Behind the scenes progress in the 107th Congress
As the 107th United States Congress comes to a close, we have pondered whether a "scorecard" on homeschooling issues at the federal level would prove helpful to Home School Legal Defense Association members as they consider the federal congressional election. While there may be times when such an approach is useful, we find that the 107th Congress did not provide the kind of votes necessary to generate an issue evaluation. This is not because homeschool matters have not been considered. In fact, there have been several bills that have implications for home education. But homeschool issues have not themselves been the subject of a vote, excepting the vote on the overall bill. This is a good thing and is often directly related to the quiet way HSLDA works in Washington, DC.
HSLDA's manner of operation in Washington goes against the grain of what it often means to lobby, and why scorecards are sometimes generated. In fact, we've seen countless examples of Washington lobbyists whose primary mission seems to be keeping themselves in operation rather than accomplishing the goals of the people who pay for them to be there. At HSLDA's National Center for Home Education, we approach matters from the perspective that homeschool freedom is our goal—not the promotion of ourselves or HSLDA. Rather than join the self-promotion crowd, we devote ourselves to quietly building personal relationships with elected officials, political appointees, staff, and career professionals who are the decision makers. We diligently monitor the legislative, regulatory, and political situation, and continually seek ways to advance the cause of homeschooling, often in some discreet manner behind the scenes and very early in the process.
To better understand how HSLDA's National Center has been working in Washington in the 107th Congress, we thought it would be helpful to review a few of the many issues and inquiries we work on, which will also show why creating a scorecard can prove difficult.
The Higher Education Act & The Eligibility of Homeschoolers for Financial Aid
In 1998, Congress, with the help of HSLDA, made it clear that homeschool graduates were not required to have a GED or state-approved diploma to be eligible for federal financial aid. However, towards the end of the Clinton Administration, the Department of Education interpreted a separate section of the Higher Education Act dealing with institutional eligibility to preclude homeschoolers under age 18 from participating in the government's college financial aid programs. During the 107th Congress, HSLDA worked behind the scenes to first get a new interpretation under the Bush Administration, and then set about getting the matter settled once and for all in law. HSLDA worked with the House Education and Workforce Committee to quietly insert a fix into a non-controversial bill making technical amendments to the federal financial aid program. Not once has there been a separate vote on the homeschool issue. While this bill has yet to be enacted into law, we are in an excellent position to see the change we want before the end of the session.
Education Savings Accounts
ESAs have been an important issue to HSLDA since their creation in 1998. ESAs allow parents to save up to $2000 per year for education expenses with any interest gained being tax-free. Unfortunately, ESAs do not apply to homeschoolers unless a state treats the homeschool as a private school. HSLDA has worked during the 107th Congress to fix this inequity. We were able to insert additional language into the bill, which made ESAs permanent and addressed the home school situation. Again, no votes on this particular issue were necessary. This bill has not yet been enacted, but it stands a very good chance of passage.
Access for Military Homeschoolers Overseas
For several years, homeschooling military families stationed overseas were subject to arbitrary policies concerning access to military libraries, facilities, etc. Normally, HSLDA urges homeschoolers to avoid entanglement with government programs because they inevitably lead to government oversight. However, military families are different because they are already employed by the government and must go where it sends them—even if it is a military base on some remote island. Generally, these military families have no other means of obtaining library materials or extracurricular activities for their children except from the military facility. In the 107th Congress, through HSLDA's working closely with Congressman John Hostettler (R-8th IN), a provision that allowed homeschoolers this access was quietly placed into the yearly defense bill and passed into law.
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)
Federal law currently attempts to protect the privacy of public school students' records. However, homeschool records held by a public school are not protected. Moreover, because these are public records, absent federal or state law, a school district could not protect these records even if it otherwise would be inclined to do so. Something needs to be done.
To prevent this invasion of privacy, HSLDA helped Representative Mark Kennedy (R-2nd MN) craft a bill to address this issue. We also met behind the scenes with the Department of Education and the Education and Workforce Committee on this issue. As this publication goes to press, a bill, H.R. 5331, is waiting in the wings to be attached as an amendment to a larger bill.
No Child Left Behind Act (H.R.1)
President Bush's chief domestic policy issue has been education. Massive education bills were accordingly the first bills offered in both chambers of Congress. Fearing the worst, HSLDA met weekly with congressional and presidential staff to see that homeschooling was not adversely affected by the ever-expanding federal role in education. HSLDA helped draft language that we insisted must be included in this legislation. Education and Workforce Committee Chairman John Boehner (R-8th OH), Rep Bob Schaffer (R-4th CO), and Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-2nd MI) helped us to quietly get this language into H.R. 1, and Senator Tim Hutchinson (AR) helped us in the same way with S.1. This language included bans on national testing, national curriculum, and a national database. Perhaps the most important language declared that nothing in the new law could be construed to permit, allow, encourage, or authorize any federal control over any aspect of home education.
The UN Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)
On July 30, 2002, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed the UN Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women by a vote of 12-7. We opposed this treaty actively prior to this vote. Though this treaty's title seems innocuous, it really is a wolf in sheep's clothing. If ratified by the full Senate, this legislation would become equal with the U.S. Constitution. The treaty and its implenting committee have promulgated policies as radical as outlawing Mother's Day and legalizing prostitution. (See cover story on page 3.)
Here is one time when we deemed it best to work in a very vocal manner. We appreciate the way HSLDA members responded to our e-lert. We were told by a homeschooler on Capitol Hill that one senator who was "sitting on the fence" received over a thousand calls against the treaty in one day. He fell on our side of the fence. The Senate has yet to take up CEDAW, in part because it is behind in its legislation, but also likely because of the opposition expressed by HSLDA members and other groups during August. We are actively watching this treaty and will keep you informed.
HSLDA, through its National Center for Home Education, is working hard to promote homeschool freedom. Often, we strategically operate behind the scenes. Unfortunately, this doesn't make a great scorecard. Fortunately, it works.