House Passes Amendment to Clarify Homeschool Eligibility
On February 7, 2008, the United States House of Representatives passed House Resolution 4137, the College Opportunity and Affordability Act of 2007. This bill, which was the subject of intensive congressional negotiations for months, was a reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (20 U.S.C. § 1001).
Courtesty of the Forte FamilyVolunteer CAP lobbyists Joshua (center) and Jacob Freeman (right) told Congressman George Miller’s senior staffer Denise Forte (left) how the H.R. 4137 would impact them personally.
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Over 900 pages long, the bill was full of expensive federal programs as well as proposals to help students and families afford higher education. However, HSLDA was successful in scoring several major victories for homeschoolers.
A teacher preparation program designed to encourage more college graduates to become teachers was amended to specify that “nothing in this part shall be construed to
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)” and to prohibit “any national system of teacher certification.”
The most significant victory, however, was language added to a manager’s amendment at the last minute by Congressman George Miller (CA), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee.
The language in the manager’s amendment simply amended § 101 of the Higher Education Act to clarify that colleges and universities awarding financial aid to homeschooled students remain eligible for federal funding. In order for a college student under age 18 to receive federal financial aid, both the student and the college which is granting the aid must be “eligible” under the Higher Education Act. HSLDA’s 1998 amendment clarified that homeschool graduates are “eligible.” However, some colleges and universities still questioned whether the institution awarding aid to a homeschool graduate remained eligible.
This confusion had been largely remedied by HSLDA’s work with college and university admissions offices and by our work with the U.S. Department of Education as new regulations were issued. However, we have long sought to fix the part of the U.S. Code that actually contained the unclear language.
Congressman Miller’s addition to the manager’s amendment will easily remedy any lingering confusion by putting the Higher Education Act’s unclear institutional eligibility requirements in line with its clear student eligibility section, and it will explicitly permit the granting of federal aid to homeschool graduates under age 18.
HSLDA staff lobbied members of Congress for over a year and a half on this issue. We visited nearly every senator on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, and nearly every representative on the House Education and Labor Committee. Our steady presence was followed by a Congressional Action Program (CAP) blitz on January 22, 2008, when over 60 homeschooling parents and children conducted a lobbying day specifically targeting congressional offices on the higher education issue.
One family had already established a good relationship with Congressman Miller’s senior staffer, Denise Forte, having made previous visits through the CAP program. Sherri Freeman and her sons Jake and Josh visited Ms. Forte and talked with her about how the higher education issue was impacting them. Homeschooled student Glenn Bertsch and his family traveled from Pennsylvania and spoke with the staff of House Minority Leader John Boehner (OH).
As the Higher Education Act reauthorization approached a vote, Boehner, Minority Whip Roy Blunt (MO), and Rep. Buck McKeon (CA) worked together to include HSLDA’s language in the final bill. Congressman Miller agreed, and with the language added to the manager’s amendment, the bill sailed through the House. This victory illustrates that homeschooling freedom transcends party lines, and that homeschooling has advanced enormously in the political arena in the last 25 years. Our thanks to all of the CAP families—your hard work and dedication paid off!
What’s next? H.R. 4137 and S. 1642, the Senate version of the Higher Education Act reauthorization, will go to a conference committee of selected senators and representatives. S. 1642 also includes good language that will open the Byrd Scholarship to homeschooled students. HSLDA will be working with the members of the conference committee to ensure that the language protecting homeschoolers is included in the final Higher Education Act reauthorization that is passed by Congress.
|About the author
Will Estrada is HSLDA’s director of federal relations.