Friday, December 16, 2005

HR 1815 and HSLDA: Connecting the dots

This is an email I sent late last night. The names below have been altered:

Hello [Support Group Person],

I'm Natalie Criss, founder of Parent Educators and Kids (PEAK), a statewide inclusive homeschool network in Mississippi. I've been tracking legislation, most recently HoNDA and Sect 522 of HR 1815. Since I've learned so much during my short time as an "activist" and regularly post my findings to various groups, including [Group Name], [Author Person] asked me to respond to your message regarding [Member's] questions.

First, let me make sure I understand what [Member] is asking. She wants to know why she cannot find information regarding HSLDA's involvement in HR 1815 on HSLDA's website. Essentially, HSLDA does acknowledge some activity in this statement from the newsletter she referenced in her original post:
"We expect the next defense bill, which is to be passed this year inCongress, to codify this arrangement to ensure that homeschoolers willcontinue to maintain preferred enlistment status and not be discriminated against when they seek entry into the military."

Although it does not name the bill, HR 1815 is that defense bill. It passed the Senate unanimously on Nov 15. Either right before or right after its passage (this is unclear, but I can look it up), Section 522 was added. It was written by an HSLDA staffer. Here is confirmation via Scott Somerville (HSLDA attorney and lobbyist) via his blog at http://www.homeschoolblogger.com/Somerschool/51107/:

"I've been trying to talk to Caleb Kershner ever since I got back. Caleb is our staffer here who is most responsible for getting 522 into its current form. Caleb is a homeschool grad who has worked here for years, and recently graduated from law school. He works part time, and is down in DC a lot, so I just haven't been able to see him face-to-face since I got back. So, the simple fact is, I don't know HOW Caleb got this done. But I'm impressed.

I didn't really think we had a prayer of getting military language signed into law this year, but I've tried to be very forthright about HSLDA's ongoing committment to figure out some way to enable homeschool grads to enlist without having to take a GED or get 15 college credits. I'm amazed at Caleb's success so far. We'll see what happens between now and bill-sgning time."

Homeschoolers, both inside and outside of HSLDA's umbrella, were caught completely off guard by this bill, but the reaction was quick. Now, it seems that the anti-regulation forces (of which I am a part) may be succeeding in having Section 522 removed from HR 1815, but Scott says they are determined to fight on. This is part of Scott's reply to a recent post on a libertarian homeschool blog. If he sounds defensive, it's because he was addressing a tough crowd at http://cobranchi.com/?p=5837#comments:

"IF we fail in our effort to get section 522 signed into law, we’ll try something else, but we won’t give up. It’s been seven years already; it may be seven more years before we feel like homeschool grads have a level path to military service. We may have to start listening to our opponents better, and we may have to win over some folks who don’t like the way we’ve done things in the past. This issue is important enough to HSLDA that we might even be willing to eat humble pie if that’s what it takes to get the job done."

In other words, HSLDA is all over this bill and HR 3753 (aka HoNDA, a home ed-specific bill that HSLDA essentially admits that it wrote. Currently, the bill is stalled in committee where we anti-reg hsers hope it stays). Please note that HSLDA does not make any attempt to conceal its involvement when directly and specifically asked.

I and other legislative watchdogs like me are not specifically anti-HSLDA. As a matter of fact, we'd be on the same team if the organization was fighting against federal regulation, but it isn't. This is why many HSLDA members who are opposed to these bills are asking, "If HSLDA's purpose is to secure homeschooling freedom, why are they writing federal legislation?" There are lots of theories floating around, some of them downright conspiratorial, so I will not venture into that territory. However, it is a valid question.

The overriding concern about federal legislation is that when the terms "homeschooler" or "home education" are inserted into proposed federal legislation, eventually there will be a need to *define* exactly who is and who isn't a homeschooler. After all, in California there is no such thing as a "homeschooler"; only an option for parents to provide private instruction.

Federal definition of what constitutes "homeschooling" is precisely what we want to avoid, because federal law usurps state law (or lack thereof in reg-free states). Compliance may not be mandatory, but states often cave when funding is attached to the adoption of federal statutes (the way that highway funds were used to pressure states to raise the drinking age to 21 and, most recently, the way NCLB has been forced into the "state-mandated" standards for public education.).

When a private organization, like HSLDA, begins writing federal bills on behalf of homeschoolers, particularly when it fails to inform its 80,000 member families (which is why you won't find specific info regarding these bills on HSLDA's site prior to today's date), it ticks off a lot of people. The response has been less than supportive, to say the least.

I hope this clarifies the HSLDA-federal legislation connection. It gets more and more complex, but I can provide links to other resources if you'd like them. Feel free to contact me at my personal email address: http://b4.mail.yahoo.com/ym/peaknetwork.org/Compose?To=btrl8hnvr@yahoo.com

Thanks for reading,
Natalie Criss

Note 1: Sect 522 was added in early October, about 5 weeks before it passed the Senate.

Note 2: Rather than sounding mysterious in my non-explanation as to why HSLDA is involved in federal legislation, I should have said this: HSLDA presupposes the existence of governmental involvement in homeschooling and claims to attempt to secure the "best" language by authoring these bills. However, many of us do not want interference of any kind. Therefore, as long as HSLDA takes govt interference as a given, we will remain at odds.

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