On the Governor's Desk
When a bill has passed finally in both Houses, it is signed by the President or President Pro Tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House in the presence of each House. It is then transmitted to the Governor for his consideration. If he approves, he signs the bill and it becomes a law. If he vetoes it, the bill is returned to the House of origin, together with the Governor's reasons for the veto. . . . After final adjournment of the General Assembly, the Governor has thirty days to act upon the remaining bills passed by both Houses. Bills on which he takes no action automatically become law.
At the same time our bill was being voted upon on the Senate floor, about 50 miles away a school board member in York County was listening to a presentation sponsored by the Lincoln Intermediate Unit on how to prepare for the needs of their districts in the years ahead. The speakers at that meeting were Paul Stevens and another lawyer from the Bucks County law firm, Curtin and Heefner.
The topic of the meeting got around to homeschooling. The lawyers said that the Home School Legal Defense Association had cut off the nose of homeschools to spite their face. Now that the present law had been declared to be unconstitutional, either the Department of Education would not enact regulations, in which case homeschooling would be completely illegal in Pennsylvania, or the Department of Education would enact regulations that would make homeschooling virtually impossible. They also claimed to have inside information that our homeschooling bill was definitely not going to pass. This, just an hour after it had passed the Senate!
Now we waited with trepidation for the governor's signature. Gov. Casey had been elected two years earlier partly because he was against abortion and strong for the family. The PSEA had opposed him in the general election, but since then, the governor and the PSEA had become very friendly.
The PSEA newsletter was practically gushing about how friendly Gov. Casey was. For example, the cover of the December 1988 issue showed Gov. Casey sitting in a classroom signing a bill that set $18,500 as a minimum salary for Pennsylvania public school teachers. On page 8 of the same issue, they reported that Gov. Casey had made a surprise visit to the October 29 PSEA Board of Directors meeting in Harrisburg, where he expressed his appreciation for PSEA's support for his education legislation and said that he looked forward to future joint efforts with the PSEA. The article, accompanied by a picture of Gov. Casey standing next to PSEA officials, also noted that Gov. Casey would speak at the December meeting of the PSEA House of Delegates in Philadelphia.
At the same time that Gov. Casey had come into office, Rep. Cowell had become Chair of the House Education Committee. They were both members of the same party and would have to work together on education legislation for the foreseeable future. The Department of Education was a branch of Gov. Casey's administration. They should have been working closely with Rep. Cowell, but instead, while Rep. Cowell's bill was in the Appropriations Committee, they had made wholesale changes in it behind his back. Soon after that, Rep. Cowell called a meeting with the department. According to rumor, the sparks flew. Rep. Cowell told the Department of Education in no uncertain terms that if they wanted to work with him in the future, this was not the way to do it.
From then on, we noticed that while the PSEA and the PSBA continued to oppose the home education bill, we didn't hear one word of opposition from the Department of Education. The day after the House vote, Jesse, age 11, and I walked in unannounced to Sarah Pearce's office at the Department of Education. We were a matched pair of lobbyists dressed in corduroy suits and carrying matching leather briefcases. She invited us in and canceled all of her incoming phone calls in our honor. We had a friendly chat that lasted over an hour. I opened my leather briefcase and gave her a copy of The Three R's at Home, the nuts and bolts book that Susan and I had written about homeschooling. She interviewed Jesse about what he was studying at home. He told her about the book that he had written from the perspective of a pet crayfish, and opened his briefcase and gave her a copy of it.
She told us that the night before, while we had been watching the House vote from the gallery, she had been listening to it over a speaker in her office on a line directly piped over from the House floor. I asked her about the department's position on Senate Bill 154 with the Cowell amendment. She told us that the department saw it as a compromise and would recommend to the governor that he sign it. She also mentioned that they had called the Florida Department of Education to find out how the law was working in Florida [Finally!]. She wondered if I had heard about their finding that half of the homeschoolers coming out of schools were coming out of non-public schools and only half out of public schools. "Yes," I said, and I told her that the same proportion was found in a study from the state of Washington.
The next week, when our bill was in the Senate, the PSEA and PSBA were walking the corridors going from office to office to argue against it, but not the Department of Education.
In an article by reporter Brian Wallace which appeared in the Lancaster Intelligencer Journal on December 7, Dr. William Logan, deputy commissioner for basic education, predicted that the state's new legislation could have a bigger impact on private schools than on public schools. Apparently, one reason the Department of Education had decided to make their peace with home-educators was the feeling that we were not such a threat to public education after all.
Still Dr. Logan was not a friend of homeschooling as illustrated by the conclusion of the same article:
"In my mind, there is hardly a chance that home schooling could give the same kind of socialization experience as a public school," said Logan.
"From the standpoint of getting a broad perspective of other students and their backgrounds, I would think the home schoolers would have a hard time giving those experiences to students."
But for a growing number of parents in Lancaster County, the social environment of the school is exactly why they considered home schooling in the first case.
The ironic conclusion by reporter Brian Wallace perhaps is the best illustration of how far we had come in the last four and a half years. How many times were we told that we were keeping our children from the tremendous social environment being offered by the schools? Now, at last, even the reporters were beginning to notice that the socialization argument was an emperor without clothes.
Some of the newspapers were completely won over to homeschooling. For example, the December 1st, 1988, edition of the Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, Record Herald had an editorial about an elementary school being set up by businessmen and philanthropists in Chicago because they were "so disgusted with the Windy City's schools." It concluded with the statement:
An unintended lesson may be that education is too important to be left to the educators. That's what parents who want to educate their children at home have been saying for some time.
While much of the press might be won over, we suspected that Gov. Casey was not. Even though the Department of Education was no longer opposing our bill, we were worried that the PSEA might get to the governor and ask him to veto it. We had never managed to set up a meeting between homeschoolers and Gov. Casey. Most of our contacts were through his secretary for legislative affairs, Tom Lamb.
On Saturday December 3 we sent out a phone-tree message designed to get people calling and writing to the governor. We even urged homeschoolers to do a letter-writing-to-governor lesson with their children. On Tuesday, according to Harrisburg television stations, the governor's hotline received about 1,000 phone calls supporting our bill.
Meanwhile, we were continuing to get the excellent press that had followed our story for the past several months. The Associated Press wire service was buzzing with friendly stories.
One of the most interesting was a human interest story filed in York, Pennsylvania. It was entitled "Lawmaker Had Personal Interest in Passing Home-Schooling Bill."
State Representative June Honaman was at the head of her class when she returned to public schools.
Actually, she tested a year ahead of her class in the 1930's, thanks to her parents.
Mrs. Honaman, 68, was taught by her parents until the fifth grade and she says she "didn't miss out on anything."
"There is nothing I disliked about it and I don't see an educational or social disadvantage in home schooling," she said Wednesday, her last day in office and the day the Senate unanimously passed a bill concerning home education.
Not surprisingly, on Nov. 22, Mrs. Honaman supported the House legislation which would set state-wide standards for people who want to teach their children at home. The House passed the bill with a 194-0 vote.
Before Mrs. Honaman became a state representative from Lancaster County, a job she has held for 12 years, she was vice chairman of the state Republican Committee for 13 years, a teacher for six years and an executive secretary for six years. She graduated with a bachelor of fine arts degree in 1941 from Beaver College.
"When I was in grade school, we lived on a farm, and it was quite a hike to the nearest bus," Mrs. Honaman said. "My parents decided they'd rather teach me at home."
Mrs. Honaman has lived in Lancaster County all her life. Her parents, Lester W. and Maud Newcomer, had high school educations and Mrs. Newcomer also had some training in music.
The bill, which now awaits Governor Robert P. Casey's signature, requires parents who educate their own children to have a high school diploma -- a regulation that professional educators say is too lax.
Mrs. Honaman said a high school education is enough, especially when the child is tested on a regular basis, such as the bill stipulates. "Any problems or misuse of home schooling will be picked up when the children are tested," she said.
"I was taught at home 60 years ago and things were different then. Although I don't think it was common, we didn't have the checks this bill has."
The inability to socialize with classmates is another point opponents of the bill brought up, but Mrs. Honaman said there are social activities outside of school that will prevent a child from becoming isolated.
"Children are very flexible," she said. "The main advantage I saw was that you can progress at your own level. There is much more availability of things you can read."
Mrs. Honaman retired after a full day at the capitol Wednesday, knowing the bill she quietly but firmly supported also was backed by the Senate. Her plans now: "I'm going back to volunteer work and painting."
Meanwhile, Tom Eldredge, Bob Finley, Mary Hudzinski and I were still busy trying to insure the governor's signature. Bob Finley and Tom tried to arrange a signing ceremony, but were rebuffed. Tom even went to Harrisburg to hand-deliver a letter to the governor's office, but the governor had seventy-one bills sitting on his desk and no time for a signing ceremony for each one. I called the governor's office and tried to get them to commit to a specific date for a signing ceremony, but no luck. Tom Lamb told me that the governor would sign the bills that he had promoted first, and would deal with all of the bills on his desk by December 21st, but he wouldn't have a signing ceremony on our bill. If we wanted, he offered, the governor might arrange a "mock signing ceremony" where we could get our picture taken with the governor in January.
On Sunday, December 11, Sandy Sterabin, Harrisburg radio correspondent for Westinghouse-owned radio stations, reported that Gov. Casey was relying on the PSEA for support of his tax-reform plan which still required a referendum before it could be put in place. School districts could raise additional money through a sales tax which they could then spend to raise teacher salaries.
Meanwhile the governor was spreading out the signings of the bills on his desk so as to get the maximum publicity out of them.
On Monday, he signed the law repealing the CAT fund. That day, homeschoolers who called his office were read a note which said that his office was confident that the governor would sign our bill.
On Tuesday, he signed his tax reform bill.
On Wednesday, Donna Wall, Commissioner for Basic Education at the Department of Education, announced a grant for the Philadelphia School District to fight drugs within the schools.
On Thursday, Gov. Casey signed a bill that raised the minimum wage in Pennsylvania from $3.35 to $3.70 per hour.
On Friday, those calling the governor's office were told that our bill was on top of his desk, and that it would be signed early the next week.
On Saturday, Gov. Casey announced that the state would launch a model program providing day-care services to state office workers with children between six-months and five-years-old.
On Monday, Gov. Casey signed a bill that would allow churches, civic and fraternal groups to operate "small games of chance," such as Bingo games. He had vetoed an earlier version of the bill because he said it was too loosely written.
On Tuesday, I finished putting together the camera-ready copy of a mailing to homeschoolers about how to file their notarized affidavits so that they could begin to comply with the new homeschooling law in January. I had been consulting with Tom Eldredge, Tom Murphy, and Mary Hudzinski to make sure that the wording was just right. Following Tom Eldredge's suggestion, the affidavit started with the statement of policy from the compulsory education section of the Pennsylvania school code -- the same statement that Dr. Logan had refused to notify superintendents about after it passed as part of the Christian School Bill. Now every homeschooler who filed an affidavit would notify his local superintendent:
It is the policy of the Commonwealth to preserve the primary right of the parent or parents, or person or persons in loco parentis to a child, to choose the education and training for such child.
This statement at the beginning of the affidavit was especially pleasing to us in light of the intimidating preambles that the school districts had generally put on top of the application forms that they had given to parents to fill out. Several districts, for example, included a quote from an old court case:
The court in Commonwealth v. Kallock, 84 PLJ 167, 27 D & C-81 (1936) stated that "any private tutoring must be satisfactory to the proper county or district superintendent of schools."
The cover letter for the mailing was dated December 22nd and optimistically began with the statement, "Yesterday, Governor Casey signed our homeschooling bill into law." I hoped to get it printed on December 21 when I would be in Pittsburgh for a meeting. Then I could send it out on December 23 so that it would arrive at people's homes in time for them to fill it out by the beginning of the year.
Finally, it was Wednesday, December 21, the day Tom Lamb had promised would be the last day it might happen. Homeschooling leaders called the governor's office all day long to find out if the bill had already been signed, only to get negative replies. That afternoon, I made two calls to the governor's office from Pittsburgh on my way to the copy center where I would get the mailing printed. Then at 7 p.m., I took a chance and told Kinko's Copy Center to run off 700 copies in hopes that the bill would still be signed that day.
Meanwhile, the governor was trying to deal with all of the bills on his desk, but he was constantly getting interrupted. Two reporters wanted year-end interviews, and that took a large chunk out of his day. That evening, he still had about thirty bills on his desk left to sign or veto. At 5:00 p.m. he began signing some of them and vetoing others. Then he broke for supper, still without dealing with our bill. At 8:30 p.m. he got to more bills, but there was no way to reach his office to find which ones, or what he did with them.
The next morning at 7:45 a.m., my wife Susan called Gov. Casey's office and was told that he had indeed signed our bill the night before. She may have been the first person across the state to hear the news. The Harrisburg press did not even find out about it until several hours later. When they did, Bob Finley was on hand at the capitol rotunda to pass out a press release that we had ready. (We had gotten two press releases ready, one to pass out if the governor signed the bill, the other to pass out if he vetoed it.)
Meanwhile, the news zipped along our phone tree like wild fire. The tension was finally over. Homeschoolers would not be going to jail the next year! We would not be forced to move to other states! The school districts would not be threatening to take our children away from us! Homeschoolers across the state thanked God for the successful conclusion of our legislative effort.
Every spring for the last 3,500 years, our family has celebrated our delivery from slavery in Egypt. A high point of the service is when we praise the many deeds that God did for us during the Exodus. We end each phrase with the Hebrew word "dayenu" which means, "it would have been enough." For example:
If He had taken us out of Egypt, and not punished them, dayenu!
If He had split the sea for us, and not brought us through it on dry land, dayenu!
If He had taken care of us in the desert for forty years, and not fed us the manna, dayenu!
If He had given us the Torah, and not brought us into the Land of Israel, dayenu!
Over the four and a half years of our legislative effort, I have been amazed at the number of seemingly accidental events that have contributed to its success. It is hard not to see the guiding hand of God. If He had just helped us work together, and not passed a bill that would protect homeschooling families, dayenu!
The story of our bill is not over. There are hundreds of homeschooled children who directly participated in the effort. They now have a very good understanding of how our government works. Some of them are now experienced orators. They have participated in a hands-on "civics" lesson which is heads and tails over anything that could possibly be offered in a school.
If the current generation of homeschooled children become anywhere near as remarkable as the Thomas Edisons, Clara Bartons, and Woodrow Wilsons of past generations, and if some of them bring their talents to bear in the legislative arena, what changes might they bring about in the world! Maybe some of them will be the kind of legislators, like Joseph R. Pitts and Ronald R. Cowell, who will continue to insure that government of the people, by the people, and for the people does not perish from this earth.
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