April 4, 2008

Federal Relations Department Hosts
National Homeschool Leader Summit

By Will Estrada

On Wednesday, March 12, over 60 state homeschool leaders from 31 states, came to Washington, D.C., to take part in HSLDA’s National Homeschool Leader Summit, held every two years.

Homeschool freedom was on everyone’s minds. Only a few weeks before, the Court of Appeal for the second judicial district in California had ruled that parents did not have a right to homeschool their children.

HSLDA President Mike Smith, left, confers with Jack Klenk from the U.S. Department of Education. Klenk assured those at the summit of his belief that homeschooling is good for families, and that federal officials intend to honor the wish of homeschoolers to be left alone.

At the welcome session on Wednesday night held at a downtown Washington, D.C. hotel, HSLDA President Mike Smith and Chairman of the Board Mike Farris updated the leaders about the California court’s decision and its impact. HSLDA staff worked with staff of ParentalRights.org, to prepare new handouts for the state leaders so that they could talk to their congressmen about the court’s decision, and why the U.S. Constitution needed to have a parental rights amendment.

Thursday morning started early, as the state leaders heard from eight U.S. Congressmen and a high level director from the U.S. Department of Education. Representatives Paul Broun (GA), Joe Pitts (PA), Geoff Davis (KY), Rob Bishop (UT), Tim Walberg (MN), Todd Akin (MO), John Campbell (CA), and Joe Wilson (SC), came to talk to the assembled leaders.

All of the speakers encouraged the state leaders, and served as a powerful reminder that the homeschool community has strong friends in high places. Representative Broun, a freshman from Georgia, stressed how he relies on the Bible and the U.S. Constitution to guide him in his duties as a congressman. Representative Pitts challenged homeschoolers to get involved in overseas missions and help out the poor in foreign countries. Representative Davis, himself a homeschooling dad, reminded the audience that “Jesus isn’t a Republican or a Democrat,” and that we should never forget the primary duty of evangelism. Representative Walberg stressed the need to encourage young people to live out their convictions in all areas of life. Representative Akin, another homeschooling dad, shared his heartfelt love for America. “I love America’s godly heritage,” he said, while stressing that “homeschooling is 20% education and 80% godly family values.” Representative Campbell, a member of the California congressional delegation, voiced his support for home education, and assured homeschoolers that Congress would not make any well-intentioned but dangerous attempts to protect homeschooling at the federal level.

Rep. Todd Akin of Missouri shares some of his own family’s homeschooling experiences.

These Congressmen came to talk to the leaders despite the fact that both the House of Representatives and the Senate were in the midst of numerous important appropriations votes. Although several other representatives and senators were scheduled to speak, they had to cancel at the last minute because of votes.

The final speaker was Jack Klenk, Director of the Office of Non Public Education at the U.S. Department of Education. Mr. Klenk has served in the Department for over 20 years, and he talked about how he has seen homeschooling start and grow through the years. He also acknowledged that the Department of Education has heard the homeschool community’s message that the “federal government must leave homeschoolers alone,” and will honor that message. He closed by sharing his and the current administration’s belief that “homeschooling is good for children, good for families, and good for society.”

Encouraged and uplifted, the leaders then headed off to visit their U.S. Senators and Representatives. The lobbying visits are the central focus of the Summit. The visits allow state homeschool leaders to establish relationships with their federal representatives and their staff. This also reminds members of Congress that there are many homeschoolers in their states and districts. The leaders shared how they had productive and encouraging visits with their federal representatives and staff. One leader, Zan Tyler from South Carolina, had this to say about her meetings: “Before all of my meetings, I found myself thanking the Lord for the timing of the California decision. That decision could have easily come down a month too late to do us any good while in D.C. And if it had been handed down much earlier, the buzz on the Hill would have died down. How precious of God to time things in a way that gave such momentum and validity to our cause.”

On Friday, HSLDA had arranged a special tour of the U.S. Capitol, led by Mike Pence, a representative from Indiana. Mr. Pence took the time to personally lead the state leaders through the Capitol. Many of the leaders remarked how inspiring it was to be led through the U.S. Capitol by the congressman, and be thanked for their service to their children and homeschoolers in their states.

HSLDA thanks the state homeschool leaders who took the time to travel to Washington, D.C., for the 2008 National Homeschool Leader Summit.