Federal Legislation
March 24, 2010

H.R. 3221—“Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2009”

Action Requested:
None at this time.

Summary:
H.R. 3221 was originally introduced in the House of Representatives in July of 2009. While intended to amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 relating to student loans, H.R. 3221 included Title IV (Section 401, et seq.) which created an “early learning challenge fund.” HSLDA opposed H.R. 3221 because of this creation, which would create new federal funding for state early education programs. We were concerned that these programs could lead to more federal regulation and control over parents and children in these programs, and could lead to mandatory early education programs in the states.

However, after it passed the House, 253–171 in September 2009, it went to sit in the Senate. Instead of the Senate passing it and bringing it before a Senate and House conference committee, it was added to the Health Care reconciliation bill this March, so the Senate cannot add any amendments to the language that was carried over into reconciliation but can only vote on the reconciliation package as a whole. Yet, the language that was carried over only included sections of H.R. 3221 directly related to student loans. There are no early education programs created in the reconciliation bill. It is believed that the early education programs will most likely be created in their own bill in the future.

We will continue to monitor all bills that may create early education programs.

An early learning challenge fund would allow the federal government to provide grants to the states to support state efforts to increase early education programs from birth to age 5.

HSLDA opposes efforts to increase the federal role in early education. Bills like the original H.R. 3221 are costly and could lead to pressure on families to accept these federally funded early education programs.

Status:

7/15/2009Introduced and Referred to the House Committee on Education and Labor.
7/17/2009Passed/agreed to in House by a vote of 253 - 171.
7/21/2009Received in the Senate.
3/18/2010Sections added to the Amendment in the Nature of a Substitute to H.R. 4872

Sponsor: Rep. George Miller (CA)

Cosponsors:

Bill Summary and Status H.R. 3221

Bill Text (requires Adobe Acrobat Reader)

HSLDA’s Position:
Oppose.

Talking Points to the original H.R. 3221:

Early education is extremely expensive and has questionable results: HSLDA is philosophically opposed to any program expanding the federal government’s control over education. The federal government’s current involvement in early education (through Head Start, Early Head Start, and other programs), in particular, yields results that are inconclusive at best, and detrimental for young children at worst. Many studies show that any positive effects of early education and pre-kindergarten fade away beyond elementary school, and other studies suggest that young children may in fact be harmed by this premature removal from the home and involvement in the classroom setting at too young of an age. (See HSLDA’s article, “Why Government Should Stay Out of Pre-K.”) H.R. 3221’s “Early Learning Challenge Fund” would be allocated one billion dollars per year for fiscal years 2010–2019 (at page 199). Surely, the questionable results of early education cannot justify its exorbitant costs to taxpayers, especially when Congress has already appropriated billions of dollars toward early education in past and current budgets.

H.R. 3221’s Early Learning Challenge Fund could encourage states to pressure families into early education programs: There is no language in the bill to clarify that the state’s early education programs funded through the federal grants must be voluntary. As a result, there is the danger that states may try to pass legislation which would create mandatory early education programs, using the grants from the federal government to help fund the program. This would be a huge threat to parental rights. Parents, not government officials, should decide what educational model is appropriate for their newborn to 5 year olds.

Additionally, in order for a state to receive a federal grant, it must submit an application to the secretary of education. One of the requirements in the application is that the state provide a “description of the goals and benchmarks the State will establish to lead to a greater number or percentage of disadvantaged children participating in higher quality early learning programs to improve school readiness outcomes, including an established baseline of the number of disadvantaged children in high-quality early learning programs” (page 173). Even if a state did not create a mandatory early education program, it may pressure families—particularly economically disadvantaged families—to enroll in early education programs in order to boost the state’s chances of receiving these federal grants.

H.R. 3221’s Early Learning Challenge Fund could lead to mental health screening for infants, mandatory referrals for more government services, government officials making parenting decisions, databases for all children in early education programs, and a loss of parental rights in child rearing: States would have to submit a detailed application to the secretary of education in order to receive federal grants. “In order to receive a grant under section 402(a), a State’s application under section 402(d) shall include the following… (3) A description of how the State will implement a governance structure and a system of early learning programs and services that includes the following components:”

Page 173: “(A) State early learning and development standards that include social and emotional, cognitive, and physical development domains, and approaches to learning that are developmentally appropriate for all children and are aligned with academic content standards for grades kindergarten through 3." Many parents would be concerned with state standards which would measure whether their infant was emotionally developed - would this lead to mental health screening of infants? Additionally, there are no guidelines about how these standards will be developed. These standards open to being politically influenced by government bureaucrats who may think that they know more about raising and preparing young children than parents.

Page 177: “(I) A coordinated system to facilitate screening, referral, and provision of services related to health, mental health, disability, and family support for children participating in early learning programs.” This is concerning because families may enter these early education programs, only to find that they are on a government registry which will refer them to a range of government intervention—possibly all at the whim of a social worker. The family may not choose to have additional services, but they may be referred for more services, and may even be threatened with abuse and neglect investigations, if they do not choose to follow these referral recommendations.

Page 177: Government, not parents, making child-rearing decisions: “(J) A process for evaluating school readiness in children that reflects all of the major domains of development, and that is used to guide practice and improve early learning programs.” This would put state officials into the business of determining when children were ready for school, and how they were improving academically, instead of parents.

Page 177: Creation of government databases of all children and parents in state early education programs: “(K) A coordinated data infrastructure that facilitates—(i) uniform data collection about the quality of early learning programs, essential information about the children and families that participate in such programs, and the qualifications and compensation of the early learning workforce in such programs; and (ii) alignment and interoperability between the data system for early learning programs for children and data systems for elementary and secondary education.” This would allow the states to use the federal funds to make a comprehensive database that would follow children from the moment they start an early education program (which could be from birth) through graduation from high school. There are no limits on how this database could be used and who would have access to it.

H.R. 3221’s Early Learning Challenge Fund will increase government regulation over early education providers: Page 174, Section (C) requires the states to create a “program rating system that building on licensing requirements and other State regulatory standards….” This system will hurt many early education providers, and will lead to more regulation, particularly for the many small early education programs that are state licensed, but run out of an individual’s own home. The government will crowd out private early education programs in favor of government run, government funded early education programs. Parents, not government officials, should decide what early education programs are best for their children.

H.R. 3221’s Early Learning Challenge Fund will create a national commission to review state and federal early learning programs: Section 405 (page 191) gives the secretary of education and the secretary of health and human services the authority to create a joint national commission to review state and federal early learning programs. This commission will among other things, recommend “benchmarks for program quality standards and early learning and development standards.” This commission could lead to more federal regulation of early education programs and “politically correct” influences on early education standards.