Tennessee Bill Threatens Christian Schooling
Homeschooling families in Tennessee will have until March 19 to tell their state legislators to scuttle a bill that could mean the end of Christian education in their state.
Meanwhile, leaders in the homeschooling community are negotiating with the bill’s sponsor in hopes of persuading him to withdraw it.
March 19 is the date set for a hearing of the Special Initiatives Subcommittee of the House Education Committee. After some 150 homeschooling parents and children turned up February 27 to protest the legislation, the sponsor asked for a three-week postponement.
What Would It Do to Christian Education?
The bill, House Bill 2795, would require all “nonpublic high school” students—those in homeschooling, Christian schools, and any other kind of private education—to take and pass the same standardized tests that public high school students take in order to earn a diploma.
“It would basically destroy nonpublic education in Tennessee,” said Dee Black, with the Home School Legal Defense Association (www.hslda.org). “It would have the state directing the curriculum of religious schools.”
Public high school students in Tennessee, he explained, have to pass “end-of-course” tests to be eligible for graduation. These are “text-specific” tests: that is, students are tested on the material covered in their classroom textbooks. If homeschoolers want to pass the tests, they will have to use the same textbooks, and other materials, that are used in the public high schools. Hence, if the public high school science textbook teaches Darwinian evolution as “scientific fact,” or the “family life curriculum” promotes sodomy as a valid lifestyle choice, homeschooling parents would have to take these textbooks into their homes and teach out of them; and they would have to be used in the classrooms of Christian schools.
“That’s about the size of it,” Black said.
The bill’s sponsor, House Member G. A. Hardaway, did not return Chalcedon’s phone calls or emails, so we have not been able to question him.
“We hope he’ll just withdraw the bill,” Black said. “State homeschooling leaders are negotiating with him now. It may be he’ll withdraw it before March 19. Then there’d be no need of another public hearing.”
Hardaway told the Tennessean.com, “I want to allay any fears that the committee or the attendees [at the hearing] may have that I’m out to get the home-schoolers or the independent schools.” The Tennessean.com also reported, “Several lawmakers reported getting thousands of calls and emails about the issue.”
Let Your Voices Be Heard
Because we believe it necessary for members of the homeschooling community to defend their rights, we recommend they contact Mr. Hardaway and make their feelings known. He can be phoned at his office, 615-741-5625, or emailed at [email protected].
It may also be worthwhile to contact the subcommittee chairman, John Mark Windle, 615-741-1260, or [email protected]. HSLDA also recommends contacting Education Committee vice-chair Tommie Brown (615-741-4374, [email protected]) and secretary Joe Towns, Jr., (615-741-2189, [email protected]).
Last summer the world saw the U.S. Congress shelve a controversial “comprehensive immigration reform” bill when the American people swamped Capitol Hill with phone calls, emails, faxes, and letters of protest. Pundits expected that bill to be a sure thing, but the people proved them wrong.
There is little doubt that Tennessee’s education subcommittee was surprised when 150 people came flocking into their hearing chamber to protest HB 2795. If the bill is still in play by March 19, another big turnout—hopefully an even bigger one—will be needed to persuade the subcommittee to kill the bill.
Homeschooling families in other states should pay close attention to developments in Tennessee, and not be shy about letting Tennessee’s legislators hear from them. If Tennessee can succeed in grabbing control of the religious school curriculum, other states will probably try to do it too.
For those secularists who believe that all children should have a secular education in a government school—including teachers’ unions, academic theorists, school administrators, textbook publishers, and their allies in the state and federal legislatures—forcing homeschooling parents and Christian schools to teach the public school curriculum would nullify the whole point of Christian education. If they can’t get Christian children into the public schools, they can try to get the public school curriculum into Christian children’s heads.
But in this case, it’s possible that the Christian school community can nullify the machinations of the legislators.
 For a full text of the bill, see http://www.legislature.state.tn.us/bills/currentga/BILL/HB2795.pdf
 Theo Emery, “Home-schoolers object to state’s standardized tests,”Tennessean.com, February 28, 2008.