|a division of Home School Legal Defense Association||March 2006|
Military Recruitment of Homeschoolers
Under current federal law, homeschool graduates are considered Tier II recruits. This means that all homeschool graduates—even the bright and accomplished—seeking to enter the military are categorized by recruiters as high school drop-outs, and by law are not eligible to receive the same signing bonuses (up to $20,000) and college benefits (up to $70,000) as high school graduates. Furthermore, only 5-10 percent of all recruits can be Tier II which puts a limit on the number of hard working and patriotic homeschool graduates who desire to serve America in the armed services.
Given that the US House and the US Senate have both unanimously passed Resolutions on the last five years recognizing National Home Education Week—praising the high accomplishments of homeschoolers, the significant contributions homeschoolers make to our society, their exceptional citizenship, and their academic preparedness to meet the challenges of today's society—it is puzzling why Congress has chosen to discriminate against the homeschool graduate from serving the military. With their high opinion of homeschooled graduates, it would seem that Congress should seek to enlist these bright and accomplished students.
In 1999, a five year pilot program for homeschool recruits began under the Defense Authorization Bill of 1998, ranking graduates with a homeschool high-school diploma as Tier I recruits. This program gave thousands of previously excluded but adequately qualified homeschoolers the opportunity to serve in the armed services without discrimination. Since then hundreds of homeschool graduates have successfully served the United States military in Iraq and in Afghanistan.
For example, Sergeant Simon A.J. Kiser, who was awarded the Bronze Star with Valor for his actions in Iraq, is a homeschool graduate. Kiser graduated homeschool in 1992. As an Army reservist, he was called to active duty on Thanksgiving 2002 and served in Iraq for a period of time afterwards. Under current law, Sergeant Kiser would be considered a Tier II recruit and would probably never have entered the military and served with such recognized valor.
As with any new program, the kinks in the pilot project took time to work out, especially at the recruiting level. For example, informing recruiters what constitutes a legitimate homeschool graduate was a challenge. In 2001, an evaluation of the pilot project found high attrition rates of homeschoolers who scored below 50 on the AFQT but those with scores of 50 and above had attrition rates equal to those of high school graduates. The low scores and the high attrition rates are largely a result of recruiters using the homeschool pilot project as a means to place problem candidates and high school dropouts into Tier I. The Department of Defense Regulations defining a legitimate homeschooler came slowly and teaching recruiters what qualifies as a homeschool graduates came even slower.
Before these kinks could be completely corrected, Congress removed the pilot project in the 2004 FY Defense Authorization bill, relegating homeschool students back to the status of Tier II and again equating them with high school dropouts.
Since then, Home School Legal Defense Association has been working with the Department of Defense to end the discrimination against homeschool graduates. After working with HSLDA, the Deputy Assistant Secretary issued a January 21 Memorandum that gave "priority enlistment with no practical limit" to homeschoolers, meaning that each military branch can accept homeschoolers with the same benefits as Tier I (high school graduates) recruits.
Unfortunately, this policy has proven to be less than satisfactory. Homeschoolers are constantly being told by the various branches of the military that they are Tier II recruits and not eligible for the same benefits as Tier I or that all the Tier II slots (5% of all recruits in the Marines; 10% in other branches) are already filled. HSLDA has had some success persuading recruiters to enlist our homeschool graduates by referring resistant recruiters on a case-by-case to the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense. Nonetheless, this method of helping homeschoolers is inefficient and in desperate need of repair.
Although the Department of Defense has made good progress in their attempts to remedy this discriminatory policy, a more permanent fix is needed—one that does not discriminate against homeschool graduates per say; is not arbitrarily applied from recruiter to recruiter; and cannot be changed by future administrations without Congress' authority.
This solution should include a directive from Congress to the Department of Defense and each of the four military branches to create a policy which defines a legitimate homeschool graduate and treats them equal with public and private school graduates for recruiting purposes. Furthermore, this policy should not stigmatize homeschool recruits by forcing them to take a GED. Such a directive from Congress will give the Department of Defense some flexibility in writing a policy that directs its recruiters on what does and does not constitutes a legitimate homeschool graduate.
An excellent model for this policy is already being tested in the Army. The Army's USAREC MSG 05-116 directive spells out what constitutes a homeschool graduate for recruiting purposes. In an effort to clarify and keep recruiters from enlisting bogus homeschoolers a homeschooled recruit must: 1) have a diploma from their parent, guardian or homeschool association in compliance with state law; 2) use a curriculum that involves parental instruction and supervision and closely patterns the normal credit hours per subject used in a traditional high school; 3) have completed the last academic year (9 months) in a homeschool environment.
To ensure that each branch of the military create similar standards, Congress should pass legislation directing each branch to create a special recruiting policy. Suggested language might include:
Special Homeschool Recruitment Policy: "The Secretary of Defense shall direct each branch of the armed services to develop an enlistment policy that: 1) defines a homeschool graduate for purposes of recruitment policy; 2) Treats such graduates with Tier one status with no practical limit with regard to enlistment; 3) does not require such a graduate to hold a GED certificate as a precondition for enlistment.
Given the remarkable track record of homeschoolers academically and in American society, and given that great American's like George Washington, Patrick Henry, John Quincy Adams, John Marshal, Robert E Lee, Booker T. Washington, Thomas Edison, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Mark Twain to name a few were homeschooled students, it is ludicrous that the law discriminates against homeschool graduates who desire to desire to enter the military simply because they were homeschooled.
Congress should take immediate action to remedy this discrimination by creating a permanent solution for homeschool recruits.