March 1, 2016

Federal Government Tells Parents: “We Are Your Equals”

William A. Estrada, Esq.
Director of Federal Relations


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YOUR ATTORNEY Will Estrada Will Estrada

Last December, the United States Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services released a draft policy document outlining how the federal government can better “help” children and families. On page one, the federal agencies made this stunning declaration:

“It is the position of the Departments that all early childhood programs and schools recognize families as equal partners in improving children’s development, learning and wellness across all settings, and over the course of their children’s developmental and educational experiences.” (emphasis added)

This one sentence unmasks the federal government’s true philosophy behind decades of federal involvement in welfare, kindergarten through 12th grade education spending and policies, programs like Head Start, and now the push to create universal early education for young children from birth through age 5: the federal government believes that its role is equal with the role of parents.

A redefinition of the family

Not only does this draft document expose the federal government’s breathtaking arrogance, a footnote at the bottom of page one goes so far as to redefine the family:

The term “family” is used to include all the people who play a role in a child’s life and interact with a child’s early childhood program or school. This may include fathers, mothers, grandparents, foster parents, formal and informal guardians, and siblings, among others.

“All the people who play a role in a child’s life.” All those who “interact with a child’s early childhood program or school.” “Informal guardians.” According to this footnote, a close family friend (an “informal guardian”) could be considered part of a child’s family. This could include a parent’s boyfriend or girlfriend, even if the relationship is temporary or uncommitted. There have already been cases in which custody of a child was granted to the parent’s former lover, against the parent’s wishes. And a child’s siblings are also important to family, but siblings shouldn’t have the legal authority to make parenting decisions.

Having a relaxed definition of family is fine at Thanksgiving and Christmas, but parents, not the government, should be the sole decisionmakers where their children are concerned. This casual and open-ended (“among others”) definition of family sets up a slippery slope for parental rights and family freedom.

Across the nation, parents whose children attend public schools are fighting desperately to protect their children’s privacy from big businesses that are using and selling their children’s personal data, as a result of Obama Administration regulations that opened the floodgates to corporate exploitation. But why should parents fight this data collection if the federal government is ready to cozy up to those businesses as “family”?

At HSLDA, we believe that these statements reveal these agencies’ true beliefs: that a child’s God-given family does not matter. Family is whoever or whatever the government says it is.

All is not lost

It is important to recognize that this is a draft policy paper—it is not yet finalized. Also, no new federal programs are being created in this draft policy paper. Rather, the paper represents recommendations from the Early Learning Interagency Policy Board (IPB) regarding federally funded early education programs currently providing services to children from birth through age 8. The IPB has been established jointly by the U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services.

Any new recommendations that are provided by the IPB would also need to be approved by Congress as part of the legislative process. But the document is extremely telling: for once, federal policymakers are being honest about their beliefs and goals. And their references in this draft document to families being “equal partners” with government agencies (the term is used multiple times), and their casual and breathtakingly broad redefinition of the family, highlights the federal government’s arrogance when it comes to education and family policy.

A culture of control

Sadly, this document only underscores what we have observed for a while: the federal government is intent on taking more and more power from parents when it comes to their children’s lives.

Whether it was the big businesses that worked hand in glove with big government bureaucrats to push the Common Core on our nation, dangerous UN treaties that would elevate UN bureaucrats over parents, the Pentagon’s attempt to track all military families by where their children are educated, former MSNBC host and Tulane University Professor Melissa Harris-Perry’s claim that “kids belong to whole communities,” President Obama’s call in 2012 for all states to change their compulsory attendance statutes to keep kids in school until age 18, or his 2013 push to advance universal federally funded preschool, we see an intensifying movement of the federal government to consolidate control over all children from cradle to college.

The biggest advancement of this philosophy in recent years came in 2010 when Congress passed the Affordable Care Act. HSLDA opposed this bill because it created a program of (voluntary for now) government home visitation programs. Unfortunately, when President Obama signed the ACA into law, these federally funded home visitation and parent training programs—which had always been defeated before then—became a reality.

HSLDA has long fought attempts by the federal government to expand early childhood programs. There are already dozens of federally funded early education programs, most notably Head Start. Many of these programs are deeply flawed and don’t produce the intended results, but instead of cutting back, the federal government is doubling down.

At its heart, these programs are not about education. The research proves this. It is more about government babysitting. And ultimately, it is about controlling parents and citizens. The example of Scotland—a nation which recently enacted legislation mandating state supervision of all parents and children—shows us the ultimate goal of this statist philosophy toward parents, children, and freedom itself.

What can parents do to protect freedom?

The good news is that, for now, all of these programs are voluntary. It is why more families are choosing to homeschool, and leave a system that considers itself to be equal with parents. If your children are homeschooled or in private school, you are not affected. But this is not what we want for ourselves or our neighbors. It is a troubling and dangerous trend. This is why HSLDA is working so hard to enshrine parental rights in the U.S. Constitution through passage and ratification of the Parental Rights Amendment. We must do this before it is too late.

Our federal representatives need to know that we care about this. They need to hear that instead of multiplying these programs, Congress must end federal involvement in early childhood programs. States and local governments, with more accountability from the people, should be making decisions about these issues. This draft policy statement shows that we cannot trust federal bureaucrats when it comes to raising and educating our children.

In the interest of ordinary American moms and dads, the ones who truly can and do make the life-changing difference in their children’s lives, we need to be the ones who stand up to the federal government.

That’s why we choose to homeschool our children: we don’t want the public school’s one-size-fits-all approach to education. We don’t want the Common Core. We don’t want help from Washington to raise our children. We remember what President Ronald Reagan said: “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.” We have taken a stand for freedom. And ultimately, loving parents who care, educate, and provide for their children, will make the difference.