Saturday, December 01, 2007

Presidential Candidates on Homeschooling

First and foremost, this is not a federal issue. I took issue with Rudy Giuliani earlier this year because he dwelt on educational solutions which he supported as mayor but which are not proper distribution of powers if carried on at the federal level. In this, I have to agree somewhat in principle with my liberal/libertarian counterparts in the homeschooling movement who bristle at any federal mention of home education for good or for ill. It's not the federal government's business. (I use italics, somewhat, because I also agree somewhat with HSLDA's position, that if the federal government is going to involve itself in this issue, at least let's make sure they are not undermining or denegrating homeschoolers in the process.)

However, a candidate's statements relating to homeschooling can indicate their commitment to federalism, individual liberty, and parental rights issues. It also shows who they're listening to, and whose support they are actively pursuing. In this case, even if the best thing they can do for homeschoolers is leave them alone, it is worth asking what their administration's position would be.

Fred Thompson includes homeschooling in his white paper on education. He says he intends to "Give parents the ability to choose the best setting situation to meet the needs of their children--whether in a public, private, religious, home or charter school setting." He supports vouchers and tax credits as a means to give parents that ability. While he doesn't say so explicitly, it might be assumed these programs would include homeschoolers. In another place (s.v. "Education") he supports "empowering parents by promoting voucher programs, charter schools, and other innovations that enhance education excellence through competition and choice". Would this include virtual school programs? Probably, though not mentioned here.

Overall, his statements on education call for reducing the federal government's involvement in education while promoting parental choice, local control of schools, and increased accountability for any funding decisions -- both in awarding funding, and in the results obtained from it.

Mike Huckabee is the only Republican candidate who spoke to the National Education Association convention this year and told them his children attended public schools from grades 1 to 12. That said, Huckabee picked up the enthusiastic endorsement of Home School Legal Defense Association's PAC early in the campaign; HSLDA's founder and chairman Michael Farris has actively campaigned for Huckabee in Iowa and is a founding member of his Faith and Family Values Coalition.

Huckabee says on his website "I have been a strong, consistent supporter of the rights of parents to home school their children, of creating more charter schools, and of public school choice. ... As Governor, I fought hard for more charter schools, with their strong parental involvement and their unique ability to serve as laboratories for education reform, and for the rights of parents to home school their children."

Arkansas' homeschool law (HSLDA summary here) is similar to North Carolina's in some respects. Parents file a notice of intent, not an application for permission; while testing is required, there are no rules about minimum acceptable scores. Record keeping is actually less in Arkansas, since there is not a requirement to keep attendance nor a records inspection clause. On the other hand, standardized testing must utilize the state's achievement tests (provided at no cost), and the NOI requires not only children's names but also the curriculum planned and parents' qualifications to teach ("for statistical purposes only"). The NOI is submitted to local public school officials, who may choose to waive certain requirements and deadlines.

There was a sharp reaction in some circles to HSLDA's early endorsement, such as several postings on a grassroots blog promoting Duncan Hunter, suggesting that Huckabee's interest in homeschooling is purely political. Well, maybe that's no surprise, if true.

Mitt Romney specifically proposes a federal homeschooling tax credit in his position statement. "Governor Romney believes that parents who want to home school their kids should be able to do so. To help them, he will provide a tax credit to help defray the educational expenses of parents who home school their kids." He recently promoted the idea campaigning in South Carolina.

This support is in addition to his position that "when parents and kids are free to choose their school, everyone benefits. That's because competition and choice in educational opportunities – whether it comes from private schools, charter schools, or home schooling – makes traditional public schools better and improves the quality of education for all of America's kids." (Link)

Rudy Giuliani website seems sketchy on details, at least when it comes to education. He states strongly a preference to follow the wishes of parents over school bureaucrats. He supports "empowering parents"

John McCain says nearly nothing about education policy on his 2008 campaign website. In the 2000 campaign he proposed a voucher program. UPDATE 6/10/08: His website says a lot about educational choice now, and homeschooling is specifically supported. See my post elsewhere in this blog for details.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton established her legal reputation as a child advocate, and on the "Issues" section on her website, education is subsumed under "Supporting Parents and Caring For Children". She would support programs to train and support new parents to help them give developmental help to their children; whether this would include homeschooling is debateable but not unthinkable. There is no mention here of parental rights or educational choice.

Clinton proposes federal matching funds to provide pre-kindergarten programs. "As President, I will establish universal pre-kindergarten education through a federal-state partnership, based on state flexibility that ensures every four-year-old child in America has access to a high-quality pre-kindergarten program." Education officials and teachers' unions are praising her call for "highly trained" teachers in programs for 4-year-olds. Her proposal is built to expand to younger ages as well, meaning federal funding for classes for three-year-olds and, perhaps, even younger children.

The only references to homeschooling on the Clinton website are occasional comments from supporters in the blog and forum sections. However, the expansion of federal programs for new parents and educational programs for children four and under does not augur well for the freedom of individual choice and responsibility represented by homeschooling.


I plan to update this section as time and announcements permit. One other resource with numerous historical positions and quotations from candidates on educational issues appears on the website, On The Issues.


Anonymous said...

Ron Paul is the only candidate to actually do something for homeschoolers on the federal level. He is working on a bill to be passed called the Family Education Freedom Act that will allow homeschool families to receive a tax credit for homeschooling their child/ren. i know this is your personal blog, but you should put all the facts out before saying some things. I have not made a decision on who to vote for, just I have been looking into issues of homeschooling with the candidates and Ron Paul keeps coming ahead 2 to 1 with this issue.

Hal said...

Thanks for your comments, Anonymous. I'm not sure what facts you want me to put out before I say something, though. I agree that Paul is probably the soundest on educational policy, and suggested so on another blog just a few days ago. I have more on Paul's position on education, courtesy Club for Growth, on this blog as well. However, it's also true that when I posted this entry, he was only polling 4.7% among Republican voters, and he's lost ground since; I didn't check the viewpoints of Tancredo and Hunter, for the same reason.

As I stated, homeschooling is a matter of personal interest, but most definitely it is not among the defining federal issues when considering a presidential candidate. I hope his supporters are in agreement with him for reasons other than this one piece of legislation (which, to be fair, was first introduced ten years ago, and which didn't pass while Republicans still controlled Congress, either).