December 8, 2015

Homeschool Freedom Protected in ESEA Rewrite, but Concerns Remain

William A. Estrada, Esq.
Director of Federal Relations

Will Estrada has been leading our efforts to defend homeschooling on Capitol Hill since 2006. He is a homeschool graduate who married a homeschool graduate. Read more >>

On Thursday, December 3, 2015, the House of Representatives passed the Every Student Succeeds Act (see how your representative voted here), which is the Conference Committee report for the major reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA). The last time ESEA was reauthorized was in 2001, as the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). We expect the Senate to vote on this legislation sometime later this week.

The Every Student Succeeds Act takes H.R. 5, which passed the House, and S. 1177, which passed the Senate, and combines the two bills into one. The final bill is 1,061 pages long. You can read it here.

Analysis of Provisions

HSLDA is pleased to announce that all of our language protecting homeschools from any federal control remains in the Every Student Succeeds Act. (This protection also applies to private schools that do not receive federal funds.) Congress included this section in the 2001 NCLB as Section 9506. The Every Student Succeeds Act recodifies it as Section 8506. This is a major victory for homeschool freedom, and we applaud Congress for retaining and reauthorizing this essential language.

To fully appreciate why this is so important, we encourage you to read about the battle against H.R. 6 in 1994. During this reauthorization of ESEA (this was the reauthorization that preceded NCLB in 2001), H.R. 6 was amended in Committee to require every teacher in every school to be certified in each grade and subject area they taught. An amendment was offered to ensure that this draconian federal language only applied to public schools, and it was defeated, proving that this language would apply to homeschools.

At this time, there was no language like Section 9506 (Section 8506 in the Every Student Succeeds Act) ensuring that nothing in federal education law applies to homeschools and private schools that do not receive federal funds. HSLDA, our allies, state and local homeschool associations, and moms and dads across the nation fought tooth and nail to defeat this attack against homeschool freedom, and miraculously, the teacher certification language in H.R. 6 was defeated, and limitation language ensuring nothing in ESEA applied to homeschools was included instead.

In 2001, HSLDA worked with our allies on Capitol Hill to strengthen this protective language, and Section 9506 was the result.

In addition to this critical protection for homeschool freedom, the Every Student Succeeds Act strengthens the language included in NCLB that prohibits federal control over curriculum, testing, teacher training, etc. You can read this language in Sections 8023, 8024, 8026, 8027, 8028, 8036, and 8039.

The Every Student Succeeds Act contains numerous provisions that eliminate the federal role in advancing Common Core. It also removes the ability of the current secretary of education or any future secretary of education to use waivers to advance national standards and testing, including Common Core or any new version of nationalized education standards.

Because NCLB has not been reauthorized, the secretary of education has in the past used “NCLB waivers” to pressure states to remain in unpopular, top-down education programs like Common Core. That goes away with passage of this bill.

The Every Student Succeeds Act protects student privacy in Section 8037, and again in Section 8040 by requiring any recipients of federal education funds to assure that they are complying with FERPA.

Missed Opportunities and Concerns

Although numerous provisions in the Every Student Succeeds Act are improvements over NCLB’s onerous requirements on states and local school districts, it is disappointing that Congress failed to restore fully the constitutional principle of limited federal powers and leave more educational decisions to states and local school districts.

HSLDA strongly believes that the federal government has no constitutional role in education. We believe that education policy should be left to individual states and local school districts. Unfortunately, the Every Student Succeeds Act continues federal involvement in education. Despite mounting evidence that 50 years of federal involvement has not led to improved educational outcomes, this legislation—if passed—will not end the federal government’s meddling.

In addition, Section 9212 of the bill authorizes funding for more preschool development grants. HSLDA is concerned that this will lead to more federal involvement not just in kindergarten–12th grade education, but now in pre-kindergarten education. This concern is tempered by the fact that the Preschool Development Grants in Section 9212 are already being funded by the U.S. Department of Education and will now be moved to the Department of Health and Human Services. But again, Congress had a chance to end a federal program with a dubious success record, and instead chose to reshuffle it.

Despite our concerns in the preceding paragraph, the Every Student Succeeds Act also includes some good language when it comes to federal involvement in early education. Signaling the growing knowledge in Congress that federal involvement in early education is not improving educational outcomes, Section 9213 requires federal agencies to conduct reviews of all federally funded early childhood education programs to determine if they are successful and to eliminate overlapping programs. This is a welcome step forward. In addition, Section 8549B addresses the concerns of federal involvement in pre-k, but this language is merely a “Sense of Congress on Early Learning and Child Care.”

Conclusion

Members of Congress are definitely listening to their constituents on ESEA reauthorization. Though the House has approved the most recent revisions, we encourage you to share your thoughts with your senators. You can reach your two U.S. senators by calling the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121 and asking for them. You can also use HSLDA’s Legislative Toolbox http://advocacy.hslda.org/legislatorsearch.aspx to find who your federal representatives are, and then call or email them.

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