Federal Legislation
July 16, 2009

S. 244—“Education Begins At Home Act”

Action Requested:
No action is requested at this time. HSLDA will continue to monitor this bill and will send out an action elert if it is scheduled for a hearing.

Summary:
S. 244 will give federal grants to states so that they can create new or expanded home visitation programs. Our concern with this bill is that it will encourage government officials to enter homes, interact with children, and educate parents in parenting methods that are approved by the Secretary of Health and Human Services. While S. 244 states that these programs will be voluntary, there is no guarantee that states receiving the money will keep their home visitation programs voluntary, and families may be pressured to accept these home visits.

Additionally, S. 244 requires the Secretary of the Health and Human Services to create a parenting class which will be offered to all parents of newborns. If these parents decide to opt out of these classes, they will be required to sign a waiver form, which could open the door to abuse and neglect investigations of the family.

Status:

1/14/2009Read twice and referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions

Sponsor:
Sen. Christopher S. Bonds (MO)

Cosponsors:

Bill Summary and Status S.244:

HSLDA's Position:
Oppose.

Talking Points:

S. 244 is too expensive: S. 244 will allow the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to give grants not to exceed $20 million per state (page 7) so that they can “establish or expand quality programs of early childhood home visitation…” (page 5). This will be a huge expense to taxpayers and has no guarantee that it will actually help parents and children.

Additionally, S. 244 seems to include guaranteed health care benefits to young children, because page 17 requires states to “ascertain which developmental services the family receives and work with service providers to eliminate gaps in services by offering annual health, vision, hearing, and developmental screening for children from birth until entry into kindergarten, when not otherwise provided.” It is not clear how expensive this will be, how these services will be offered, and where the funds will come from to continue these services.

S. 244 could encourage states to pressure families into home visitation programs: Page 15 requires states that receive grants from HHS to “provide to as many eligible families in the State as practicable, voluntary early childhood home visitation…” While S. 244 says that these visits will be voluntary, the states may have an economic incentive to increase enrollments in these home visits, and may pressure families to participate in them. This is especially likely because page 21 requires states that receive these grants to submit an annual report to the secretary of HHS which includes the number of families in the home visitation program and retention rate.

S. 244 could lead to politically influenced parenting classes that pressure parents to raise their children how the government mandates: Pages 15–16 set forth the requirements that states which receive the HHS grants need to meet. Subsection G on page 16 requires that the home visitation programs provide parents with “knowledge of age-appropriate child development… knowledge of realistic expectations of age-appropriate child behaviors; knowledge of health and wellness issues for children and parents; modeling and consulting services related to parenting; skills to interact with their child to enhance age-appropriate development; skills to recognize and seek help for health issues and developmental delays, and social, emotional, and behavioral skills; activities designed to help parents become full partners in the education of their children; and relevant information, consistent with State child welfare agency training, concerning child welfare and protective services resources if appropriate…”

All of these detailed aspects of the home visitation program are open to being politically influenced by government bureaucrats who may think that they know more about parenting than parents. They may pressure parents to adopt child rearing methods that are against the family’s religious beliefs. Home visitation officials may even threaten families with abuse and neglect investigations if the families do not choose to follow the official parenting education models.

S. 244’s parenting classes in Section 8 will hurt parental rights and family integrity: The Secretary of HHS is given the authority to develop and implement a campaign to have hospitals and birthing centers request that each parent of a newborn “participate in a single session parenting class that is approved by the Secretary…” (page 48). The hospital or birthing center then must request that the parents “sign a form stating that they have participated or refused to participate in the parenting class.”

This is troubling for three reasons. First, since development of the parenting class is left up to the secretary of HHS, it could be open to rampant political manipulating, where parents are taught the “politically correct” method of child rearing. Parents have numerous parenting philosophies that may differ from a one-size-fits-all government parenting class. These classes could lead to limits on parental choice and parental rights, because parents will feel pressured to take these classes and conform to whatever parenting philosophy is taught.

Furthermore, the provision that the classes teach “…strategies for caring for infants’ social, emotional, and physical needs” (page 48) is vague enough to include many “politically correct” philosophies that would concern many families, particularly homeschooling families. For example, despite plentiful research to the contrary, there are experts who do not believe that homeschooling is good for children’s social, emotional, and physical needs. If the materials from HHS included anti-homeschooling language, this would have the effect of needlessly discouraging many families from homeschooling.

Second, there is no assurance that religious hospitals or birthing centers could reject materials or parenting classes that may include content that violates the hospital or birthing center’s fundamental values.

Third, Section 8 would likely lead to needless social worker referrals. Although the parenting classes are optional, the requirement that hospitals and birthing centers must request a signature showing that families participated in or refused the class, could result in a referral to the child welfare department alleging neglect because the family refused these parenting classes.

 Other Resources

Cato Institute: “The Poverty of Preschool Promises Saving Children and Money with the Early Education Tax Credit” ( requires Adobe Acrobat Reader)