cross-posted from the New Jersey Tenth Amendment Center
We the People of New Jersey have to get over our addictions to our own at the state level. While the Constitution does not forbid the several States (or the People) from setting up massive regulatory structures that exhaust the People physically, emotionally and financially in trying to comply, that does not mean it is necessarily a good idea. For example, Romneycare, despite Michele Bachmann’s accusation of being “unconstitutional,” is not. However, it added considerably to the bureaucratic structure in Massachusetts, which qualifies it as a bad idea in my opinion.
We in New Jersey are facing a similar struggle with something that, while not necessarily unconstitutional according to the United States Constitution, is a bad idea for our struggling educational system. A bill introduced by Valerie Huttle in the General Assembly, A4372, and its identical bill in the Senate courtesy of Loretta Weinberg, S3105, would increase state government involvement in the lives of 42,000 home-schooled children and their families. The synopsis of the bill, “Requires medical examination and submission of student work portfolios for home-schooled children; provides that children under supervision of the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) may not be home-schooled.”
The question we should be asking in our heads as we pick up the phone to call our state officials to oppose this is, “Why?”
Have there been reports of epidemic deaths of home-schooled children? Have home-schooling parents been showing mass negligence of their children and their health? If not, why are home-schooling parents treated as if they are guilty of something and must prove their innocence? More on that later.
Have there been waves of parents with children under the supervision of DYFS wanting to home-school their children? By the time a child is under the supervision of DYFS, there are already very few parental rights the state recognizes any longer in the life of that child anyway.
I am in favor of annual medical examinations for one’s children, and I am in favor of home-schooled children and their parents (or anyone else for that matter) keeping track of one’s work. When attempting to write a musical I started in 1998, family obligations often resulted in me starting and restarting. I didn’t keep good records of that. I finished the musical earlier this week. One’s health and one’s child’s health should certainly be looked at as being bigger than a musical, but can a government agency effectively keep track of that better than a family can?
I am also in favor of keeping track of one’s educational growth. If you are considering home-schooling your child, I recommend impeccable record keeping, even if your state does not require it. It makes it a lot easier to go back and see how far your child has come. Having home-schooled my stepson for two years, there was a lot of trial and error in developing a system, so find or develop one before you start. Despite that, my wife, who is a public school teacher, and I brought him from failing in math and science his last year before home-schooling to making the honor roll his first year back in public school.
So if I favor medical exams and good record keeping, why am I concerned about this? For several reasons.
By empowering a state bureaucracy to define your child’s education, the state with some of the best laws on home-schooling nationwide (and there are not many things in which New Jersey has the best laws) will practically put the entire system in the hands of an agency that will probably not have many people with classroom experience advising them on policy. It can also result in the state deciding that if your child’s home-school program deviates too much from the government-approved plan (which is the whole reason some families home-school their children in the first place), you lose your right to home-school your child.
If this bill is passed, the state legislature will once again be handing over the lawmaking power to nameless, faceless, unelected, unaccountable people legislating from a desk. That way, when things go wrong, our elected officials can say, “Well, I didn’t vote for that.” Our answer every time that happens has to be, “Yes you did, when you abdicated your responsibility to legislate.” This happens time and time again at both the state and federal levels, and must be stopped. Trenton, where a short, vague bill leaves lots of room for broad reinterpretation, is a little different from DC, where they pass thousand page bills they don’t bother to read before enthusiastically voting yes, but the result is the same, a new agency created or new powers given to an existing one.
The new reporting requirements concerning each child’s portfolio and medical exam will result in more paperwork for already overworked public school districts. Teachers unions, NJEA and NJ Federation of Teachers, listen up on this one. If you are truly concerned about quality classrooms, preventing teacher layoffs and preserving benefits, you will oppose this one wholeheartedly. The additional funds that will have to be paid for the cost of compliance will be money that will not make it to the classrooms or the teachers’ paychecks. Local school boards and municipal officials? These costs will prevent you from reducing unnecessary costs and saving your constituents on their property tax bills.
I have heard complaints from my wife and several friends who are teachers about the amount of paperwork that gets in the way of teaching time. It never decreases, from what I’m told. Teachers, think about this one. If this passes, home-schooling parents will also be saddled with extra paperwork just to exercise their right to decide how their kids are educated, or they will give up and put them in a public school (if they are not already ordered to do so), where your class sizes will increase, right alongside YOUR paperwork for your new students. Additionally, based on the home-schooling parents I know, they like to be VERY involved in their kids’ education, so they will be keeping you plenty busy with additional phone calls, e-mails, personal visits, etc. when they have any concerns. Think you’re busy now? Good luck if this one goes through.
The last concern is the involvement of an agency like DYFS. DYFS, like most bureaucracies, does not operate like law enforcement, where you have a trial and are innocent until proven guilty. In certain situations, DYFS can substantiate neglect, based on their own investigations and findings. This can be a big negative if you are a school teacher or another professional who works with children, as a mark like that on your record can really damage your career. Part of the evidence used against you can be the result of anonymous phone calls, with no opportunity for you to meet your accusers. This is the policy with the vast majority of government agencies; you are guilty until proven innocent. So DYFS doesn’t have to come anywhere near taking children away to be a nuisance to parents. And our legislature wants to give them control over our educational decisions?
As always, in addition to contacting your state legislators, I recommend preemptive calls, letters and e-mails to Governor Christie, urging him to veto the bill if it makes it to his desk. It is also important to contact your local school boards regarding this legislation and educate them on the dangers of creating more government intrusion into the local educational systems.
This may be a roundabout way of putting it, but this is a real life example of how the creation of a massive government entity with no accountability to the people creates far more problems than it solves. New Jersey is one of those states that, more than most, tends to look to government for the solutions to its problems. When we are not crying to DC for our fix (yes, drug-related double entendre intended), we look to Trenton to save us from ourselves. Then we wonder why things are so bad. We are addicted to government solutions, sometimes to things that are not even problems. While the Tenth Amendment reserves the right to make such foolish decisions to the States and the People, how can we possibly stand up, just on the principle of geographical location, to the very incompetent and oppressive entities on which we have come to depend?
Benjamin W. Mankowski, Sr. [send him email] is a blogger with the Tenth Amendment Center. He writes from New Jersey.
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