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NJ Bill Threatens Homeschooling

By Lee Duigon
November 05, 2008

“The property of the State should be taxed to educate the children of the State.”

—John Swett, California State Superintendent of Schools, 1879[1]

Homeschooling families in New Jersey have won the opening skirmish in another battle with encroaching statism. But the battle is by no means over.

Jersey legislators on September 22 introduced a bill, A3123, that would burden homeschoolers with increased regulation and give public school districts a virtual power to draft homeschooled children back into public education. The overall effect of the proposed law “would cause a catastrophic destruction of homeschool freedom in New Jersey,” said an October 2 press release from the Home School Legal Defense Assocation (HSLDA).

But by October 10 the HSLDA was advising its members and friends, “Your message has come through loud and clear!… It is now time to stop the phone calls” to state legislators.

“The crisis has not blown over,” HSLDA attorney Scott Woodruff told Chalcedon, “but the struggle against the bill has entered a new phase.

“The purpose of our phone and email campaign was to show legislators that the bill is massively unpopular. We have accomplished that.

“The next phase is to meet with assemblymen and hold conversations with them, to make sure they understand our position. As a matter of good faith, we’d like them to withdraw the bill. It never should have been filed. Or else they could just stuff it into a mouse-hole somewhere and let it die.”

Heavy New Regulations Proposed

HSLDA summarized the bill and posted a full text on its website.[2] A3123 would, quoting at length from HSLDA’s summary,

  • Require an annual notarized letter of intent to register every homeschooled child.
  • Require parents to list objectives in every mandatory subject.
  • Require evidence of immunization.
  • Require proof that children have received all medical services the law requires.
  • Require certification that adults in the home have not committed certain crimes.
  • Require 180 days of instruction.
  • Empower the State Commissioner of Education to decide what subjects are mandatory.
  • Empower the Commissioner to determine course content “guidelines” starting in kindergarten.
  • Require parents to keep the following records and submit them annually to the school district, and also as often as the local district superintendent of schools requests, if he has “reason to believe” the student is not getting “an appropriate education”:
    • list of reading materials
    • writing samples
    • workbooks
    • worksheets
    • creative materials
    • standardized testing in grades 3, 5, and 8 (with parents being prohibited from administering the test)
    • an annual evaluation by a person other than the parent, after an interview and review of materials. The evaluator must certify that the student is receiving an “appropriate education.” The evaluator must be (a) a licensed psychologist, (b) a certified school psychologist, (c) a New Jersey public or private school teacher, or (d) a New Jersey public or private school administrator.
  • Empower the superintendent to ask the school board to terminate homeschooling [emphasis added] if he believes the records show the homeschool program is “unsatisfactory in providing an adequate education.”
  • “Adequate education” is not defined, so the superintendent and school board have wide latitude to decide what they think it means.

As any reader can see, the proposed bill would encumber both homeschooling families and their local public school districts with a mass of new paperwork—not to mention putting the families into a state of perpetual uncertainty as to the security of their homeschooling rights.

The Sponsor Speaks

We spoke with one of the sponsors of the bill, Assemblyman L. Harvey Smith.

Asked what problems with homeschooling in New Jersey his bill was intended to correct, Smith said, “There aren’t any problems with it.” Asked if he was trying to correct any perceived inadequacies in homeschooling in New Jersey, he answered, “We’re not saying it’s inadequate.”

Asked to explain why such a bill as A3123 should be needed at all, Smith said, “We’re just trying to be proactive, not reactive, primarily with regard to abuse and safety issues. I’m not saying there are any abuse and safety issues in New Jersey homeschooling now, but if any arise in the future, we want to be able to deal with them. We just want to make homeschooling as healthy as it can be.”

He was vague about concerns that his bill might allow public school officials to dictate the content of a family’s homeschooling program, forcing parents to teach material they found morally objectionable.

“There are areas you don’t necessarily have to teach,” Smith said. “Nothing in the bill says you’d have to teach evolution or sex education.

“Our state’s Compulsory Education Act encourages homeschooling families to notify their local superintendent of schools; we want to require notification. The law says homeschoolers may maintain a file, and our bill says they should maintain a file—just in case of any legal action, in case somebody comes in from the district and wants to know what’s going on in any homeschooling program.”

We cannot help but be skeptical of Mr. Smith’s protestations. The language of the bill clearly states that the public school superintendent would have the authority to decide what constitutes “an adequate education.” It is equally clear that if he were to decide that it would have to include evolution and sex education, he would have the power to “terminate” a homeschool program that did not include them.

Heaping Up a Burden

“There’s no evidence, from anywhere, that burdensome regulations improve homeschooling,” Scott Woodruff said. “This bill is a massive attack on the family. It gives the superintendent power to force a family to stop homeschooling. It’s an attack on the family by an institution that has not been notably successful in managing its own affairs.”

The bill, he said, would burden both families and school superintendents with “a mound of paperwork,” adding to the cost of public education and eventually resulting in higher school taxes.

“I can’t say when our conversations with legislators will start,” he said. “They’ll be informal, one-on-one talks between homeschooling leaders and assembly members.”

To organize and execute opposition to the bill, a homeschool task force was formed, consisting of the HSLDA, Catholic Homeschoolers of New Jersey, the Eagle Forum of New Jersey, the Education Network of Christian Homeschoolers of New Jersey, the New Jersey Homeschool Association, and the Unschoolers Network.

What’s the Issue?

To understand what’s at issue in New Jersey, let’s return to the introductory quote by John Swett, State Superintendent of Schools in California almost 130 years ago:

“The property of the State should be taxed to educate the children of the State.”

The language reveals more than the speaker intended. R. J. Rushdoony analyzes Swett’s words:

“Note Swett’s language, very often repeated, ‘the property of the State,’ not the property in the State, and ‘the children of the State,’ not children residing in the territory of the State. Indeed, Swett plainly justified his language, affirming, ‘children arrived at the age of maturity belong, not to the parents, but to the state, to society, to the country.’ This ostensibly gives the state the right to reach back into the home and claim the right of jurisdiction over its property, the children.”[3]

In an essay written in 1864, while the Civil War was raging, Swett said, “[T]he child should be taught to consider his instructor, in many respects, superior to the parents in point of authority.”[4]

There’s much more of this from Swett and many other 19th century “educators,” thoroughly dissected by Rushdoony in his 1963 eye-opener, The Messianic Character of American Education. Very early on in the history of public education, Swett and others were insisting on the state’s total supremacy, in the person of the public schools, over the family—with children seen as property to be claimed by the state. This drive for total power has not abated over time.

More Power Grabs

Grabbing for more power over homeschooling families was not the only way New Jersey has displayed its statist colors lately.

On October 16, as reported by the Associated Press, hundreds of parents staged an angry demonstration in front of the State House in Trenton to protest a new state policy of mandatory flu shots for all New Jersey children aged six months to five years old.[5]

The state’s Public Health Council approved the policy on the recommendation of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—without benefit of legislation or public hearings at any step along the way. The policy was approved last December, to take effect this fall. Thirty-four members of the Assembly are now cosponsoring a bill to allow exceptions to the mandatory vaccinations on the grounds of a conscientious objection.

And, as this article went to press, another bill has been submitted to the Assembly, this one expanding the age for compulsory school attendance from 16 to 18. According to the HSLDA, this bill—which would prevent students from dropping out of school at 16—will increase school costs, and further erode the quality of public education, by forcing thousands of unwilling and unruly students to remain in the classroom. It would also force homeschooling families to continue programs one or two years longer than they might otherwise choose, says the HSLDA.

The secular state never stops reaching for more and more power over its citizens. It recognizes no natural limit to its authority. From its inception in the early 19th century, public education has been, and remains, a thoroughly statist enterprise.

It is this vision of total power, and children as the property of the state, that inspired the California Legislature in 2007 to pass laws requiring public schools to teach children to accept homosexuality as a morally valid lifestyle, over any religious objections by their parents.[6] Again, there is no stopping point.

God does not give this kind of total power to the state. The laws enumerated in the Bible come from God Himself, not the state. Throughout the Bible, we are taught that parents, not the state, are responsible for their children’s education. The state has authority—under God!—to defend the people from their enemies and act as a ministry of justice, punishing criminals who prey upon the people: see Romans chapter 13.

This is why Chalcedon has always supported homeschooling and Christian schools. God has established separate spheres of authority for the family, the church, and the state. But the history of the Western world is a history of state expansion into all spheres of human life, at the expense of church and family, and in total opposition to God’s plan.

Whether it’s mandatory preschool flu shots or a scheme to erode the independence of homeschooling families, the expanding state bears constant watching.


[1] Quoted in R. J. Rushdoony, The Messianic Character of American Education (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1963: 1995 edition), 79.

[3] Rushdoony, The Messianic Character, 79.

[4] Ibid., 60.

[5] AP National Writer David Crary, “NJ flu-shot mandate for preschoolers draws outcry,” October 16, 2008.

[6] Lee Duigon, “Now It’s the Law! California Schools Must Push Homosexuality,” The Chalcedon Foundation, November 6, 2007, http://www.chalcedon.edu/articles/article.php?ArticleID=2786.


Topics: Education, Family & Marriage, Statism

Lee Duigon

Lee is the author of the Bell Mountain Series of novels and a contributing editor for our Faith for All of Life magazine. Lee provides commentary on cultural trends and relevant issues to Christians, along with providing cogent book and media reviews.

Lee has his own blog at www.leeduigon.com.

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