A Legislative Review of 2005
Two new Supreme Court justices, the War on Terror, and hurricane relief have dominated the headlines over the last 12 months. But what about the rights and interests of homeschoolers? A glance back at 2005 reveals that Home School Legal Defense Association's National Center for Home Education has quietly accomplished several significant victories on behalf of the homeschool community.
Introduction of HONDA
In 2005, Congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave (CO) and Senator Larry Craig (ID) introduced the same version of the Homeschool Non-Discrimination Act (HONDA) in the House and the Senate, respectively. Drafted by HSLDA, HONDA would correct seven areas of federal law that discriminate against or regularly hinder the rights of homeschoolers. Presently, both bills are in committee and we look forward to continuing the refining process in 2006. Even though HONDA may not pass as stand-alone legislation, HSLDA has successfully incorporated some of its language into several other federal bills that address areas of concern for homeschoolers.
Fair treatment for homeschooled military recruits
In late 2005, a homeschool military amendment (part of the HONDA legislation) was introduced by Senator Rick Santorum (PA) and passed on the Senate floor. While the Department of Defense (DoD) issued an internal memo in January 2005 giving homeschool graduates preferred enlistment status in the military, there was no way to guarantee that this policy would remain in place after the current presidential administration leaves office.
Furthermore, the DoD directive was not being uniformly followed across all military branches-some recruiters were even ignoring it completely. Under the Santorum Amendment, the DoD must give homeschoolers preferred enlistment, have a specific enlistment policy for homeschooled students, implement this policy uniformly throughout all four branches of the military, and not require a high school diploma as a requisite for entrance into the military. HSLDA will be working closely with the DoD to ensure that the regulations put in place remain homeschool-friendly.
Ending harassment of families under IDEA
Parental rights suffered a serious setback in December 2004 when the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Conference Committee removed an important provision that HSLDA had worked to include in the House IDEA bill. This language would have given homeschooling parents with special needs children the right to reject a public school evaluation of their child.
The National Center staff immediately began working closely with the writers responsible for incorporating the legislation into U.S. Department of Education regulations. What emerged was homeschool-friendly language allowing parents of homeschool and private school students to refuse an evaluation if they are not receiving public educational services. This solution would not have been possible if hundreds of homeschool students and families had not responded to HSLDA's email alerts requesting that feedback be sent to the Department of Education during the public comment period. Your efforts played a large role in the final pro-parental rights wording of the regulations.
Victory over Byrd Scholarship discrimination
For many years, homeschool graduates were not eligible for the prestigious Byrd Scholarship, a federal college grant reserved for those performing in the top one percent of students. During the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, HSLDA worked with several congressional offices, writing an amendment that would allow homeschooled students to compete for the scholarship. After extensive lobbying, Senator Robert Byrd (WV) approved the amendment, stating that he did not want homeschoolers to miss out on this scholarship opportunity.
More higher education success
In the same bill containing the favorable Byrd Scholarship language, HSLDA was able to include language assuring colleges that they will not lose their federal financial aid status if they admit homeschool graduates. This issue underwent a temporary fix during the Clinton administration through HSLDA's work with the Department of Education. With the passage of the new language in the higher education legislation, homeschoolers have solidified this position. Future administrations will be unable to reinterpret the law to exclude homeschoolers from college admission on the grounds that those colleges could lose federal financial aid.
Battles in Congress for 2006
This year, we would like to see three other sections of HONDA achieve the same success as their counterparts: homeschool access to Coverdell Education Savings Accounts, privacy protection for homeschoolers' publicly held educational records, and clarification of labor laws to allow homeschooled students to work during the day.