HSLDA’s Federal Relations Department Plays Whack-a-Mole
Social workers at the front door, arrest threats against homeschooling parents, and courts with extreme child rights bias—we all see the headlines narrating the major conflicts in the battle over homeschooling freedom. Yet there are many small skirmishes that few people see—a mom calling her congressman to persuade him to cosponsor a bill, HSLDA federal relations staff explaining to a new congressional aide that homeschoolers simply want the federal government to leave them alone, an HSLDA attorney reassuring a skeptical college employee that yes, homeschoolers are fully eligible for financial aid.
HSLDA’s federal relations department fights for homeschool freedom every day that Congress is in session—and even when Congress is back home on vacation. We could not do this without your membership with HSLDA, the local Congressional Action Program families who take time to lobby and show Congress the faces of homeschooling, and the support of hundreds of thousands of homeschoolers across the nation who swing into action with phone calls, letters, and even visits to legislators when homeschool freedom is threatened.
While some of what HSLDA’s federal relations department does is common knowledge to members, there is a huge amount of work that goes on behind the scenes as our small team of dedicated staff—all homeschool graduates—works to defend homeschooling on Capitol Hill. Through our years of work on the Hill, HSLDA has become the go-to organization whenever any representative, senator, staffer, or lobbyist has a question about parental rights or homeschooling.
Whenever HSLDA federal relations staff visit a congressional office, we make it clear that homeschoolers don’t want any money or “help” from the federal government. All we want is to be left alone. When we do ask for the federal government to treat homeschoolers fairly, we make sure that no federal definition of homeschooling will be created, usually accomplishing this through legislative language that protects all homeschoolers, whether defined as homeschools or private schools under state law.
In addition to our countless meetings with members of Congress, their staff, and allies on the Hill, here are some specific legislative issues we are currently pursuing.
Coverdell Education Savings Accounts
HSLDA is actively lobbying for homeschoolers to be able to use Coverdell Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) for homeschool expenses. Congress set up the Coverdell ESAs in 2001 to give parents the opportunity to save money for their children’s education tax-free. However, due to a technicality in the law, homeschool expenses are not included in the definition of eligible education expenses, but private and public school expenses are fully covered. This has led to a strange situation where homeschoolers in Kansas (whose law treats home education as a type of private school) use Coverdell ESAs all the time, while homeschoolers in Virginia cannot use their Coverdell ESAs for any K–12 expenses because Virginia has a homeschool statute. We view this as discrimination and we are working with friends in Congress to amend the law to make homeschool expenses eligible under the Coverdell ESAs.
Federal Educational Records and Privacy Act (FERPA)
FERPA requires student school records to be kept private for the students’ safety and security. This wouldn’t impact homeschoolers—except for the fact that many states require homeschoolers to file a notice of intent or some additional information with the local school district. FERPA only protects the records of public and private school students, which has allowed some state officials to threaten to release homeschoolers’ information. In addition, numerous state and federal legislative efforts are attempting to link the data of all students into massive nationwide databases—something that HSLDA strongly opposes. While we will continue to fight national databases, we also are working with Congress to introduce legislation that specifies that homeschool data is also protected by FERPA.
U.S. Labor Laws
The U.S. Department of Labor recently issued a regulation that restricts students ages 14–16 from working outside traditional school hours, which are defined by local public schools. This regulation is discriminatory and restricts homeschoolers’ flexibility. HSLDA is working with Congress to introduce legislation that will require the Department of Labor to allow homeschooling students to work during public school hours if they wish, so long as all other applicable labor laws are followed.
Fairness in the Military
HSLDA’s federal relations department is working with Congress to pass legislation that will ensure that homeschool graduates are able to enlist in the U.S. Armed Forces without having to go through a bureaucratic nightmare. This legislation has been attached to the annual National Defense Authorization Act, and we are very hopeful that it will have passed Congress by the time this article goes to press. We are also working with Congress to force the Department of Veterans Affairs to follow court rulings and provide benefits to the children of veterans who are still in a homeschool program after age 18.
While, thankfully, huge pieces of legislation that would hurt or eliminate homeschooling are few and far between, HSLDA and the homeschool community are continually surrounded by small battles that if not monitored and stopped could escalate into major headlines. Like the whack-a-mole game, “moles” constantly pop up that need to be hammered down. This can seem daunting, yet together we can keep constant vigilance and protect the freedoms of homeschoolers. For more information about any of these issues, please visit HSLDA’s federal relations webpages, call 540-338-5600, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
|About the author
Melanie Palazzo is the HSLDA Congressional Action Program director.