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September / October 2005

You can homeschool through high school
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Priorities for the 109th Congress

Ever since the 109th Congress convened on January 4, 2005, the National Center for Home Education has been working to ensure that your right to homeschool is protected. As you carry out the daily task of homeschooling, we are honored to work alongside you, focusing our attention on Capitol Hill and keeping you updated on crucial issues. Here are some highlights.

Homeschool Non-Discrimination Act

Although homeschooling is now legal in every state, parts of federal law still do not recognize this educational option, resulting in discriminatory problems.

The Homeschool Non-Discrimination Act would remedy these problems by bringing federal law up-to-date. Initially drafted by HSLDA, this bill was introduced in both the House and Senate during the last Congress, and NCHE staff are working with Representative Marilyn Musgrave (CO-4) and Senator Larry Craig (ID) to introduce this bill in 2005.

Higher Education Act

For a college student under age 18 to receive federal financial aid, both the student and the college granting the aid must be "eligible" under the federal Higher Education Act. It has been clear since the Higher Education Act Amendments of 1998 that students who are homeschool graduates are eligible. However, Department of Education interpretations late in the Clinton Administration called into question whether an institution that awarded aid to a homeschooler could remain eligible.

After this nonsensical interpretation, universities in Texas, Maine, New York, and Virginia expressed concern that their institutional eligibility for federal funds would be denied if they opened their doors to homeschoolers. In some cases, homeschool graduates' admissions were revoked.

NCHE is committed to working with House and Senate Education Committee staffers to include new legislative language in the Higher Education Reauthorization bill, which is scheduled for introduction before August 2005. This new language will clarify that homeschool graduates are eligible to receive federal financial aid.

Federal Educational Records and Privacy Act

The Federal Educational Records and Privacy Act does not provide protections for homeschoolers whose states require them to submit records to the public school system; homeschoolers are not covered under the act, and their records are freely available to the public.

Representative Mark Kennedy (MN-6) has introduced stand-alone legislation that would remedy this discriminatory policy. NCHE supports Congressman Kennedy and his staff as they work to pass this legislation.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), many education officials and courts believe that current law requires them to evaluate all special needs children-including children in non-public schools-regardless of whether the parents consent. This mistaken understanding of IDEA can create problems for families who have chosen to remain free from all government assistance.

Earlier this year, proposed regulations on last year's legislation were released. These regulations would prohibit school districts from pursuing initial evaluations of private and homeschool students without parental consent. Having worked closely with regulators, NCHE welcomes this victory and fully supports the proposed regulations. We continue to work with the Department of Education and remain hopeful that these new regulations will completely resolve the issue.

Military recruitment discrimination

Although a 2005 Department of Defense memorandum granted homeschoolers who wish to join the military "priority enlistment," homeschoolers are still generally considered Tier II recruits, effectively categorizing them as high school dropouts. Except on a case-by-case basis, they are typically not allowed the signing bonuses and college grants available to public and private school graduates.

NCHE is working closely with the United States Senate and the Senate Armed Services Committee to solve this problem. We are drafting new legislation that would allow homeschoolers to enter the armed services as Tier I recruits without extra regulation.

Education tax credits

NCHE continues to support legislation to provide tax credits for homeschoolers. Such credits would ease the financial burden on homeschoolers who, through the tax-funded public school system, are paying for an education they don't use.

Representative Mark Green (WI-8) worked with NCHE to introduce tax credit legislation in May that would allow the creation of Student Tuition Organizations (STOs) as 501(c)3s. Individuals donating to these organizations would receive up to $1000 in federal tax credit. The STOs would be required to redistribute at least 90% of each year's funds to qualifying students.

Head Start protections

NCHE is concerned that Head Start's increased emphasis on preschool education could be used by the various states to support lowering the compulsory attendance age. Although preventative language was unsuccessful last year, steps have again been taken to fix this potential problem. This year, due to the efforts of HSLDA, NCHE, and House and Senate Education Committee staff, both houses of Congress have passed legislation with language clarifying that states should not misinterpret Head Start regulations to require a lower compulsory attendance age. Q