Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Just Say No to HR 3221

Over decade ago, I called a journalist from the Wall Street Journal to discuss the expanding federal role in education and the move toward national curriculum and standards in America. He didn't want to hear about it. In fact, he laughed loudly in my ear and said, "It'll never happen. The American people would never stand for it." He was wrong.

This week, in the House of Representatives, is scheduled to consider and possibly vote on H.R. 3221, The Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA). HR 3221 expands the federal role in education by taking over the student loan industry and includes a provision which allows the Secretary of Education to develop and disseminate a free online national curriculum both for high school and post-secondary education (Section 505) and establishes Pre-K learning programs and standards (Section 401).

RedState calls the bill unprecedented and unecessary. Indeed, it is.

The Constitution provides for no federal role in education; Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan previously stated that education was a "state and local issue." When the Department of Education was formed ( 20 U.S.C. § 3403) the statute prohibited the department from "increasing the authority of the Federal Government over education" and did not authorize the Secretary to "exercise any direction, supervision, or control over curriculum." HR 3221 does both.

HR 3221 is a back door approach to the ultimate objective - national standards benchmarked internationally.

If the Department of Education is given half a billion dollars to create and disseminate a national online curriculum it will likely become the framework for a national standard. The money will be passed on to states which align their curriculum and standards to the new national online curriculum. Never mind that it violates the Constitution and usurps their authority, for many state politicians and Governors, that's an offer that's too good to refuse. And if they want to align those standards to the rest of the world, that's okay too. We're all citizens of the world who need to be prepared to compete in a the global economy.

These provisions are nestled in a larger proposal to help make college affordable for more Americans and to promote early-learning and "school readiness" for children from birth to age 5. That's not surprising.

HR 3221 streamlines federal financial aid and removes subsidies to private lenders for college loans. This consolidates the power to determine who gets a grant or a loan under the direct authority of the federal government and will eventually render graduates who did not complete the federally approved national curriculum ineligible for financial aid. (In 2006, even the New York Times saw the danger this posed to private and homeschoolers.) It will also allow the federal government to require community service for all students who receive a student loan or aid. Something that would be much harder to do if the money came from a private lender. Remember, Obama promised a civilian national security force and linked funding to service programs.

In the past, HSLDA has warned of the dangers of a national curriculum and standards to homeschoolers. In July of this year, they also encouraged strong opposition to HR 3221 because of the early learning provision. They rightly asserted that, "Parents, not federal or state officials should decide what is appropriate for their children." There have been no further updates.

Given that the House will debate and vote on the bill this week and Republicans lawmakers are struggling to come up with good arguments against the legislation, I hope that HSLDA and other homeschool advocates like Homeschool Legal Advantage provide more information, alert their members, and encourage strong opposition to HR 3221.

UPDATE: Since I posted early this AM, HSLDA has updated the link from July 20 and now has included information regarding the federal takeover of student loans.
H.R. 3221 will greatly increase the size and power of the federal government and fundamentally alter the student loan process by federalizing all student loans: Currently, many college students obtain student loans through private entities. H.R. 3221 will change this by federalizing all student financial aid. The U.S. Department of Education will be tasked with administering and supporting all student loans, which will greatly increase the federal government’s role and power in education.
They provide no information the Open Online Education provision which allows the federal government to develop and disseminate online and college curriculum.

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