J. Michael Smith, President — Michael P. Farris, Chairman
| ||March 2003|
Homeschool Students Excluded from Scholarship Program
The Robert C. Byrd Honors Scholarship Program is a federally funded, State-administered program recognizing exceptionally able high school seniors who show the promise of continued excellence in postsecondary education.
The Byrd scholarships are awarded on the basis of merit for each scholar's four years of study at an institution of higher education. Nomination forms are sent to public and nonpublic high school principals and headmasters every March. At that time, the principle or headmaster will nominate students in the top 1% of the graduation class. In addition to being in the top 1% of the class, the students nominated must graduate by June 20 of that year, be admitted to an institution of higher education as a full-time student, and be a resident of that state. Once all the nomination forms have been received, a limited number of scholars are selected through a random selection process.
The Byrd Scholarship program is authorized by 20 U.S.C. § 1070d. The U.S. Department of Education awards funds to state education agencies (SEAs) to make scholarship awards to eligible applicants. Students who receive scholarships use the money for college expenses.
According to the U.S. Department of Education's web page there are six requirements in order for a student to be eligible. The applicant must:
1. Be a graduate of a public or private secondary school, or have received the recognized equivalent of a high school diploma (GED);
2. Be a legal resident of the State in which the graduate applies;
3. Be a U.S. citizen or national of the United States or have evidence from the U.S. INS that the graduate is a permanent resident or is in the US for other than a temporary purpose;
4. Have applied or been accepted for enrollment at an institution of higher education;
5. Certify that the graduate is not ineligible to receive assistance as a result of default on the Federal student loan or other obligation; and
6. File, with the school that the (male) graduate plans to attend, a Statement of Selective Service Registration Status.
Last year an HSLDA member family contacted the National Center concerning the Byrd Scholarship program. They wished to nominate their daughter, but were told by State Department of Education and the local county public school guidance unit that homeschool students were not eligible. Further inquiry by the parents led to similar response by the U.S. Department of Education: "It does not appear that home-schooled students are eligible for Byrd Scholarships unless they have a GED. In general, the Higher Education Act does not treat completion of a secondary school education in a home-school setting as equivalent to a high school diploma."
While the U.S. Department of Education cites 34 C.F.R. § 654.5(b) when declaring homeschool students do not have a recognized diploma, other agencies cite other federal laws and draw a different conclusion.
Director Kay Coles James of the Office of Personnel Management cited similar requirements in 5 C.F.R. § 213.3202 and stated in a letter to the National Center in early 2002, "The SEEP [Student Education Employment Program] does accept students who are homeschooled at the high school level…" and "students are eligible if they are pursuing this degree in an accredited high school program. We have interpreted this to mean that homeschooled students may participate as long as they meet their state's requirements for homeschooling." 1
HSLDA and the National Center have been working to make it clear that home education, as provided for in state laws, is a valid form of education. Programs like the Byrd scholarship program should be based on objective considerations, such as test scores or nationally normed tests, rather than the type of school which a student attended.
For more information on the Higher Education Act please visit www.hslda.org or contact the National Center for Home Education at: 540-338-7600.
1 For more information on the Student Education Employment Program to: http://www.hslda.org/docs/news/hslda/200202201.asp.