What Do the Feds Want?

It was supposed to be a routine bill in the House of Representatives, a bill that simply reauthorized federal funding for elementary and secondary education. But it turned out to be a minefield. And Christian schools and home schoolers are up in arms about it. I'm talking about a bill called HR-6 that was just passed out of committee and will reach the House floor tomorrow. At the last moment, an amendment was added that requires local school districts to assure the federal government that all full-time teachers under their jurisdiction are certified to teach the academic subjects to which they are assigned. That sounds reasonable, except that states already require teachers in public schools to be certified. What the bill could do is extend state control over private schools, religious schools, and home schools by requiring them to hire only certified teachers. Alert to that possibility, Republican Dick Armey of Texas proposed an amendment clarifying that the bill applies only to public schools. But the amendment was voted down. As a result, the bill is going to the House floor with the language still vague enough to worry a lot of Americans. According to the Association of Christian Schools International, the language of HR-6 could very well "expose private and home school teachers to forced state teacher credentialing." The Home School Legal Defense Association says the bill could mean "an expensive and dangerous increase of federal control over all forms of education." Requiring teachers to be state-certified is not a question of quality education. After all, Christian schools and home schools are not restricted to using only certified teachers, yet their students consistently score at or above grade level on standardized tests. No, the real issue is not quality but state control. As Lynn Buzzard and Samuel Ericsson point out in their book The Battle for Religious Liberty, certification is never a wholly neutral process; it inevitably involves questions of value. And who can guarantee that the state will not try to impose secularist values on Christian schools and home schools? Supporters of HR-6 say the bill was never intended to apply to anything besides public schools. I'd like to believe them. But the defeat of the Armey amendment protecting private schools and home schools is disturbing. Dick Armey says he will offer another amendment when the bill reaches the House floor tomorrow, and this time Christians ought to make their voices heard. Why don't you call your representatives in Congress and tell them you support Armey's "Home School-Private School Freedom Amendment." There's no time to write, so call or fax your message today. Private education is a deeply rooted American tradition, a powerful affirmation of the freedom of conscience. But there will always be some who view it as a threat, a threat to the power of the state and to the creation of a homogenized, standardized culture. HR-6 may be totally benign, as supporters say. But Christians would be wise not to trust its vague language. Especially when it could be used to extend the role of the state over the education of our children.


Chuck Colson


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