The governor of Maine came to the defense of homeschooling families recently when he refused to sign an education bill he described as "an invasion of the government into family matters."
Gov. Paul LePage (R-Maine) recently vetoed compulsory attendance legislation so families won't be forced to send their children to public school until they reach the age of seven — not five. Once parents and the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) turned up the heat to keep the state from seizing more control over children in the Pine Tree State, things took a turn.
"After HSLDA and Homeschoolers of Maine asked homeschool families to call and oppose LD 311 — which would have lowered the age of compulsory school attendance from seven to five — lawmakers stood up and took notice," HSLDA senior counsel Scott Woodruff reports.
And changes were made … to a certain degree.
"They amended the bill so it would only apply if parents enrolled their child in a public school," Woodruff pointed out. "With this change, the bill no longer directly impacted homeschoolers — or any family that just wanted their five- or six-year-old to have more time at home."
Dodging a silent bullet
According to HSLDA, the governor decided to take aggressive action on behalf of parents. Woodruff believes LePage saw the bill as a stepping stone for the state to make another power grab by taking students out of their homes at earlier ages and into the influence of state-run schools.
"If the bill had become law, it would have been another step in the continuing trend to force younger and younger children into school," Woodruff contends. "It could also have created a trap for some families."
HSLDA was able to detect major problems that they believe many unsuspecting parents eventually would have walked into in the months and years to come.
"If their five- or six-year-old had experienced attendance problems and a judge had gotten involved, the family might have been prevented from starting a homeschool program," Woodruff explained.
A gov. championing parents' rights … not the state's
LePage also acknowledged the ability of the proposed new law to diminish parental control and hand it over to the state.
"This bill would seek to lower the age at which children may be declared truant to five years old from the current age of seven," the governor stated in a letter he addressed to the 129th Legislature late last month. "While this bill may be well-intentioned, it is ill advised."
LePage recognized the bill as being little less than a legalized home intrusion with all the trappings of another benign bill to improve children's education.
"I cannot support a law that would interfere with the right of parents to decide when their children are ready for school," LePage asserted. "This bill marks an invasion of the government into family matters."
The governor went on to say that the state of Maine can find better ways to spend its taxpayers' hard-earned money than chasing down young children for not going to school when their parents deem it to be in their best interests to be at home at a tender age.
"While there is much that the State of Maine can and should do to provide high-quality education for our children, we should focus on investing in our classrooms and or teachers," LePage argued to state lawmakers. "We should prioritize inspiring our kids to learn rather than sending our truancy officers to round up five- and six-year-olds who may not yet be ready to learn."
LePage concluded by returning LD 311 to the Legislature unsigned and vetoed, while strongly urging it to sustain his action.
After witnessing LePage's bold action on behalf of parents, HSLDA extended its gratitude.
"We commend the governor for respecting the important role parents play in the lives of their children and vetoing the bill," Woodruff declared.