Americas political scene has been turbulent at best during this Congress. The 106th Congress opened on January 6, 1999, with the specter of a presidential impeachment hovering. When it finally on closed on December 15, 2000, it was over two months past the planned adjournment date, and the House had been preparing, if needed, to elect the next president. These are unique times indeed.
With razor thin margins in both the House and Senate, radical gains were rare. But through Gods grace, home schoolers were able to fight back initiatives aimed at reducing our freedom. The purpose of this article is to briefly highlight some of those battles and demonstrate how our efforts together had a significant impact on the outcome.
Most importantly, without your membership and support, HSLDA would not be able to have a presence on Capitol Hill, or fund the research and policy efforts of the National Center for Home Education. These victories are indeed your victories.
A+: Where this Congress excelled
In 1999 and 2000, Congress earned high marks from home school families in the following areas:
National testing ban protected
In spite of efforts to reverse the victory, HSLDA successfully defended our hard won prohibition against national testing. This assures that no money can be used to further develop or implement a test which could create a national curriculum.
Goals 2000 (mostly) repealed
This was an enormous-although not complete-victory. Goals 2000 has been perhaps the most disturbing example of centralized federal efforts to take control of education policy from local school boards and families, and impose liberal proscriptions and mandates.
In the fall of 1999, HSLDA worked to include language in the FY2000 Omnibus Appropriations bill to ensure that the largest and most damaging parts of Goals 2000-Titles III & IV-were finally repealed. (But see the rest of the story later in this article under Low Marks for This Congress.)
School-to-Work federal funding eliminated
The elimination of the federal STW program has been a top HSLDA goal for several years because of its emphasis on workforce development and certificates of mastery instead of academics. While the STW structure is in place in many states, we are pleased to report federal funding is now zero for fiscal year 2001.
|Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC) gives his autograph to home school student John Miller of Virginia.|
Congress honored home schooling
The 106th Congress unanimously passed resolutions honoring the efforts and successes of home schoolers. In the Senate, Senator John Ashcrofts (R-MO) resolution declared a National Home School Week in 1999, and in the House, Representative Bob Schaffer (R-CO) spearheaded the declaration of the 2000 National Home Education Week.
UN conventions remain unratified
HSLDA continues to work against efforts to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women. We received a promise from Senator Trent Lott (R-MS) that these conventions will not be voted on while he is Majority Leader.
Bs or Cs: Passing grades only
HSLDA worked on a number of issues which did not become law, but on which we made progress.
Significant improvements in the ESEA
Congress was due to reauthorize the massive Elementary and Secondary Education Act this year. Various controversies kept the bill from moving onto the House or Senate floor but we worked hard to secure significant changes that protected home school interests, including language exempting home schoolers from all federal education acts (not only the ESEA) and prohibiting the development of a national test. Additional language eliminated funding for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and the national education goals and panel, and prohibited the use of federal funds to administer any mandatory national teacher test or method of certification. Home schools were clearly exempted from the Gun Free School Zone mandates, federal student performance standards were prohibited, and the Department of Education was prohibited from endorsing any curriculum designed to be used in an elementary or secondary school. All these changes were approved by the House Education Committee.
Ending the marriage penalty
HSLDA urged Congress to stop the injustice of the present tax code that penalizes over 21 million married couples $1,400 more per year on average than unmarried couples who live together. Unfortunately, although both chambers of the 106th Congress voted to reduce the marriage tax penalty, President Clinton vetoed this bill.
Eliminating the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards
HSLDA supported the Teacher Empowerment Act (H.R. 1995) which would have eliminated the NBPTS-the catalyst for creating a national teaching certificate. TEA passed the House but was not considered by the Senate.
Supporting education tax credits
HSLDA supported several measures to enable parents to receive a tax credit for certain education related expenses including the A+ Education Savings Accounts (S.1134) and the K-12 Education Excellence Now (KEEN) Act (S. 138). Both would have allowed tax credits for money used by parents for expenses connected with K-12 education in public, religious, independent, or home schools. Unfortunately, we saw A+ Accounts passed twice by Congress, but vetoed both times by President Clinton.
Eliminating discrimination against home schoolers with disabilities
HSLDA supports efforts to change current law and regulation that limits the eligibility of home schoolers for special needs education services. We also want the law to exempt home schoolers who do not want services from IDEAs Child Find provisions.
We succeeded in inserting language into the House and Senate ESEA reauthorization that solves these problems, but the bill was not considered on the floor.
Supporting the Children Tax ID Alternative Act
HSLDA supported legislation that allows families to submit alternative proof of identification of their children in order to claim their dependent tax deduction and child tax credits. (Some families have religious objections to obtaining social security numbers for their children.) Rep. John Hostettler (R-IN) introduced H.R. 2494, but we were not able to build enough support this year to move the bill.
Amending NAEP and NAGB
HSLDA supported efforts to return the National Assessment and Educational Progress (NAEP) test and the National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB) to their original scope and keep NAEP from becoming a national test. We succeeded in having several key reforms included in the NAEP portion of the bill: (1) limiting subjects areas that can be tested, (2) assuring that state and local educational agencies cannot be forced to participate in the regional NAEP and may opt not to test, and (3) including a clear prohibition against national testing. This bill saw committee but not floor action.
Protecting family freedom and privacy
HSLDA opposed citizen tracking proposals through government regulations including immunization tracking regulations and centralized medical and financial databases. We supported H.R. 220, the Freedom and Privacy Restoration Act, introduced by Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX). We also opposed efforts to regulate the family through presidential executive orders.
Ds or Fs: Low marks for this Congress
Following are issues that HSLDA worked on but unfortunately lost in the 106th Congress.
The federal role in education expanded
Simply put, the political will to eliminate or even reduce the size of the federal Department of Education does not exist in Washington today. In fact, the 106th Congress massively increased education spending in both years.
HSLDA supported a number of efforts to reduce the size, scope, and role of the federal government over education policy including the Education Flexibility Partnerships Demonstration Program (Ed Flex), the Academic Achievement for All (or Straight As) Act, and the Dollars to the Classroom Act. Ed Flex was the only one of these to pass.
Religious liberty compromised
HSLDA took a principled stand against the Religious Liberty Protection Act (RLPA) popular among many of our friends in the pro-family and religious liberty community. This bill ultimately passed the House by a large margin but stalled in the Senate.
HSLDA opposed the passage of the RLPA, not because it promoted religious liberty, but because it employed improper methods to do so. First, it used the most liberal theory of the Commerce Clause as a source of federal power for this law. This meant that religious claimants would have to argue that the Founding Fathers were wrong in establishing principles of a limited national government with enumerated powers only. Second, it would provide religious liberty protection only to those people whose claims were tied to a substantial impact on interstate commerce. This would have the effect of protecting the religious rights of the big and powerful while ignoring the needs of the weak and insular.
However, a less offensive version of the RLPA, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (S. 2869), was passed by using the parliamentary procedure of unanimous consent in the House and Senate. S. 2869 still uses the constitutional power of Congress to regulate interstate commerce to protect religious freedom-a provision that HSLDA believes is unconstitutional and may actually increase federal regulation of religious activity. Congress deliberately bypassed the accountability of a recorded vote. President Clinton signed the bill.
Goals 2000 not completely repealed
Although we achieved the repeal of the largest parts of Goals 2000 (Titles III and IV) in 1999, Congress re-funded Title IV in 2000. In addition, the National Education Goals and the Goals Panel remain, along with a few smaller portions of the Act. But we have seen significant progress, with funding reduced from over $500 million in 2000 to about $50 million in 2001.
Skills Standards Board continues
It is particularly frustrating that certain words mean little in Washington. According to the Goals 2000: Educate America Act, Title V, the National Skills Standards Board was to be terminated, repealed, and sunsetted on September 30, 1999. However, this board received $7 million in the FY2000 appropriation. Through HSLDAs efforts, funding for FY2001 was reduced to $3.5 million, which is at least progress.
Not everything of significance in Washington happens in the Congress.
HSLDA mourns the loss of Senator Coverdell
On July 18, 2000, a real friend of home schoolers and an advocate of educational freedom Senator Paul Coverdell (R-GA) died in his home state. HSLDA had presented the senator with the 1999 Home School Freedom Award for his work to establish the militarys five-year pilot program for home school recruits. He was a good man who will be missed.
|HSLDA's 1999 Proclaim Liberty! Rally and Conference provided manu home school families the opportunity to meet face-to-face with their legislators on Capitol Hill. Here Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) poses after talking with a group of home schooling constituents.|
Proclaim Liberty! Rally
In the fall of 1999, HSLDA hosted a rally and conference in Washington. Home schoolers heard speeches from a number of key leaders in the House and Senate, and most of the candidates for president, including now-President George W. Bush.
Congressional Action Program
Home schoolers continued to have a presence through the volunteer efforts of HSLDAs Congressional Action Program families. CAP held two training sessions during the 106th Congress and several lobby days. There is no doubt that many of our victories are a result of the willingness of these families to travel to Capitol Hill to represent home schoolers from across the country. These lobby visits work hand-in-hand with your phone calls to your federal legislators.
Your staff at HSLDA and the National Center for Home Education are honored to represent you. We covet your prayers as we labor on your behalf.
R E L A T E D I T E M S
How Did They Vote
Our thoughts on the scorecard