WV Legislature! We used to have to almost beg to get a couple of legislators to show up at our rally at Home School Day at the Capitol. Now they are lining up to speak to the homeschool families gathered there! This is a blessing.
- Vigilance is still needed to guard our parental rights and educational freedoms! Even with a well-intended, homeschool-friendly legislature, HB 3408 illustrates that there is no such thing as an “off year” for homeschoolers at the WV Legislature. Monitoring is always necessary.
- Once a law is “opened up” for change by an introduced bill, just about anything can happen to the law. Because the wording of a bill is often very “fluid” as it goes through the whole legislative process, changes can happen quickly and at multiple points along the bill’s journey. Amendments can pop up out of the blue and be adopted quickly; or they may be debated passionately, creating unnecessary division or ill will. Multiple factors such as a busy agenda, deadlines, and last-minute conceptual agreements requiring rapid-fire translation into written amendments, can all contribute to a hurried legislative pace that leaves little time for adequate consideration of unanticipated consequences.
- God hears our prayers. Though pro-homeschool legislators are great to have and families contacting their legislators can be persuasive, our ultimate confidence rests in the “one Lawgiver and Judge – who is able to save and destroy.” He has been faithful to West Virginia homeschoolers, day after day, year after year. May we all be found faithful to Him, and the work He has given us to do!
Though HB 3408 faded away and died quietly at the end of this year’s session, some version of the bill will likely return next year. The problem with the Hope funding still remains. In order to monitor how any future proposals might affect WV homeschool families, we must remain actively vigilant.