April 9, 2003

HSLDA Hosts National Homeschool Leadership Summit

Home School Legal Defense Association hosted the National Homeschool Leadership Summit in Washington, DC, on March 26-28. The summit, attended by the leaders of state-wide homeschool organizations from 48 states and the District of Columbia, focused on federal issues affecting parental and educational freedoms, as well as the sharing of information on threats to homeschool freedom arising around the country.

The event was kicked off on Wednesday in an informal discussion session and preview of the conference hosted by HSLDA's president, Mike Smith, and HSLDA's National Center for Home Education's (NCHE) director, Tom Washburne. The discussion, focussing on trends in the states, federal legislation, and personal concerns, went well into the evening at the Hyatt on Capitol Hill.

Formal briefings began on Thursday at the Dirksen Senate office building with presentations on federal issues by Tom Washburne and HSLDA's senior counsel, Chris Klicka. Congressman Mark Kennedy of Minnesota, who was awarded one of two Home School Freedom Awards for his work in the prior Congress, spoke to federal efforts to extend privacy protections to homeschool records held by government schools. Congressman Marylin Musgrave of Colorado, a former homeschooling mom, gave a first hand account of how effective homeschoolers can be in policy. Congressman Trent Franks of Arizona provided an encouraging word and unequivocally voiced his view that no form of education surpasses homeschooling. Neil Bradley, executive director of the House of Representatives Study Committee, and Bill Wichterman, policy advisor to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, gave overviews of the issues which conservatives in the U.S. House and Senate are watching and working on. Dr. Cassie Bevan, senior policy advisor to Majority Leader Tom Delay, spoke to issues surrounding child abuse, and in particular to new legislation requiring social workers to inform parents at the door of the allegations against them and to be trained in 4th Amendment constitutional law. This is a huge advancement, and is largely due to the work of Chris Klicka at HSLDA who testified before Congress and helped draft the provisions. After lunch, state leaders headed off to meet with their congressmen, senators, and staff, with the goal of building relationships and informing on the issues.

On Thursday evening, the state leaders were joined for dinner at the Hyatt by the entire HSLDA Board, staff, guests, and VIPs to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of HSLDA. After a reception with stringed music provided by the homeschooled Young Musicians of Virginia, the formal dinner began with a letter of greeting from the President of the United States read by the President's Deputy Director of the Office of the Liason, Tim Goeglein. Mike Smith served as Master of Ceremonies. Congressman Pete Hoekstra of Michigan, who received the Home School Freedom Award for his work in the past Congress, provided an inspiring keynote address. Deputy Secretary of Education William Hansen delivered a personal greeting to the gathering. Secretary of Education Rod Paige, James Dobson, and Tim and Beverly LaHaye, while not in attendance, also sent congratulatory messages. HSLDA Chairman Mike Farris rounded out the celebration with remarks on the future of homeschooling.

On Friday, attention shifted to the executive branch at a briefing across from the White House. After presentations by Tom Washburne and Chris Klicka, HSLDA Chairman Mike Farris addressed the group on a number of issues. Doug Domenech, White House Liaison, U.S. Department of the Interior, followed with an overview of the Interior Dept. Doug is a former Director of NCHE who went to work for the Bush administration. Lori Yaklin, Senior Advisor on Family Education Rights, U.S. Department of Education, spoke of new changes at the Department, including the new Office of Innovation and Improvement. According to Yaklin, look for the Department to soon be "trumpeting" homeschooling. Joe Tafoya, Director of the Department of Defense Education Agency, told how he worked closely with Chris Klicka and HSLDA to help resolve the military issues with homeschooling in bases overseas.

The Summitt concluded with Tim Goeglein, Deputy Director, Office of the Liaison at the White House again bringing greetings from the President and answering questions ranging from domestic policy to the nomination of Miguel Estrada to the DC Court of Appeals. Tim also shared his conviction that the timing of these events are not by accident. The President is a man of faith and very appreciative of the prayers offered on his behalf from the homeschooling community.

Holding a Summit in Washington during a time of war provided for particular challenges to the organizers, presenters, and guests. Last minute speaker changes due to war briefings, security concerns, etc., kept the HSLDA staff hopping. But it can truly be said that in the end, whether it be in singing America at dinner or corporately praying for our troops, it was a very special time to be in Washington. HSLDA extends its thanks to the state leaders for their enthusiastic dedication and to the staff of NCHE, for their efforts at putting the event together.