House education committee votes to protect home school freedom
"All in favor of the Hoekstra amendment say 'aye.'"
All opposed, 'no.'"
Silence . . .
On Thursday, May 4, 2001 the House Education and the Workforce Committee voted unanimously for a two-part amendment to H.R. 1—the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. H.R. 1, which reflects many of President Bush's education reforms, is also the reauthorization of the massive Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
The two-part amendment, offered by Congressman Pete Hoekstra of Michigan, greatly expanded the home school protections won during the infamous "H.R. 6 battle" of 1994.
"Victory is sweet," said Home School Legal Defense Association President Mike Smith. "And we know that this victory is the Lord's."
Home schoolers exempted from any federal education act
The most important part of the Hoekstra amendment inserted the phrase "or any other Act administered by the Department" after "Act" in Section 8511 of the bill. Current law, which we won in 1994 with the Armey amendment, exempted home schoolers from provision only in the ESEA itself. The addition of the Hoekstra language effectively ends all federal control over home schoolers by ANY law administered by the U.S. Department of Education.
Section 8511 now reads: "Nothing in this Act or any other Act administered by the Department shall be construed to permit, allow, encourage, or authorize any Federal control over any aspect of any private, religious, or home school, whether or not a home school is treated as a private school or home school under state law."
During the debate, committee staff insisted that the change could not be done. "The other side simply will not agree," said the staff director to HSLDA's Doug Domenech.
But Doug went on to explain that the provision was not designed to add any privileges for home schoolers-it simply protected home school families' rights to home school free of government intervention. "After that," Doug said, "they understood."
Home schoolers in key districts from 20 states make a huge difference
HSLDA had been requesting protective wording throughout the drafting stage of H.R. 1. However, because the committee was determined to draft a bi-partisan bill, our language was rejected. HSLDA then approached Mr. Hoekstra with our concerns and he agreed to offer the language in amendment form.
In preparation for the committee mark-up, HSLDA President J. Michael Smith and General Counsel Mike Farris decided that we should activate our member networks in support of the amendments.
Samuel Redfern, Manager of HSLDA's Congressional Action Program, was tasked with issuing the alert. "We decided to only activate a limited number of our members in the districts of Republican members on the Education and Workforce Committee," explained Redfern. "If we could swing the Republican votes, then we could win."
The calls clearly made a difference. One congressional office reported to HSLDA that they were receiving 10 calls per minute from home schoolers asking for support on these amendments.
In the end, the committee passed the amendments unanimously.
Home schoolers protected from federal and state assessments
The second section of the Hoekstra amendment added language in Section 8508 that included protections for home schoolers from the testing requirements in the bill. The amendment added the words, "whether or not a home school is treated as a home school or a private school under state law."
This private school distinction is important in states that recognize home schools as private schools and provides the maximum protection for home schoolers in all 50 states from "any assessments referenced in this act."
Just within the last four months, several states attempted to pass laws forcing home schoolers to take the states' content-based assessments, but a vociferous outcry from the home schooling community defeated these measures. This Hoekstra amendment would prevent these kinds of bills from even being introduced.
Of course, H.R. 1 is far from being law. After the committee markup, the full bill must pass the committee and move to the floor of the House for debate and a vote. The Senate is also working on its own version of the bill, which is far less favorable to home schoolers. Once the Senate passes its version, the two bills must be combined in a final version in the Conference Committee, passed again by the House and Senate, and then sent to the White House for the president's signature.
HSLDA will continue to fight for these important protections and other provisions of concern to home schoolers in the education bill right up through the final version.
Equal access in the military
Dozens of Home School Legal Defense Association members stationed at United States military overseas bases have petitioned HSLDA for help when Department of Defense schools slam the door on what is often the only option for extracurricular activities. In some countries, like Turkey and Germany, it is nearly impossible for parents to find a place for their child to participate in sports, band, or other extracurricular group activities except at Department of Defense Dependents Schools (DoDDS). However, current policy discriminates against these families.
On March 1, 2001, Representative John Hostettler introduced a bill that will remedy this discrimination. The Military Home School Children Equal Access Act of 2001 (H.R. 830) will "amend the Defense Dependents' Education Act of 1978 to allow home school students who are eligible for enrollment in a school of the overseas defense dependents education system to use auxiliary services of such schools."
HSLDA has been working on this issue for several years. In 1999, at our urging, Congress issued a directive to the Department of Defense to create an equal access policy.
The directive stated: "[The DOD] policy . . . should specify that home schooled students may be supported with library services, music, sports, single classes, and other programs without having to actually enroll in Department of Defense Overseas Schools."
Following this congressional directive, then-Department of Defense Education Activity Director Ray Tolleson issued a policy memorandum stipulating that "consistent with existing regulations and policy," DoDDS should provide dependents who are home schooled with auxiliary services. Unfortunately, this one phrase maintained the status quo instead of implementing the new policy.
We hope that Hostettler's bill will finally solve this problem for our military families serving overseas by codifying the intent of Congress and giving military dependents access to DOD services that they have been denied.