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Legislative Watchdogging

by Laurisa White Reyes

HONDA, The Homeschool Non-Discrimination Act

Two Congressional bills have been drafted which will impact homeschooling in a variety of ways. These bills, drafted by representatives of The Homeschool Legal Defense Association and Representative Marilyn Musgrave are collectively referred to as HONDA, The Homeschool Non-Discrimination Act.

H.R. 2732 and SB 1652 are nearly identical and specify five distinct areas in which homeschoolers are currently discriminated against in federal law and which, the authors believe, require minor provisional changes in order to "fix" the problems. These five areas are outlined below:

Grants & Student Loans

The Higher Education Act of 1965 outlines certain criteria for eligibility for Pell Grants and other financial aid. In 1998 the law was amended so that homeschoolers could become eligible for financial aid. While the amendment updated the eligibility of students, no change was made to institutional eligibility. The authors of HONDA believe this was an oversight that must be corrected. As the law currently stands, homeschool graduates under the age of 18 cannot be admitted by a college without jeopardizing a college’s eligibility to award federal aid to its students because the homeschool graduate does not have a recognized diploma. Although the Department of Education is currently attempting to address this issue, several students have already lost their college admission. HONDA ensures that colleges retain their eligibility to award aid by stating that they may admit under-age homeschool students who have finished their homeschool programs, even if they do not have a state-issued diploma

Family Educational Records Privacy Act

The Family Educational Records Privacy Act specifically extends protection of privacy to students who attend public schools. HONDA amends certain provisions of this law so that this protection will be extended to all students, public or non-public. These amendments do not specifically refer to homeschoolers, but state that "for students in non-public education, educational records or personally identifiable information may not be released without the written consent of the parents of such student."

Coverdell Educational Savings Account

The Internal Revenue Code currently allows parents of public, private or religious school students to utilize non-taxable savings accounts for the purpose of funding education related expenses. In most states, parents who are homeschooling are not eligible because homeschools are not public, private or religious schools. HONDA redefines ‘public, private or religious school’ to include homeschooling.

Child Find

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act currently requires public school authorities to locate and assess students who may be in need of special education assistance. HONDA amends certain provisions of this law so that students whose parents do not wish them to be assessed may be exempt. This amendment does not specifically refer to homeschooling but extends these rights to all parents.

The Fair Labor Standards Act

Current law specifies what hours an employed student under the age of sixteen years may work. HONDA extends these specifications in regards to students educated at home. The intention is to allow homeschooled students the option of working during the hours when public school students are not allowed.

Concerns regarding HONDA have arisen among some homeschool organizations. These concerns relate to the fact that HONDA is legislation at the federal level and will affect homeschoolers in all fifty states. While the bill does allow the definition and management of homeschooling to remain within the authority of the states, some are concerned that HONDA may eventually lead to federal regulation of homeschooling in the future. Despite the benefits this legislation would extend to homeschoolers and other non-public educated students, it is the policy of many homeschool organizations to oppose all legislation that attempts to alter the definition of homeschooling in any way.

The publishers of Home Education Magazine recently released a lengthy statement encouraging homeschoolers to oppose HONDA and cited several reasons for their opinion. According to their statement, "These two bills represent the continuation of a dangerous political strategy which abandons the first and best line of defense for homeschooling - the free exercise of rights and responsibilities - in favor of government intervention. This political strategy has unpredictable short term outcomes and fundamental long term consequences."

However, according to Tom Washburn, Director of the National Center for Home Education and The Homeschool Legal Defense Association, these concerns are the result of misinformation regarding HONDA.

"There is no inherent problem with HONDA," Washburn states. "Federal law already extends protection to homeschoolers. Conversely, a hundred federal laws use generic references to schooling, which could be used as a means for government regulation. HONDA presents no more opportunity for federal interference than any other law already on the books, and the risk of that happening is minimal."

A statement issued by The Homeschool Legal Defense Association in support of the bills asserts that the amendments in HONDA are necessary to ensure fair treatment of homeschoolers. When these laws were originally drafted, homeschools were overlooked simply because the homeschool movement was still in its infancy. Today there are two million students being homeschooled. According to HSLDA, "their academic success is remarkable. Congress should no longer overlook homeschoolers as a viable and successful movement. Homeschoolers do not want federal handouts, just equal treatment."

"HONDA is not so much a homeschooling issue as it is a parental issue," says Washburn. "It is a basic freedom issue. For the most part, homeschooling laws tie back to the state. HONDA fixes certain problems pertaining to these laws without jeopardizing homeschooling freedom."

To read the Homeschool Non-Discrimintaion Act in its entirety, you may do so at HLDSA’s websit at www.hldsa.com. – L.W.R.