|ouse Resolution 6 of 1994 was a reappropriations bill for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Ordinarily such bills deal with public education and would have little, if any, impact on home educators. But this year, a few small wording changes affected thousands upon thousands of home schooling families, and resulted in over a million phone calls to Congress.
The Teacher Certificate Amendment
Just before sending H.R. 6 back to the House floor, the Education and Labor Committee approved Congressman George Millers amendment (Section 2124(e)). His amendment stated: ASSURANCE.Each State applying for funds under this title shall provide the Secretary with the assurance that after July 1, 1998, it will require each local educational agency within the State to certify that each full time teacher in schools under the jurisdiction of the agency is certified to teach in the subject area to which he or she is assigned.
This amendment alone would have raised serious concerns for home schoolers. But coupled with the new definition of schools, it was deadly. The word nonprofit had been added to the definition of schools in H.R. 6, changing the definition for the first time since ESEA was enacted in 1965.
Armeys First Amendment
Concerned by the implications of the amendment and new definitions of "school" in H.R. 6, Representative Dick Armey (R-TX) offered his own amendment to protect home and private schools from the certification requirement:
Nothing in this title shall be construed to authorize or encourage Federal control over the curriculum or practices of any private, religious, or home school.
After Armeys amendment was rejected in the committee on February 14, 1994, his office called Mike Farris and asked him to analyze the amendment. Based upon review of the amendment, the definitional language, and HSLDAs 11 years of defending home schools against legal challenges from local education agencies, Farris knew that it was imperative to add protective language to the bill. It is beyond dispute that many local school authorities believe that home and private schools are under their jurisdiction.
By rejecting Dick Armeys original amendment, the Education Committee created a legal presumption that it intended to force home schools and private schools to adhere to the standards in this legislation.
HSLDA immediately contacted Representative Millers office to express our concern and ask for clarifying language. However, Mr. Millers staff told us flatly that he would not agree to any amendments to § 2124(e). With a vote only nine days away, we had no choice but to contact our members.
On Tuesday, February 15, 1994, HSLDA staff began preparing for the battle. Mike Farris drafted a letter to all 435 members of Congress, explaining the threat to home schooling and asking them to support the Armey amendment. Next, arrangements were made for printing, collating, and labeling an "urgent alert" letter from Farris to our then 38,000 members. The letter summarized the situation and outlined a six-step plan of action for contacting Congress and spreading the alert to friends and neighbors. Also contained in the mailing was a list of the representatives whose offices did not need to be contacted because they had already assured HSLDA of their support for protective language.
That evening, the National Center for Home Education launched a nationwide fax alert containing the same information to home school leaders around the country.
Twelve hours later, Wednesday morning, telephone trees across America were abuzz thanks to the tireless efforts of state and support group leaders. Tens of thousands of copies of the fax alert were photocopied and distributed. CBNs television program The 700 Club and Marlin Maddouxs nationally-syndicated radio show Point of View featured Mike Farris telling the story of H.R. 6.
Congressional Phone Lines Overloaded
On Thursday, February 17, more than 60 local home schoolers volunteered to participate in an emergency Congressional Action Program lobby day. Congressional switchboards became so overloaded due to the amount of calls they were receiving that they literally shut down. Besieged by over 20,000 telephone calls to his office alone, Congressman Millers staff finally put an answering machine on with a message indicating that he had no intent to regulate home schoolers.
By 9:00 a.m. the following morning, the Capitol Hill switchboards were again jammed as tens of thousands of calls flooded congressional offices. Across America, home schoolers called radio stations, faxed letters, and distributed literature on the "Home School/Private School Freedom Amendment" written by Mike Farris and sponsored by Congressman Dick Armey. When the receptionists for certain congressmen began giving false information about H.R. 6 to callers, the National Center sent another fax broadcast to help home schoolers respond to confusing and misleading statements about the bill.
Over the weekend, dozens of congressmen visiting their districts for the Presidents Day recess were confronted at town hall meetings, in their home offices, and elsewhere by concerned parents. Congressman were shocked by
the populist response to what many of them believed to be an insignificant provision in a non-controversial bill. Even the Associated Press ran a favorable nationally-syndicated story about the home school telephone blitz of Congress.
Little did Congress know that the battle had just begun. On Monday, February 21 (Presidents Day ), Dr. James Dobsons Focus on the Family radio show featured Michael Farris and former Congressman Bob McEwen discussing the implications of H.R. 6. HSLDAs membership began receiving their Urgent Alert letters in the mail. Several Christian school organizations actively jumped on the H.R. 6 bandwagon, sending out their own mailings and fax alerts. Rush Limbaugh discussed H.R 6 on his radio show. Capitol Hill switchboards again closed down as record-breaking numbers of telephone calls poured into Congress.
On Tuesday, February 22, the second wave of telephone calls hit Congress in full force. For the rest of the day, no one on Capitol Hill would get anything done. Several congressmen could not even reach their own staff by telephone. Around the country, thousands of Christians were praying for deliverance from the oppressive regulations that would deprive them of the right to train their children at home. Congressman Armey and Mike Farris continued to fight misinformation about the amendment on the Hill. HSLDAs own office received a record 10,000 incoming telephone calls.
Braving an ice storm early the next morning, Mike Farris, local home schoolers, and even home schoolers from as far away as Missouri made it into D.C. to lobby Congress. Local home school volunteers delivered another letter from Mike Farris to each congressional office. Attached to this letter was a list of thousands of state and local home school organizations from around the country who officially supported the effort to advance the "Home School/Private School Freedom Amendment." Later that day, Farris was interviewed on H.R. 6 by more national media including CNN, Pat Buchanan, and Beverly LaHaye. And, amazingly, the Democrat-controlled House Rules Committee, willing to do almost anything to stop the mounting tide of phone calls, agreed to "open rule" on the floor.
On Thursday, February 24, Armeys staff discovered that the Rules Committee inadvertently reprinted an outdated version of the "Home School/Private School Amendment." HSLDA asked Massachusetts home school leaders Bev Somogie and Marcie Arnett to alert home schoolers in the district of Rules Committee Chairman Joseph Moakley (D). Within the hour, Rep. Moakleys office was flooded with calls and he agreed to allow Armey to revise the amendment on the floor. Senators Ford and Kildee sponsored an ineffective competing amendment and circulated letters undermining the "Home School/Private School Amendment." Armey responded with his own letter, refuting Ford and Kildees charges.
Finally, on Thursday afternoon, debate began on the two amendments. The Ford/Kildee amendment came to a vote and passed 424-1.
Home schoolers around the country watched C-Span with bated breath as congressmen from both parties lined up four and five deep to publicly state their support for the cause of home educators. After an hour-and-a-half of debate, the House voted on the Armey amendment, and home schoolers won a stunning 374-53 victory! HSLDA sent out fax number five announcing the victory to the home school community. Thanks be to God!
In a nearly unheard-of gesture of gratitude, one week later local home school families delivered special ten-pound bags of apples and notes of thanks to congressional offices. In addition, many home schoolers around the country expressed their appreciation by sending flowers to their respective congressmen.
Who deserves the credit for this victory? Credit is certainly due to the one million-plus callers who were willing to act and not sit idly by watching Congress obliterate their home schooling freedoms. Credit is also due to Representative Dick Armey who championed the cause of parents who simply want to train their children according to the dictates of their conscience, free from state intervention. Most importantly, credit goes to God Almighty who answered the prayers of His people, and miraculously superintended every detail of this battle to bring a victory for the home schoolers of America. All of our efforts, our best laid plans would have been for naught apart from the sovereign grace of our Lord.
Updated March 19, 2007