A disappointingly small crowd of homeschool families came out this past Thursday evening to hear Delegate Joe Statler and Senator Randy Smith, dedicated and energetic WV legislators who have supported the homeschool agenda in Charleston. The Town Hall, hosted by Pastor Jim Cooley and the Morgantown Bible Church, gave both legislators time to share their thoughts about home education and to hear concerns of parents and students.
Senator Smith lamented, “The problem with the country is that they don’t get involved.” Originally from Terra Alta and now living in Davis, Senator Smith has grandchildren who are homeschooled. He praised CHEWV’s lobbyist, John Carey, when asked how homeschoolers can separate themselves from truants.
“Bad laws often get passed because judges are not enforcing current laws,” stated Carey later. “Judges need to enforce current law and protect children. When they fail to carry out their judicial responsibility, pressure is put on legislators to take away liberties from law-abiding families.”
Smith emphasized that legislators are influenced by emails from constituents. While he discouraged the use of form emails, he stressed the impact of short, personal, heartfelt emails. Smith noted that communicating before the busyness of the session sets in is strategic. “Right now, during the fall months, is a good time… We get fewer emails now. But don’t be radical. Don’t threaten,” he counseled. “Be cordial, professional, tactful.”
Delegate Joe Statler, Vice-Chair of the House Education Committee, concurred. “Never assume we know what the heck we’re doing. We may not realize the ramification of bills.” Because hundreds of bills cross legislators’ desks during the session, he encouraged citizens to lobby and help legislators understand what a particular issue or bill could do to them or for them.
Statler dislikes the extensive 18-8 education chapter in the WV Law, feeling that it doesn’t allow enough local control. To a comment about homeschoolers still paying taxes and playing sports, the former Monongalia County School Board member clarified that the tax money is allocated back to the counties according to literal head counts in the public school; this means that homeschool students who are not physically enrolled prevent their parents’ money from coming back to the county of origin. Those funds default instead to general state funds. Consequently, teachers’ unions argue that homeschoolers cost counties needed money.
Statler himself is very supportive of homeschooling – along with other school choices – stating that the child’s education must always come first. He supported the Tim Tebow bill and feels it was vetoed only because it also applied to private schools. Without that provision, which was added in the Senate, he thinks it can get passed again – and signed. In fact, he’s looking for that to happen in 2018.
Roger Sherman, board member with CHEWV and long-time professonal lobbyist in the private sector, commented that most legislators intend to do what’s right, but they often hear from only one side on an issue. He also pointed out that there is a 40% turnover in Charleston every two years. “Never forget that four out of ten have never seen us before or heard our past stories.”
Both legislators referred to the proverbial homeschooler on a four wheeler in the middle of the day – the characterization which has flooded the Capitol for years, intending to malign the diligence of homeschooling families. Both Smith and Statler say that the antidote is meeting with legislators and letting them get to know real homeschoolers. Carey agrees. “They won’t push the [voting] button and hurt families that they know personally.”
“Bring your children with you,” says Smith. “Their good behavior impresses legislators.”