S P E C I A L F E A T U R E
Home Schoolers Turn the Tide in Key Senate Vote
This April, the unthinkable happened in Washington, DC. In a series of very close votes, the U.S. Senate passed measures that would permanently ban national testing, as well as defund Goals 2000 and School-to-Work. This victory is nothing less than miraculous. All glory and praise belong to God.
In human terms, we could safely say that home schoolers literally made the difference between victory and defeat. Here is the inside story of the events leading up to this remarkable series of votes.
Coverdell Asks for Support
On April 9, Senator Paul Coverdell (R-GA) held a meeting on Capitol Hill with a number of conservative groups. The main goal of the meeting was to inform those in attendance about Senator Coverdells A+ Education Savings Accounts Bill (H.R. 2646), and to urge their support. These A+ Accounts would enable parents to place up to $2,000 in a savings account for their childrens education, whether in public, private, or home school. All interest earned on the accounts would be tax-free.
During this meeting, representatives of the National Center for Home Education informed Senator Coverdell that we could not become involved unless the bill included Senator John Ashcrofts (R-MO) and Representative Bill Goodlings (R-PA) amendment banning national testing. We also encouraged Coverdells office to include Senator Slade Gortons (R-WA) amendment, which would completely defund failed federal education programs and give their fundsa whopping $10,278,840,000directly to the states as educational block grants. The list of doomed federal programs includes the monstrous School-to-Work Opportunities Act and Goals 2000, along with Ready-to-Learn Television, Fund for the Improvement of Education, Innovative Education Program Strategies, Star Schools, and numerous other programs.
Senator Gortons amendment would take a giant step toward restoring local control of education by allowing states and localities to determine their own educational needs and use the money accordingly. The freedom to rely on the wisdom of local education leaders rather than impersonal federal bureaucrats would bring long-needed improvement to our education system. Home School Legal Defense Association and the National Center for Home Education believe this is an important step toward the eventual elimination of the federal governments unconstitutional role in education.
In the week following Senator Coverdells meeting, the National Center continued to lobby for inclusion of the Gorton amendment in H.R. 2646. Finally, Coverdells office decided to attach both the Gorton amendment and the Ashcroft amendment to the bill, which was heading for a vote in the Senate.
However, our opponents were busy as well. The National Center learned that Senator Glenn (D-OH) was proposing an amendment to limit the A+ Accounts only to those parents who send their children to public school. Private and home school parents would be specifically excluded.
The Halls of Congress Ring With the Sound of Democracy in Action On April 17, HSLDA sent out a nationwide alert asking home schoolers to contact their U.S. senators and urge them to make four votes:
On April 20, a team of home school lobbyists led by National Center staff descended on Capitol Hill to visit the offices of approximately 30 U.S. senators who had yet to announce a position on these issues. Meanwhile, home schoolers calls were pouring into Senate offices from across the country. That afternoon, about 150 home school and private school students participated in a rally in support of the A+ Accounts package, which received national media coverage. (See photos accompanying this article.)
On the morning of April 21, National Center Executive Director Christopher Klicka received a telephone call from the office of Senator Trent Lott (R-MS). Citing a whip count that showed barely 30 senators supporting Senator Ashcrofts ban on national testing, Senator Lotts staffer informed Chris that its passage was virtually impossible and pursuing it would hurt rather than help the home schoolers cause.
- Vote for Senator Coverdells A+ Education Savings Accounts Bill (H.R. 2646);
- Vote for Senator Ashcrofts amendment to this bill, which would stop funding for national testing;
- Vote for Senator Gortons amendment to block grant approximately $10 billion to the states, thereby restoring local control of education and defunding failed programs like School-to-Work and Goals 2000; and
- Vote against Senator Glenns amendment, which would limit the A+ Accounts to public school children only.
Lotts office was not alone in its grim predictions. Other senators offices were telling us that neither the Ashcroft amendment nor the Gorton amendment would ever pass. Nevertheless, we continued to plow ahead, pressing Senator Lott to take the amendment to a recorded vote, and the home schoolers kept calling Capitol Hill.
On the afternoon of April 21, the first of the four votes was held, and home schoolers saw an initial victory. The Glenn amendment was handily defeated in a vote of 60 to 38, paving the way for private and home school students to be eligible, along with public school students, for the A+ Education Savings Accounts.
The biggest votes were scheduled for the following day. National Center staffers worked late into the evening to send out another nationwide alert, urging a last-minute calling campaign. The Republicans were still doubtful, and more calls were urgently needed.
April 22 was the crucial day. Scheduled to be voted on were the Ashcroft and Gorton amendments and H.R. 2646. The Gorton amendment was up first. It passed, 50 to 49.
Soon the Ashcroft amendment was brought to the floor. This was the amendment that supposedly couldnt passbut it did pass by an amazing vote of 52 to 47. Home schoolers had come through.
Senator Dan Coats (R-IN) courageously stood on the floor of the Senate, publicly changed his position (he had introduced a testing compromise last year), and voted with Ashcroft to ban national testing.
The only item left on the agenda was the Coverdell bill itself, which now included the Gorton and Ashcroft amendments, among others. In a last minute surprise, Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) spoke on the Senate floor in favor of the Coverdell bill. He said, Although I do not agree with all the amendments, I believe it is innovative. It deserves a chance. He continued, As the Bible says, Solomon prayed to the Creator of the universe for wisdom and knowledge. He did not pray for riches. He did not pray for honor. He did not pray for the lives of his enemies. He prayed for wisdom and knowledge. Perhaps we in the Senate should do the same. Soon Democrat Senators Lieberman (CT), Graham (FL), and Torricelli (NJ) joined Senator Byrd and publicly supported the Coverdell bill, although they voiced some discontent with the Gorton and Ashcroft amendments. Finally the vote was taken on H.R. 2646, and the entire package passed by 56 to 43, sealing the victory.
They Said It Couldnt Be Done
We were told over and over that a bill of this magnitude could never pass in the U.S. Senate. This amazing victory, however, points to the power of prayer and the potency of the home school movement, who registered their biggest nationwide response on a legislative issue since 1994s H.R. 6. (See the March/April 1994 Court Report.)
Now the battle shifts to the conference committee, and then on to the president, who has threatened a veto.
After praising God for His gracious blessing and protection in this battle, HSLDA and the National Center would like to thank the state organization leaders and home schoolers from across America for their tremendous work to pass H.R. 2646. You cared enough to get involved, and you took the time to make your voices heard in the U.S. Senate. You helped make the difference.