Senate Majority Leader and likely presidential candidate Bill Frist recently praised a gathering of state homeschool leaders for “helping to make America a better place.” Frist was among four senators and eight members of the House of Representatives to meet with 75 homeschool leaders assembled in Washington for a policy meeting March 30.
A spokesperson for the Home School Legal Defense Association told EthicsDaily.com that Frist’s remarks at the 2006 legislative summit of the National Center for Home Education (a division of the HSLDA) were not from a prepared text and were not recorded, but the senator’s office later released a statement praising efforts to defend parents’ rights to educate their own children.
“Homeschooled children deserve the same treatment as their public and private school peers, and the Home School Legal Defense Association is an outstanding advocate for homeschool families across America,” Frist said. “Parents and families should have the freedom and the choice to educate their children as they see fit, and the HSLDA does outstanding work in helping make America a better place to raise our children.”
The summit is held each year to encourage and help state homeschool leaders to influence federal legislation affecting homeschooling families. A key feature of the meeting is providing homeschool advocates personal contact with members of Congress to allow them to get to know their elected officials and express their opinions on the issues.
Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., said “pro-family” groups like the HSLDA “are pivotal in setting America on the right track,” according to an Internet report of the meeting.
Sens. Larry Craig and Tom Coburn also spoke, along with Reps. Joe Pitts, Mike Pence, Roscoe Bartlett, Mark Green, Marilyn Musgrave, Bobby Jindal, Mike Sodrel and Geoff Davis. Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., attended part of the summit but was called away for a vote before he could make his address.
The press release quoted comments of some of the speakers.
“The option of homeschooling must always be available to parents,” said Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind. “We must not only protect the freedom of parents to home-educate their children, we must always recognize the fact that parents are to be the primary educators of their children. Parents who make the sacrifice to school their children full-time, at home, are to be commended for their dedication and faithfulness.”
Rep. Geoff Davis, R-Ky., said he and his wife, Pat, have homeschooled their children for many years.
Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., said, “You search the Constitution in vain to find any reference to the federal government having any responsibility concerning education,” adding, “The correlation between declines in the educational performance of American children since the establishment of the Department of Education is striking.”
One piece of legislation being monitored by the HSLDA is the Homeschool Non-Discrimination Act (HONDA), introduced in the Senate by Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, and in the House by Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, R-Colo. It would amend selected statutes to clarify how existing federal law governing the treatment of students applies to students privately educated at home.
On March 29 Musgrave offered an amendment expanding qualification for the Robert C. Byrd Honors Scholarship Program from students in public and private schools to those graduating from alternative programs, including students taught at home. The scholarships are federally funded and administered by states to recognize exceptional high school seniors who show promise of continued achievement in post-secondary education.
“Homeschool students excel, but have been denied the opportunity to compete for the Byrd scholarship,” Musgrave said. “Students who excel should not be differentiated based on where they received their education.”
Other legislation backed by homeschool advocates includes the Parental Consent Act of 2005 now pending in the House, to prohibit the use of federal funds for universal or mandatory mental-health screening programs. Opponents say such screening would lead to labeling and drugging of children and violates parental rights. Advocates say identifying at-risk kids early would reduce teen suicide.
The HSLDA also supports legislation banning same-sex marriage, because while the Constitution does not explicitly discuss parental rights, courts have recognized them based on historic “Western civilization concepts of the family.”
“When those concepts are no longer the legal definition of the family in this nation,” the group said, “then the foundation upon which parental rights are based is completely removed.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.