Monday, December 19, 2005

Ditto Mississippi

VaHomeschoolers’ Position on Section 522 of H.R. 1815

The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers (VaHomeschoolers) opposes Section 522 of H.R. 1815, and desires that this section of the bill be eliminated.

Background:
H.R. 1815 (patron Congressman HUNTER of California) also known as the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2006, recently passed both chambers of Congress and is currently in conference committee. Section 522 of this omnibus bill calls for the creation of a special policy for the recruitment and enlistment of homeschooled students in the US Armed Forces. Section 522 would
• Require the Secretary of Defense to prescribe a policy on recruitment and enlistment of homeschoolers into the Armed Forces
• Ensure that the policy applies uniformly across the Armed Forces
• Grant homeschoolers special treatment for enlistment, with no practical limit with regard to enlistment eligibility
• Permit enlistment of homeschooled graduates without a secondary school diploma or GED to enlist in the Armed Forces
• Prescribe a single set of criteria, determined by the Secretary of Defense, to determine whether an individual is a graduate of homeschooling.

Reasons for Concern:

Section 522 is not necessary.

• Homeschoolers are already allowed to enlist in all branches of the Armed Forces, and have successfully served in the Armed Forces for many years.
• All the branches of the Armed Forces already have policies in place for the recruitment of homeschooled applicants.
• Current DOD policy as of January 2005 already gives homeschooled applicants preferential enlistment eligibility, and affirms that homeschooled graduates need not have a GED to enlist in the Armed Forces. (see http://www.thsc.org/pdf/DoDLetter.pdf)
• Proposing new federal laws which involve special privileges for homeschoolers could create bad publicity for homeschoolers and for the Armed Forces as a whole.

Section 522 would lead to greater regulation of homeschoolers at the state level.

• Virginia law has no definition of “graduate of home schooling” and does not grant high school diplomas to homeschooled students.
• Section 522 would require Virginia and other states to adopt a definition of “graduate of homeschooling” and create legal requirements for “homeschool graduation”.
• Virginia school districts are not required to compile or maintain data on homeschooled students except as needed to ensure compliance with certain state laws.
• Section 522 would require school districts in Virginia and elsewhere to create and maintain databases of personal and academic information on homeschooled students for Armed Forcesrecruitment and enlistment purposes.

The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers (VaHomeschoolers) opposes Section 522 of H.R.1815, and desires that this section of the bill be eliminated.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Mail call:

AN OPEN LETTER TO HSLDA’S MEMBERSHIP
~from Mary McCarthy

I have always felt that HSLDA has a right to exist, and if that’s what you want to spend your money on, I’m happy you have the financial means to do so. However, recent events have caused me to re-think my position. I was wrong to think that because I was not a member HSLDA did not affect me.

When HSLDA re-introduced their HoNDA legislation in the US House and Senate, they added a section related to the recruitment and enlistment of homeschool graduates to it. When it appeared HoNDA was stalled in committee they requested Senator Rick Santorum of PA to add a section that would give the Secretary of Defense the authority to identify for the purposes of recruitment and enlistment homeschool graduates to The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2006.

Scott Somerville of HSLDA recently wrote, “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.”

There is a lot to think about in those two arrogant sentences. HSLDA will not give up trying to push federal legislation into law that affects MY child. That’s personal. That has nothing to do with a Christian’s right to homeschool their children, something I would be first in line to protect. It’s an attempt to target my child for recruitment and enlistment in the United States Armed Forces by a group of self-appointed, fundamentalist Christians pursuing an agenda they have determined to be part of their personal religion. Of course, they have a right, as individual Americans and as a lobbying organization, to do so. But I also have a right - as well as a responsibility - to protect my child from overly zealous political actions. That is the reason we have ELECTED representation, so the people can decide whether they want their children targeted by military recruiters or not. In a representative government, it’s not the purview of a handful of zealots to make any decision for my family.

Section 522 does not delineate between `homeschool students’ and `homeschool students whose parents are members of HSLDA’. This is personal and oversteps the bounds of representing a paid membership by an advocacy organization. It will affect every homeschool student/family in America, HSLDA member or not. HSLDA could not operate without the dues of its membership. It is what pays the salaries, builds the buildings, and – yes - funds the lobbying. Membership dues are funding the effort to identify for purposes of recruitment and enlistment MY child. Membership dues are funding the proposal which will give the United States Secretary of Defense the authorization to define what a homeschool graduate is. The members of HSLDA are ultimately responsible for the actions HSLDA and its paid agents take.

I cannot influence HSLDA decisions because I am not a member, so I have to plead my case to the members. Therefore, I do not think it unreasonable to respectfully request HSLDA’s members accept responsibility for the actions of their paid representatives and use their checkbooks to take back the power they have ceded to HSLDA. YOU have the power. I know many of you, and I know you are good, responsible parents who will `do the right thing’. Thank you.

Mary McCarthy

On your mark, get set, DIAL!

Here is the contact info for the house conferees compiled by Mary Nix.

BUT WAIT, first, what the heck is a conferee and what shall we do upon catching one? Put down the gun, Granma. A conferee is a negotiator who works to iron out differences between Congressional chambers concerning pending legislation. These particular conferees are hammering out the dents or making new ones in the 700+page bill that is HR 1815. At some point, they will discuss Section 522 and move to keep or strike it.

I, personally, will be calling until I reach each conferee to let him or her know that I object to Section 522 (reasons listed in my letter to Sen. Warner) and would like it striken from the bill. I encourage you to do the same.

– HOUSE MEMBERS ON CONFERENCE COMMITTEE
Duncan Hunter (R - CA) (Chair of Armed Services)
Phone: (202) 225-5672

Curt Weldon (R - PA)
Phone: (202) 225-2011

Joel Hefley (R - CO)
Phone: (202) 225-4422

Jim Saxton (R - NJ)
Phone: (202) 225-4765

John M. McHugh (R - NY)
Phone: (202) 225-4611

Terry Everett (R - AL)
Phone: (202) 225-2901

Roscoe G. Bartlett (R - MD)
Phone: (202) 225-2721

Howard P. “Buck'’ McKeon (R - CA)
Phone: (202) 225-1956

Mac Thornberry (R - TX)
Phone: (202) 225-3706

John N. Hostettler (R - IN)
Phone: (202) 225-4636

Jim Ryun (R - KS)
Phone: (202) 225-6601

Jim Gibbons (R - NV)
Phone: (202) 225-6155

Robin Hayes (R - NC)
Phone: (202) 225-3715

Ken Calvert (R - CA)
Phone: (202) 225-1986

Rob Simmons (R - CT)
Phone: (202) 225-2076

Thelma D. Drake (R - VA)
Phone: (202) 225-4215

Ike Skelton (D - MO)
Phone: (202) 225-2876

John M. Spratt Jr. (D - SC)
Phone: (202) 225-5501

Solomon P. Ortiz (D - TX)
Phone: (202) 225-7742

Lane Evans (D - IL)
Phone: (202) 225-5905

Gene Taylor (D - MS)
Phone: (202) 225-5772

Neil Abercrombie (D - HI)
Phone: (202) 225-2726

Martin T. Meehan (D - MA)
Phone: (202) 225-3411

Silvestre Reyes (D - TX)
Phone: (202) 225-4831

Vic Snyder (D - AR)
Phone: (202) 225-2506

Adam Smith (D - WA)
Phone: (202) 225-8901

Loretta Sanchez (D - CA)
Phone: (202) 225-2965

Ellen O. Tauscher (D - CA)
Phone: (202) 225-1880

Friday, December 16, 2005

Letter to Sen. John Warner re HR 1815, Sect 522

Sen. Warner:

Good afternoon. My name is Natalie West Criss. I am the founder of a statewide inclusive homeschool network in Mississippi and have several concerns regarding Section 522 from HR 1815 that I'd like to share with you:

1. Homeschool graduates who desire to to so are already able to enter the military as preferred Tier 2 recruits (which is essentially the same as Tier 1). Therefore, Sect 522 is unnecessary.

2. The organization (Homeschool Legal Defense Association) that authored Sect 522 represents less than 5% of the total US homeschool population. It is not the voice of homeschooling America. Yet, it continues to push the issue of "military discrimination" and call for Sect. 522 despite an overwhelming appeal from the national homeschooling community to stop.

3. The branches of the military are each looking for different skills and qualifications in its potential recruits for the purpose of filling its needs, not exercising its biases. Leveling the playing field by creating a special class called "homeschoolers" would undermine the military's authority to recruit based on its needs.

4. Treating homeschoolers as a special class will eventually require a federal definition of who is and who isn't a homeschooler. This federal definition, despite its original purpose, could be used by other federal agencies to force homeschoolers to comply with regulations above and beyond those in our home states.

Please remove Section 522 from HR 1815.

Thank you for reading,
Natalie West Criss

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This is posted for informational purposes only. Please, do not copy this and put your name on it or "borrow" chunks of verbage. If you do not have time or the inclination to write your own, sign the petition at http://www.petitiononline.com/hr1815/petition.html.

Thank you!

So, what's the big deal?

I may not have been actively blogging lately, but I've been yapping elsewhere. Here is a message I posted to a national Yahoo! Group two days ago when someone remarked that Sect 522 didn't look so scary. While I was talking to one of PEAK's moderators about legislative events today, she also asked, "So, what's the big deal?" This post has become my standard answer:

Hi [Forum Member] and everyone,

I'm usually quiet in this forum since all the bases here are adequately covered by [Owner] and the [Forum] members. However, I want to take a moment to explain a few things that often get lost in translation regarding homeschool language in federal legislation.

States will oppose federal interference only to the degree that it does not affect funding. In other words, I don't believe we can count on a state to defend our rights as homeschoolers once a federal definition is put in place and a dollar value is attached to it (which is a natural progression of events. See highway funding and the federal push that raised the drinking age to 21. Reference the effects federal pressure has had on "state-mandated" test scores and attendance in public education). The feds threaten to withhold funding to those who do not comply. Although state do have the right to refuse, in reality, they rarely do.

Regarding Section 522 of HR 1815, the initial concern was that it would give the Department of Defense carte blanche to assign a federal definition to homeschooling for the purposes of recruitment. While that in itself does not sound threatening, the potential long-term consequences are. More on that later. In the meantime, Valerie at HEM NewsComm has uncovered several definitions of homeschooling currently in use by the Navy and Marines in their own manuals and on their official websites. They and the Army sites link to HSLDA as the defining authority in home education (so does the State of Mississippi's Dept of Education website, for that matter). So, essentially, HSLDA is defining "homeschool" for these federal entities. Again, a lot of people are asking "What's the harm there?"

Two things: HSLDA does not represent the vast majority of homeschoolers in this country AND the vast majority of homeschoolers in this country do not wish to be defined on the federal level, period. Simply put, we want no federal regulation and we want no interference from HSLDA.

[Natalie's disclaimer: the following is the opinion of the poster and should not be misconstrued as an anti-HSLDA rant.]

Here are the potential long term consequences: Sect 522 would allow the dept that oversees the armed forces to create ONE definition for ALL homeschoolers that will usurp any state-level definition (or lack thereof). Furthermore, as parents, citizens and homeschoolers, we will not have any say in just what that definition is and no recourse if we don't like it. Additionally, other federal agencies (Social Security, Homeland Security, etc) will latch on to this definition in the future, simply because it's already there.

Based on the fact that the military currently defaults to HSLDA's authority, odds are that a federal definition of who is and who isn't a homeschooler will come from an organization that represents a small fraction of the homeschooling population. That's not ok with me.

If that doesn't raise a sea of red flags, let me ask two questions: Under a federal definition of homeschooling, who stands to lose the most? Easy answer: We do. And who stands to gain the most? Not as easy, so here's a hint: They wrote Section 522.

Thanks for reading,
Natalie

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.

Thanksgiving pictures

Christmas-themed floats and fall colors debut
in the creek across from my parents' house:



















My parents with Katie and Dagny on the porch swing
my father built:















Jack and I in my mother's garden:

Thursday, December 15, 2005

HR 1815: Act NOW

This just in from a group in VA:

VaHomeschoolers Legislative Report
December 14, 2005
by Celeste Land, Government Affairs

Special Report on Federal Legislation: Recruitment/Enlistment of Homeschooled Students & HONDA 2005

The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers (VaHomeschoolers) is a statewide homeschooling organization which normally does not lobby on federal matters. However, we do occasionally visit Capitol Hill when federal legislation could impact homeschoolers in our state.

On Tuesday, December 13, VaHomeschoolers lobbyists Scott Price and Celeste Land visited Capitol Hill and met with House and Senate staffers to discuss Section 522 of HR 1815 (Recruitment and Enlistment of Home Schooled Students in the Armed Forces) and HR 3753 / S 1691 (also known as HONDA 2005). In keeping with the mission of our organization, our meetings focused mainly on the implications of these bills from a Virginia homeschooling perspective.

Section 522 of HR 1815 (Recruitment / Enlistment of Homeschooled Students)

VaHomeschoolers opposes Section 522 of HR 1815 because the language on recruitment/enlistment is not necessary and would lead to greater regulation of Virginia homeschoolers. [You can read more about our position at www.vahomeschoolers.org]

While VaHomeschoolers was unable to confirm the exact status of the language in Section 522, we came away from our meetings with the sense that most legislators are blissfully unaware of the controversy within the homeschooling community surrounding this issue. Section 522 has many strong supporters on Capitol Hill, including HSLDA and possibly some influential Defense Department officials as well. This means that Section 522 is very likely to become law without further discussion.

The conference committee is wrapping up its work on HR 1815 and is expected to complete its deliberations any day now. This means that if you have concerns about Section 522, you need to contact your Congressman or Senator immediately.

HR 3753 / S 1691 (HONDA 2005)

VaHomeschoolers has specific concerns about certain language and phraseology in HR 3753 / S 1691 from a Virginia homeschooling perspective, and desires that these particular sections of the bill be amended or deleted as needed. (You can read more about our position at www.vahomeschoolers.org.)

HR 3753 / S 1691 (also referred to as the Home School Non Discrimination Act of 2005 or HONDA 2005) is an omnibus bill which attempts to address many different issues at the federal level. Some homeschoolers support the bill in its entirety, some oppose the bill in its entirety, and some take issue with certain portions of the bill for various reasons. (To learn more, go to http://www.vahomeschoolers.org/honda.PDF)

At first glance, the status of these bills appears questionable at best. The House version of the bill has been sent to a variety of different committees and subcommittees, any one of which could kill the entire bill. Meanwhile, the Senate version of the bill has been sent to the Finance Committee, a place where most bills die without much fanfare.

However, the issues and language of HR 3753 /S 1691 are likely to linger for quite some time to come. The original bills are largely promotional in nature. They publicize and call attention to the issues, and allow certain lawmakers to demonstrate their support for homeschooling through their sponsorship. Meanwhile, interested lawmakers can select the language for a specific issue in the original bill and quietly insert it into another bill which is more likely to actually become law. This is a common practice in Congress and has already happened at least once with this legislation, when the recruitment/enlistment language in S 1691 was used as the basis for the language in Section 522 of HR 1815.

Meanwhile, VaHomeschoolers has heard unconfirmed rumors that other language in HR 3753 regarding the Higher Education Act has been inserted into another bill on the Senate side. Clearly, homeschoolers who are interested in national legislative issues need to watch not only specific "homeschooling bills" in Congress, but also specific language from those bills, which may surface in surprising places at inopportune moments.

Recommended Action:

As always, VaHomeschoolers recommends that you read the full text of these bills carefully before taking any action. You can find the complete text of HR 1815 (Section 522), HR 3753, and S 1691 at http://thomas.loc.gov/. Contact your Congressman or Senator and let them know your views on this federal legislation. Contact information is available at http://www.house.gov/writerep/ and http://www.senate.gov/ . Virginia Senator John Warner is a member of the conference committee on HR 1815, and Virginia Congressmen Frank Wolf, Jo Ann Davis, and Virgil H. Goode Jr. are cosponsors of HR 3753. These individuals would be especially interested in hearing from their constituents.

Be specific when writing or calling your lawmakers. Tell them exactly what you like or dislike about these bills, which issues specifically concern you, and what (if anything) needs to be changed or addressed. This will help Congress take the most appropriate action.

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Info on an online petition from another group:

If you want to sign the on-line petition to protect homeschoolers frombeing defined by the Federal government do it now, it will be sent toSenate & House conferees today. http://www.petitiononline.com/hr1815/petition.html

The petition is against the language of section 522 in federal bill hr1815. The NHELD bulletin http://www.nheld.com/articles.htm#mostrecent explains further. HSLDA has been working on this legislation for 7 years now ,and it was slipped into the military appropriations bill while everyone was dealing with their reintroduction of HONDA legislation. They didn't even tell their members or post this bill on their website.

[snip] I had trouble getting my signature on the petition to go thru but used the email at the bottom and got added, so if you have trouble, you can go that route.

More information can be found at
http://www.homeedmag.com/blogs/newscomm/ http://www.homeedmag.com/blogs/newscomm/?p=195 http://www.homeedmag.com/blogs/groupnews/?p=36
http://hr3753.blogspot.com/

You may forward this information.

Hat tips: You know who you are...