Arizona Lawmaker Proposes Ending Compulsory School Attendance

Published August 4, 2017

State Rep. Paul Mosley (R-Lake Havasu City) made headlines in May when he told the Arizona Capitol Times, “Education used to be a privilege. People used to believe getting an education was something you had to be privileged to get, that you had to work hard to get. Now we basically force it down everybody’s throats. The number one thing I would like to repeal is the law on compulsory education.”

‘Baby Steps’

Mosley told School Reform News he plans to chip away at compulsory attendance with incremental legislation.

“I’m probably not going to run legislation that would repeal it outright,” Mosley said. “I’m going to try to take baby steps. One of the first things I am going to try to run is increasing the days you can have as an excused absence. Right now in Arizona, the compulsory attendance law is for six-to-16 year-olds. I’d love to lower the age to 14 or eighth grade or something, so I might run something like that.

“But I’d love to increase the number of days,” Mosley said. “You can miss 18 days that are excused absences, and there’s no effect. If your child misses [with] 19 excused absences, no matter how smart your child is, no matter what a good student your child is, no matter if you’re taking makeup work, no matter what’s going on, [you’re penalized]. I’d like to increase the days from 18 to 24, or 30, so that children could have more excused missed days.”

Mosley says compulsory attendance laws are too entrenched to be repealed anytime soon.

“I’m basically going to try to take baby steps because I know that there’s no way I’ll ever get a complete repeal through,” Mosley said. “Otherwise, I would have run it this year. I’m not oblivious to the opposition I have from people who think that it is the state’s responsibility to force our children to go to school, the school of their [government’s] choice, and a one-size-fits-all school, instead of catering the education to the child, which is the most important thing.”

‘Restore the Authority Order’

Rick Jore served as a Republican member of the state’s House of Representatives for four terms and introduced legislation to repeal compulsory attendance during each term. Jore says his efforts were about putting parents in charge of their own children.

“I first introduced legislation in my very first session, in 1995 in the Montana House, to repeal compulsory attendance,” Jore said. “My intent, of course, overall fundamentally, was to simply restore the authority order between the state and parents regarding the education of children. Compulsory attendance laws turn the authority order upside down. They necessarily presuppose that the authority of the state regarding the education of children supersedes that of parents, and I believe that if we are going to reform or address the monopolistic government schooling system, it is necessary to restore that authority order.”

Devaluing Education

Mosley says too many people in the United States take education for granted.

It is a wonderful privilege to get an education in America,” Mosley said. “Part of the problem with our education system is that people don’t value it anymore. Parents don’t value it as much as they used to, partly because it’s offered at no expense to the parent or child, and people don’t value something they don’t have to pay for.”

Mosley says parents would take a greater interest in their children’s educations if attending school weren’t free or forced.

“We need more parental involvement, and to get more parental involvement, if we were to do away with the compulsory attendance laws, parents would still bring their children to school, but it would be their responsibility to make sure their children are educated instead of the state’s responsibility,” Mosley said.

Mosley says too many people rely on government to do their parenting for them.

“A lot of learning happens at home with the parents, and I don’t think people realize that,” Mosley said. “Parents drop their kids off for six or seven hours or however long school is, and many parents enroll their kids in after-school programs and such, so they don’t have to pick them up ’til after 5 o’clock. I don’t think parents think it’s their responsibility that their kids get educated. They have given that responsibility to the state because of the compulsory attendance laws.”

‘Significant Disdain’

Jore says public school interests adamantly opposed his initial efforts to repeal compulsory school attendance.

“I introduced that legislation in each of the four sessions that I served,” Jore said. “As you can imagine, my initial effort brought significant disdain from the education establishment because of their misconceptions of our efforts. Those within the education arena saw this effort as a challenge to their notion that they are doing this wonderful thing in educating children, and why would you think that we shouldn’t have the force of law to compel parents to place their children in these wonderful schools?”

Jore says the education establishment is wrong about who should be in charge of children.

“If we’re going to address school reform or continue in efforts to implement school choice, we really need to understand the order of authority,” Jore said. “It’s certainly the prerogative of parents to compel their children to be in school, not the state. It’s just simply an upside-down and backwards authority order.”

Teresa Mull ([email protected]) is a research fellow in education policy at The Heartland Institute.

Official Connections:

Arizona state Rep. Paul Mosley (R-Lake Havasu City):