SPECIAL REPORT

a division of Home School Legal Defense Association
May 2, 2001

A Review of the Bush Education Plan

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The Bush "No Child Left Behind" plan proposed sweeping changes to the federal government funding of basic elementary and secondary education. While home schoolers are explicitly exempted from the plan, and there are many innovative features of the plan for public school reform, several aspects of the Bush plan may threaten home school freedoms indirectly.

This paper addresses these concerns.

INTRODUCTION

The Bush Administration has released what it has dubbed a "blueprint" for the president's education reform plan. Titled "No Child Left Behind," the plan proposes changes to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The purpose of this report is to review the plan in general and examine how the plan may or may not impact the home school community specifically.

THE PLAN IN GENERAL

HSLDA applauds the president's efforts to change the traditional role of the federal government from a source of failed policy prescriptions to one of a funding stream that encourages innovation and reform. The plan clearly increases flexibility, consolidates programs, and focuses on education methods that are research based.

The home schooling movement has succeeded principally because hundreds of thousands of moms and dads have focused on the academic needs of individual students-their children. We understand the need for high academic standards, early reading, and parental choice.

HSLDA is pleased that so many of these principles are included in the president's plan.

THE PLAN AND HOME SCHOOLERS

The Bush plan is positive for home schoolers in the following ways.

Under a section titled "Protects Home schools and Private Schools," the plan states that "federal requirements do not apply to home schools or private schools. Protections in current law would be maintained." (See page 9 of "No Child Left Behind.")

While the protection language appears only in the Standards and Accountability section of the plan and not elsewhere, it does appear that the Bush Administration desires to protect home schools from federal regulation. In meetings with White House staff, they have confirmed that this is their intent.

However, while this is an affirmation of the current protections in law, NCHE/HSLDA has been seeking and would recommend improved language to strengthen current law.

Suggested Clarifications and Modifications to Protect and Enhance Home School Freedoms

  1. The home school protection should be clarified and strengthened.

    HSLDA is pleased that the plan states that "federal requirements do not apply to home schools or private schools. Protections in current law would be maintained."

    However, we suggest two changes.

    1. It should be made clear that this protection extends to the entire plan and not solely to the Standards and Accountability section of the plan where it appears.

    2. Over the last few years, the home school protection language championed by Congressman Dick Armey has been expanded and modified to exempt home schoolers from all federal education control. In order to assure that the exemption applies to ALL federal education acts, HSLDA proposes the exact wording of the following exemption be included as part of the general provisions title. A similar provision was in last year's House ESEA package and passed the Education and Workforce Committee.

    "GENERAL PROVISION REGARDING NONRECIPIENT NONPUBLIC SCHOOLS.

      Nothing in this Act or any other Act administered by the Department shall be construed to permit, allow, encourage, or 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. Private, religious, or home schools cannot be barred from participation in programs or services under this Act or any other Act administered by the Department."

  2. Home schoolers should be protected from government testing plans.

    Home schoolers widely participate in standardized testing programs and perform exceptionally well-typically 30 percentile points higher than the average public school student. However, home schoolers do not want the government-federal or state-compelling us to participate in a testing plan.

    Therefore, we propose that you include in the legislation language prohibiting any state from using federal funds to develop or administer any test and from requiring home school or private school students to take that test.

  3. The plan should specify that it is limited to public schools.

    While the plan is not legislative language, the terms "all students," "all schools," and "all teachers" are used throughout the document. A good illustration is at the bottom of page 5 of the plan: "States will be expected to ensure that ALL children are taught by effective teachers." [emphasis added] This means ALL students and ALL teachers.

    It should be clear when making prescriptions and requirements that the plan applies to

    PUBLIC schools, teachers, and students, or to schools that received federal funds.

  4. Teacher tax deduction should apply to home schoolers.

    HSLDA is pleased that the plan provides individual tax deductions for teachers.

    Specifically, it states, "Teachers will be able to make tax deductions of up to $400 to help defray the costs associated with out-of-pocket classroom expenses, such as books, school supplies, professional enrichment programs, and other training."

    We have promoted and supported bills in Congress to provide for such a deduction for ALL teachers-including home school teachers. However, it is unclear if the Bush plan intends to include ALL teachers-home and private school as well as public school teachers-in this provision.

    Therefore, we recommend that the teacher tax credit apply to all teachers - public, private, and home school.

  5. Education savings accounts should apply to home schoolers.

    HSLDA has worked to expand this important tool to the home schooling community.

    The plan should specify that home school families are eligible to establish education savings accounts and use them to support their home education activities.

  6. The plan should end the discrimination against home schoolers in IDEA.

    This has been a serious problem for many of our member families. Because of an errant interpretation of the intent of Congress by the Department of Education, home schoolers in a number of states are denied access to services offered through IDEA for their disabled child.

    It is unfair to these children who need help, and it violates the principle of equal application of the law across the 50 states.

    The president can solve this problem by specifying that home schoolers cannot be denied access to IDEA services and support on the same level as private school students in all 50 states.

  7. Home schools and private schools should be exempt from the teacher certification and quality sections of the plan.

    HSLDA applauds the president's efforts to improve the quality of public school teachers. In the past, however, home schoolers have been subject to efforts by states to regulate that ability of parents to teach their own children. Therefore, we propose that home school and private school teachers be specifically exempted from this portion of the plan.

THE TESTING COMPONENT OF THE PLAN

HSLDA is confident that President Bush does not want a national test. We agree.

However, the Bush Administration has relied on certain members of Congress and other so-called "testing" experts, who are less committed to this position. This includes several members of the National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB) who publicly support a national test.

In 1998 and 1999, HSLDA led the fight against a national test and, together with Congressman Bill Goodling and many others in the pro-family, pro-freedom movement, we won.

HSLDA understands and accepts that those states and public schools who take federal funds can be required to test their students using a test selected at the state level. Our principal concern arises from the selection and use of the planned review or "audit" test.

Many in the home schooling movement who are anxious about the testing component of the proposal.

Therefore, we offer several technical amendments to the plan in hopes of clearing up these misunderstandings and limiting the possibility that the NAEP (National Assessment of Education Progress) will become a defacto federal test.

  1. The plan should include a definitive and absolute prohibition against any national test in any form clearly stated in legislative language. This would codify the gains won through the appropriations riders over the past years.

  2. NAEP should not be an option for auditing state performance. NAEP is flawed and many assessment experts do not feel that it can be used in the fashion outlined in the plan.

    HSLDA has long opposed the expansion of NAEP as the most likely avenue to a national test. We are concerned that the plan currently expands NAEP by (1) requiring that it be used more frequently, (2) expanding the sample size of NAEP four fold, and (3) forcing states that currently do not use NAEP to use it. We fear that this expanded use, together with NAGB's desire to increase national assessment will only lead to it becoming a national test or standard.

    In addition, some estimates indicate that a NAEP test is actually 20 times more expensive to administer than a nationally norm referenced test, and it takes a year to get the results.

    For all these reasons, we urge the president to abandon NAEP as the sole option for the state audit.

  3. The plan should require that all tests and assessments, both the state tests and the "audit," be academically based. Many people object to survey questions-included in NAEP-that require students to provide answers not related to academics.

  4. States must have options other than NAEP. We suggest that the President allow local school districts to pick from a list of nationally norm referenced tests for their "audit."

  5. If a state already uses a nationally norm referenced test for their state assessment, there should be absolutely no need for a second annual snapshot. In this case, the state test is already "normed" to a national comparison group.

  6. In order to be of maximum use to the states, the results of any "audit" test should be available within four weeks of the testing date.

  7. In all cases, states clearly should be allowed to maintain control of students and assessments.

  8. Both the state assessment and the "audit" should be limited to basics only-math and reading. Federally mandated content standards and testing in science and history should be avoided.

  9. The plan should allow states to opt out of the federal "audit" once it is proved that the state test is verified. If a state passes the audit after 3 years, the audit should end.

THE CHOICE COMPONENT OF THE PLAN

The choice component of the president's plan is really innovative. HSLDA agrees that children should be allowed to escape failed public schools.

However, it is clear that if Congress fails to provide a substantial choice component in the final plan, that there should be no testing. The only reason to test is to identify those who are stuck in failed schools, so that the school can be fixed or the student can leave to get a better education elswhere. Without choice, testing only becomes a system of financial rewards and students are the losers.

Home schoolers generally support choice while maintaining deep concerns about vouchers. Our movement could be much more enthusiastic about the choice component if it were changed to a tax credit approach.

HSLDA opposes government education vouchers. We feel they are dangerous for families who take them and extend federal oversight into private education. Therefore HSLDA recommends that the president's plan include a nonvoucher choice provision, such as education tax credits.

CONCLUSION

The Bush education plan is bold and HSLDA is excited about the prospect of real education reform. We hope these modest clarifications and technical amendments will create an even stronger program for all of America's children.

However, we reject the notion that the federal government has any constitutional authority over education, and we remain disappointed that this administration continues spending massive amounts of taxpayer money on programs that have yielded very little in the past.


For further information on this, contact the National Center for Home Education at: 540.338.7600, or by fax 540.338.8606, or e-mail NationalCenter@hslda.org.