April 20, 2001

Is this the Calm Before the Storm?

Home schoolers have a lot at stake over the next few weeks as federal policy makers craft language that will either strengthen or threaten our freedom. "It's time for every home school state organization and support group to prepare their e-mail and phones trees for quick action if it is needed," says Doug Domenech of the National Center for Home Education. "This is a critical time for home school families everywhere."

Both the United States Senate and the House of Representatives are preparing to move key legislation implementing the heart of President Bush's "No Child Left Behind" education reform proposal. While they have similar themes, S.1 in the Senate and H.R. 1 in the House which are designed to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, are quite different. The House version includes many additional reforms and protections. The Senate version is more status quo.

According to media reports yesterday (April 19) senate democrats are still negotiating with the Bush administration over funding levels. "We have not reached agreements on new investments in education," Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA), told reporters. Bush noted on Wednesday that the Democrats and the administration have made several "gentleman's agreements" over some of the bill's components but do not appear to be any closer to agreeing on spending levels.

Home School Legal Defense Association and the National Center for Home Education have poured over the massive bills and communicated to key legislators the changes necessary to improve and protect home schoolers from federal intrusion.

"We have a number of suggested amendments but our principal concern," says Caleb Kershner, NCHE's Manager of Federal Policy and Research, "is to be sure that language which exempts home schoolers from federal control is retained and strengthened in the bill." While both bills contain versions of the protection language, HSLDA feels it is critical that the following language be included:

Nothing in this Act or any other Act administered by the Department shall be construed to permit, allow, encourage, or authorize any Federal control over any aspect of any private, religious, or home school, whether or not a home school is treated as a private school or home school under State law. Private, religious, or home schools cannot be barred from participation in programs or services under this Act or any other Act administered by the Department.

"Our second concern," continued Kershner, "is to exempt home schoolers from taking state assessment. This is a growing trend." HSLDA is trying to get both bodies to insert the following language in the bills.

Nothing in this Act shall be construed to affect private or home schools, whether or not a home school is treated as a home school or private school under state law, nor shall any home school or private school student be required to participate in any state assessment if the state or local education agency receives funds under this Act."

The Senate is scheduled to take up S.1, the "Better Education for Students and Teachers (BEST) Act" which has already passed the education committee, on the floor starting next Tuesday, April 24. There will likely be two weeks of debate on the bill. HSLDA is trying to get the committee leadership to agree to insert our modifications in what is called the "manager's mark." If we are unsuccessful, then we will try to get the bill amended on the floor of the Senate.

The House version, H.R. 1, the "No Child Left Behind Act of 2001" has been introduced with education committee action likely to start May 2. "The House version is a much better bill," says Domenech. "But it still needs changes." HSLDA is currently working with committee staff and conservative members of the committee to insert our changes.

"We encourage every home school family in America to be ready to react if these bills move through Congress without our protections," concludes Domenech.

 Other Resources

H.R. 1—No Child Left Behind Act of 2001

S. 1—Better Education for Students and Teachers Act