Why DC Promise Matters

ALSO: How to Show Your Support

In the last couple of months you’ve heard a lot from me about the DC Promise Establishment Act. Most of it has related to making sure that homeschoolers were not unjustifiably excluded from the program simply because we had chosen to educate at home during the middle and secondary school years. That is a fairly uncontroversial stance in the homeschool world. Most homeschool organizations support equal treatment for homeschoolers in government spending, especially at the college level.

However, now I’m asking you to consider a slightly more controversial position. I think that District homeschoolers should actively support the amended DC Promise Act. As we all know, the District is not a state. That fact, and the reality that we only encompass 70 square miles, means that we cannot maintain a high quality public university system. Instead, students tend to leave the District and often establish residency somewhere else in order to eventually get in-state tuition benefits elsewhere. District students pay a much higher out-of-state tuition rate, at least for their first years at a public college. In the end they are less likely to return home because they have established residency elsewhere.

The Promise Act works to combat those problems faced uniquely by District students. The Act would provide enough assistance to District students so that they will be able to afford out-of-state public schools at something like the in-state tuition rates. In addition, the Promise Act would broaden the options for District students by allowing them to consider private schools rather than just the public ones. The Promise Act would put District students on an equal footing with other students in our region when it comes to being able to afford an excellent college education.

Is the program costly? Yes. It will likely cost between $50-100 million dollars. However, DC currently spends $2.3 billion on education. Spending an additional 3-5% to make sure that our students finish well seems reasonable. Does the program threaten DC-TAG? Hopefully not. DC-TAG provides federal money to District students to help with the cost of attending an out-of-state public college. DC-TAG was great when it started 13 years ago and provided $10,000 to help pay tuition at an out-of-state school. The problem is that it is still providing that same $10,000 while the cost to attend those schools as an out-of-state student has more than doubled. We need something more than the DC-TAG program. Hopefully Congress will not cut the program just because we have tried to step up to fill a gap that they have ignored.

If You Agree, Please Show Your Support!

The future of the DC Promise Act is precarious. It has the public support of all of the members of the Committee on Education, but they make up less than half of the Council. Many of the other members have not yet committed to the bill. The media has not covered this legislation well, so many District residents are unaware it is even being debated. The Council needs to know that District families support this legislation.

Supporters of the bill have created a petition you can sign to show your support. You and your older students can sign in support of the bill (probably not your 5 year-olds!). If you support this legislation, please sign the petition and encourage others to do so as well.

Vote Yes on the D.C. Promise!

I realize some of you may not support this legislation. If you don’t, please let me know. I want to hear from the District’s homeschool community. You can send me an e-mail at dchea@dchea.org.

Progress on DC Promise

ALSO: Your Help Is Needed

I am very grateful for the attention that David Catania’s staff on the Committee on Education has given to homeschooling in the ongoing debates about the DC Promise Act. In the first proposal, as you will remember, all private school students and homeschool students were prohibited from receiving Promise Act funding for college. Catania’s Committee on Education changed that policy in the draft bill before Christmas. That change demonstrated their willingness to listen to criticism and respond to the needs of their constituents.

While I appreciated the Committee’s inclusion of homeschoolers in the Promise Act, I was still concerned that we were not placed on the same footing as other DC students. A homeschool diploma is as legitimate as any other high school diploma, yet the most recent draft of the Promise Act still required homeschool students to pass a GED to prove that they were legitimate high school graduates.

So here is what Catania’s office did this week that really impressed me. You all know that homeschoolers constitute a small percentage of families in the District. We are easy to ignore politically. In spite of that, I have received a number of phone calls from the Committee on Education. They want to work with us and have agreed to propose an amendment to the bill at the next Council meeting to address our concerns. I have seen the language they are proposing and, interpreted properly, it will put homeschoolers on the same footing as other students in the District.

Your Help Is Needed

As I said, homeschoolers constitute a small percentage of District families. Even though David Catania and the Committee on Education are willing to put forward an amendment addressing our concerns, the Council as a whole may find it easier to ignore the proposed amendment and let the bill move forward without changes. We need to let the Council know that homeschoolers care and that they should pay attention to our concerns.

I am hoping that a significant group of homeschoolers will show up at the next DC Council legislative meeting where they will be working on this bill. Please bring your students — they are encouraged to come. We will be there to support the full and equal inclusion of homeschoolers in this bill. Finally, if you are planning to come, please let me know by filling in the form below. The Council would like to have some idea of how many students and families they should expect to attend.

When: Tuesday, February 4th at 10:00am

Where: 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Rm. 500 (Across from Freedom Plaza)

Please RSVP:

Troublesome Legislation Keeps Coming

Earlier this year Councilman Marion Barry introduced Bill 20-178: The Compulsory Pre-School Attendance Amendment Act of 2013. This bill would require compulsory school attendance beginning at age three. The current compulsory education age in the District is five years old. This is the lowest age in the country, shared by fewer than ten other states. When the bill was initially introduced it appeared that it was dead-on-arrival in the Committee on Education. Today the bill moved forward to a committee hearing. It may be that the legislation will still go nowhere. It doesn’t currently have the support of Councilman Catania, or possibly even the support of Councilman Barry, since he didn’t show up for the hearing until the last few minutes. Even a few of the “educational experts” who were there to testify more broadly on pre-school education issues said that they didn’t think it was a good idea to extend the compulsory age so much lower than the rest of the country.

Nevertheless, this would be a great time to let your Councilmember know that the home is a perfectly appropriate place for all children to learn the basic skills of life that are normally “taught” in pre-school. Government shouldn’t be insisting on a course of study for three year-olds.

If such a bill were to pass, how could the government possibly apply the law to homeschoolers? Would we be required to teach a class in “Playing Well with Others” or “Story-time Listening”? This is preposterous. While many of us start our young children on academic subjects early, no professional educator is going to start requiring all children to begin reading, writing, and math before they turn five. On the other hand, some of us have legitimate philosophical disagreements with the idea of starting intentional education early. In fact, many countries are going the other way and are beginning to ask whether we place too much emphasis on education before age seven and too little emphasis on play.

Let’s do what we can to make sure that this legislation goes no further. Please contact your Councilmember and the At-Large Councilmembers. Urge them to vote against this measure. Council e-mail addresses can be found here:

DC Councilmembers

It is most important that we contact the members of the Committee on Education. These include At-Large members Catania and Grosso, Ward 6 Councilman Wells, Ward 7 Councilwoman Alexander, and Ward 8 Councilman Barry. So especially if you live in Wards 6-8, please e-mail your Councilmember.

Resources:

A Large Measure of Success

Congratulations to all. Thanks to you making your voices heard it appears that the DC Promise Establishment Act will now include homeschoolers and students from District private schools. The bill has undergone a fairly significant change from the original version. The grant award amounts have decreased by 40%, but the bill still provides a significant amount of funding.

I am hesitant to declare a complete success because the current version of the bill does not treat a homeschool diploma as a legitimate high school diploma. It would require homeschoolers to also get a GED or some similar stamp of approval from an external organization. The bill specifically requires a “recognized equivalent” to a high school diploma. This is unnecessary when we are already able to provide our students with an actual high school diploma, not the “recognized equivalent” of one.

Please stay tuned for further information. The Education Committee is having a mark-up meeting on the bill on December 10th at 1:30. You should be able to watch the meeting live here: http://dccouncil.us/granicus

I have had conversations with the Committee staff who are drafting the legislation. I am hoping that the language will change sufficiently to be able to be entirely supportive of the bill. As this process continues I will keep you informed.

Resources:

Legislative Schedule for DC Promise Act

Thanks to the Georgetown Hoya we have a better idea of the legislative schedule for the DC Promise bill: “The D.C. Council will officially hear the bill Nov. 13, and Young said he hoped the voting process would be completed by early 2014.”

http://www.thehoya.com/news/mayoral-candidate-pushes-for-college-aid-program-1.3100415#.Umpvv3eDl8E

Please keep spreading the word about this bill that would help many lower and middle income families in the District afford college, unless, of course, you have decided to homeschool your children or send them to private schools. Please contact your Council members and ask them to care for all citizens of the District equally, not just those who attend publicly funded schools.

DC Promise Act – Not So Promising

On Tuesday, DC Councilmember At-Large, David Catania, introduced a new bill to provide significant college grants for DC students. The bill is called the “D.C. Promise Establishment Act of 2013.” Considering that DC doesn’t have a state-funded university system that is on par with other states, this sounds like a reasonable proposal. Councilmember Catania’s stated purpose for the Act says that, “The ‘D.C. Promise Establishment Act of 2013′ seeks to guarantee that every District student can pursue a college or technical education after high school.” The program is focused on providing the greatest funding for the most needy students. D.C. Promise grants would provide the most generous funding to students in families living at 200% of the poverty level or below. Significant grants would continue to be offered on a sliding scale to students from middle and upper-middle income families, including families earning up to $250,000 per year.

Sadly there is a gap between Catania’s stated purpose and reality. Rather than being a “guarantee” for “every District student,” this newly proposed bill specifically excludes any student who has not been in a DC public or charter school at least through their high school years. The largest grants are reserved for students who have attended public or charter schools from the 6th grade through the 12th grade.  As DC homeschoolers we are being excluded from equal access to these grants, but homeschoolers are not the only ones excluded. Catania appears to think that the Council is justified in excluding students who have attended private schools, because anyone who has attended a private school must not be among the low-income students he is trying to help. Admittedly, private school students are often well-off. However, should that fact mean that low-income DC students who are able to attend private schools on scholarship should be denied grants that are extended to other DC citizens?

This comes down to a simple matter of fairness. We are all DC citizens. We shop in DC, we contribute to our neighborhoods, and we all pay DC taxes. Some of us have chosen a different educational route for our children. We have a variety of reasons, but all of us are parents who desire the best for our children. Why should our educational choices deny us access to grants aimed at making college affordable for “every District student”? Why would we be penalized for trying to do what our hearts told us was in the best interest of our children? Why would the District want to ease a burden for some of its citizens, yet leave another group burdened with college debt just as they are becoming productive adults, entering the workforce, and wanting to move back home?

This proposal has a lot of support on the Council. It was introduced with 10 out of the 13 members of the Council as co-signers. At this point it seems likely to become law.  We have a brief period while it is working its way through the Council to fix the inequity inherent in this proposal. Here’s how you can help:

1) Contact Councilmember Catania’s office. He is the author of this legislation and the Chair of the Education Committee. He is also an at-large member, so he is your representative on the Council.

2) Contact your ward Council member. Because ward Council members have a smaller constituency, they are often easier to reach. Do send e-mails and make phone calls, but please do go beyond that and try to set up meetings with them individually.

3) Contact the other three at-large members. Anita Bonds, David Grosso, and Vincent Orange are also your representatives on the Council. Please contact them.

4) Contact friends in private schools. If you have any friends who are DC citizens who have students who are in private middle schools or high schools, contact them and let them know that they are going to be excluded from this plan unless they help us convince the Council to change their plans.

5) Contact private school administrators. If you have any friends or acquaintances who work for private middle schools or high schools that have a decent number of students from the District, please contact them to let them know that there students will be excluded from significant amounts of funding for college. Please encourage them to contact us here at dchea@dchea.org. It would be great to know that we have other advocates working with us to achieve a change in this law.

Thanks so much for your concern for the future of homeschooling in the District. Together we have changed laws in the past and we can do so again.

Resources:

Success!

On Friday, March 15th, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education released an updated version of the proposed regulation on attendance that had caused us significant concern. I am happy to say that it removed all of the language about homeschooling that caused us concern. In fact, it goes one step further and specifically excludes homeschooling from the definition of “educational institutions.” Because the rest of the regulation applies to “educational institutions” it is very clear that this law is not meant to include homeschoolers. If you would like to read the new text, you may find it here.

The only reason this regulation changed is because the DC homeschool community came together and made our voices heard. Thank you all for your help, especially those of you who sent e-mails and who testified at the Board meeting. You stood up and demonstrated to your children how to participate as a citizen in this republic that has been entrusted to us!