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Congressman's wife among leaders of home school families who pack state Capitol

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 14, 2009 - Lulli Akin -- the wife of U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, R-Town and Country -- is helping to lead an entourage of thousands of home-schooling families from around the state who are protesting a provision in HB 291 -- a huge education bill -- that they say would put home schoolers under the jurisdiction of the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The home-schooling families packed the House galleries Thursday, until legislators voted to change the offending provision.

At issue is a section that eliminates the state's requirement that someone remain in school until they are 16 and replaces it with a mandate that they complete 16 school credits. But home-schoolers' education is measured in hours, not credits.

Kerry Messer, president of the Missouri Family Network, said the upshot is that the bill would allow state education officials to decide if home schooling hours are adequate to meet the credit requirement. As a result, he said, the measure "changes the paradigm" of the relationship between home-schooling families and the state.

Now, the only state oversight of home-schooling families is via the local prosecutor, if there is an allegation of under-schooling.

After a brief discussion, including a plethora of apologies, the House changed the bill so that the requirement also would include a definition that defines each credit to be equal to 100 hours of instruction. The bill also specifically states that only the prosecutor has any oversight over home-schooling families.

All sides agree that Missouri is among the states with the least state oversight over home schoolers.

Lulli Akin said she home-schooled all six of her children. The youngest is 16, and three of the children have -- or soon will have -- attended the Naval Academy. The Akins have 3 young grandchildren and expect they will be home schooled.

Akin and Messer said that home schoolers did not become aware of the offending provision until 10 p.m. Wednesday night. Looking at the packed halls of strollers, children and parents, Messer said that the crowd demonstrated "that home schoolers are still politically active in Missouri."

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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