HSLDA
March 2, 2009

Homeschool Discrimination Fixed in Byrd Scholarship

By Will Estrada
Director of Federal Relations

As college financial aid offices look to help students afford tuition costs, some homeschoolers are finding out about another scholarship—the Byrd Scholarship—for the first time.

Homeschoolers won a major victory against discrimination when language opening up the Byrd Scholarship to home educated graduates passed quietly last year.

Included within the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act of 1965 (H.R. 4137), which was signed by former president George W. Bush on August 14, 2008, was language which made it clear that homeschool graduates are eligible for the Byrd Scholarship.

Senator Robert Byrd (WV), the longest serving U.S. Senator ever, introduced federal legislation to create this scholarship program in 1985, and it was thereafter renamed in his honor the Robert C. Byrd Honors Scholarship Program. The Byrd Scholarship is one of the few national, merit-based scholarship programs funded through the U.S. Department of Education.

The scholarship provides stipends of up to $6,000 over four years to high school graduates who demonstrate outstanding academic achievement and who have been accepted for enrollment at a college or university.

The problem, however, had been that when the Byrd Scholarship was created by Congress in 1985, an “eligible student” for the scholarship was defined as “a graduate of a public or private secondary school….” Homeschool graduates in states that recognized homeschoolers as a private school were able to benefit from this scholarship, but since many homeschool graduates live in states with a homeschool statute, these hardworking homeschoolers were inadvertently excluded from this scholarship. This could be fixed by simply adding to the “eligible student” definition above “or a home school, whether treated as a home school or a private school under State law.” This language would assure that homeschool graduates could benefit from the scholarship, but also protect against any federal definitions or regulations on homeschools.

HSLDA had tried to insert the above language over the years, but the bills never made it through Congress. The political shift that came with the 2006 midterm elections, however, gave us an opportunity to work with new leaders in the House and Senate education committees, and with bipartisan support, we were able to include language that opened the Byrd Scholarship to homeschool graduates.

HSLDA’s Congressional Action Program (CAP) families were instrumental in helping to get this language included in the Higher Education Act reauthorization. Through their visits with members of Congress, particularly in building a relationship with Senator Byrd’s education staffer early on, passage of the final language was assured.

HSLDA will closely monitor the Department of Education’s implementation of this new language to ensure that homeschool graduates are not forced to submit unnecessary documentation. Homeschool graduates who enroll in a college or university should talk with the financial aid officer to determine if they are eligible for the Byrd Scholarship. Please contact HSLDA’s Federal Relations department at 540-338-5600 if you run into any problems.

 Other Resources

Robert C. Byrd Honors Scholarship Program