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Freedom Watch

Conference committee to shape final ESEA — H.R. 1 & S. 1

The "No Child Left Behind Act of 2001" (H.R. 1) and the "Better Education for Students and Teachers Act" (S. 1) have passed their respective chambers, but the two bills must be reconciled into one by the conference committee before being sent to the president's desk.

Although President Bush is pushing for quick passage, the recent shift of power in the United States Senate delayed the conference committee selection process. This has given the National Center for Home Education an extended opportunity to lobby congressional leadership, urging them to appoint representatives to the committee who will fight to keep provisions important to home schoolers.

In the last Freedom Watch, we reported differences between S. 1 and H.R. 1. The chart below details the provisions relating to home schooling and HSLDA's recommendations to the committee.

Provision H.R.1 S.1 Our Analysis
Universal protection: Protects home schoolers from all federal control over home education. Both are good.
General protections: Prohibits any portion of this act from being used to control or regulate home schools. Both are good.
Teacher certification protection: Prohibits mandatory national certification of teachers. Both are good. Senate language preferred.
Federal and/or state assessment protection: Protects home schoolers from being required to participate in any test referenced in this act. Keep House language. Senate does not protect from state assessments.
National test protection: Prohibits the development, pilot testing, field testing, implementation, or administration of any federally sponsored test. Both are good. House provision is best.
Allowing states alternative "snapshot test" to NAEP: Gives states option of using an alternative test in lieu of the National Assessment of Education Progress--a test that could develop into a national test. House language is good. Senate requires that states take NAEP.
Federal curriculum protection: Prohibits the federal government from creating, sponsoring or implementing a federal curriculum or using any funds under this act to do so. Both are good.
Repeal of Goals 2000: Repeals last remnants of Goals 2000. Both are good. Senate language preferred.
National database protection: Prohibits the development of any national database of personally identifiable information. Both are good.
Gun free school zone fix: Exempts home schools considered private schools under state law from Gun Free School Zone requirements. Both are good.

Education Savings Accounts—not all home schoolers included

The recent tax cut package signed by President

Bush expands the well-publicized Education Savings Accounts ("education IRAs") from college expenses to K-12 expenses. Further, Congress quadrupled the annual ESA contribution limit, raising it from $500 to $2000 per child. Interest accumulated in these accounts will be tax-free. Neither principal nor interest will be taxable upon withdrawal if the family uses the expenses for education purposes. Qualifying expenses include tuition, tutoring, books, or computer hardware and software.

Unfortunately, only home school students in the 12 states that define home schools as private schools will qualify for ESAs:

  • Alabama

  • Alaska

  • California

  • Illinois

  • Indiana

  • Kansas

  • Kentucky

  • Louisiana

  • Michigan

  • Nebraska

  • Pennsylvania

  • Texas

  • Five other states recognize groups of home schoolers as private schools, but those not associated with a group must operate under the home school law and consequently do not qualify for ESAs:

  • Colorado

  • Utah

  • Florida

  • Virginia

  • Maine

    The National Center for Home Education is working to change this inequality. Because the U.S. Department of the Treasury will write the regulatory guidelines for this legislation, we have petitioned key members of Congress to write a letter to Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neil requesting that the ESA regulations include home schoolers. Several congressmen have done this already.

    If this is unsuccessful, a technical amendment to include home schoolers, "whether or not a home school is considered a home school or private school under state law," may be necessary later this year.

    For the latest on all the issues National Center is tracking, visit http://nche.hslda.org.