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December 17, 2015 - ESSA and the Soft Consequences of Non-Participation for Homeschoolers

In the days immediately following the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act, we've had a lot of people asking us what the impact will be not just for public and private school students but on homeschoolers. Will Estrada, director of federal relations for the Home School Legal Defense Association and a contributor to our book Common Ground on Common Core, is reporting that, while his organization still has concerns, certain carve outs achieved in the legislation have eliminated any direct impact for homeschooling families. Other organizations have provided similar perspective.

Yet, not having an immediate or direct impact is not the same as having no impact. So, we threw the question out to an extensive network of education experts and activsts. One response that came back rang so true and seemed so important to us that we obtained the permission of the activist who wrote it to share it with you.

Here, with only minimal editing for readability, are the thoughts of Michigan education activist and mother to six homeschooled children Karen Braun. While her response is important for homeschoolers, everyone who cares about education would do well to heed what she's saying, because soft consequences have long been unfolding for everyone in the education "reform" game:

I actually don't see "big battles" over homeschool freedom coming. They won't need to mandate anything. The soft consequences of non-participation will filter out many and they will choose other options to educate their children.  I call it the soft consequences of non-participation. That's how they push this stuff on the states.  A competitive grant for doing something will by inference have consequences for those who do not participate.  

Reformers know that homeschoolers are a formidable foe, so they silence us with meaningless exemptions that allegedly "protect" us from mandates. But the effects of the reforms are still very much felt by homeschoolers. They use competitive grants for states but there is also money for individuals who play by the Feds' rules.  

For example, Congress is moving to make it easier to apply for financial aid. Louisiana has even just required a FAFSA application for high school graduation. Those who choose not to apply must obtain a waiver. Post-secondary institutions, which in many cases also rely on federal funds, will likely be told how many "waivers"  they are allowed to accept. They now have a mechanism to penalize anyone who does not participate in FAFSA by only giving money to those that comply.  The soft consequences of non-participation are already on view. And that's not even necessarily people who homeschool!

In 2010, President Obama changed the FAFSA and required colleges to determine the "validity" of a diploma. That same mechanism can be used to filter out anyone else who does not comply with federal demands, including homeschoolers, defining "valid" in whatever way the federal government desires. ESSA has much to say about early learning, mental and physical health, STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathmatics), and career pathways. Schools are now requiring surveys for career selection as a condition of graduation. Homeschoolers do not participate in those surveys or yield such data. Federal aid will thus be denied them. But, in the end, will any college even be allowed to accept them, even if they can pay cash?  I doubt it. Like ObamaCare a single payer education system means all must buy in or face penalties.   For health care, the penalty is a monetary fine. For education, the consequences could mean being barred from college admission or a job.      

Post-secondary institutions and employers will increasingly be able to access data collected during the K-12 years on those students they would like to consider for dual enrollment, early college entry, career training, and employment. Michigan is already pushing for the ACT WorkKeys assessment to be a condition for hiring. That same assessment is mandatory for high school graduation but not required for Michigan homeschoolers.
Companies such as Parchment facilitate accessibility to transcripts. A parent just told me she must sign a form that waives her student's right to read any college letters of recommendation. Another waiver...and if she doesn't sign it, no transcripts will be sent. More soft consequences of non-participation.   

The ESSA language was written to keep examples like those cited above moving forward. Career pathways, STEM, dual enrollment, and more I haven't even yet read are all in there. Homeschool language written to protect us is meaningless when participation incentives are provided. Those who don't participate, or who aren't enticed by the incentives, will reap the soft-consequences of non-participation.
If you have thoughts or questions about what Karen has written, we hope you'll share them with us via Facebook, Twitter, or our contact page. As always, we're interested in your views. 

NOTE: Since posting this article, some people have rightly pointed out that the PPACA, or Obamacare as it is more commonly known, is not actually a single-payer system. Nor is it free market. Resounding Books would, in fact, refer to it as a private market, or oligopoly. We would also clarify that we are simply sharing the words of another activist. All things considered, while Karen's description of the current health care system may not be entirely accurate, her point should still be well-taken by readers. Just as the PPACA uses sticks and carrots to control the behavior of both consumers and service providers, with failure to comply resulting in penalties, so do ESSA and related "reforms" in education work to ensure compliance via consequences of various sorts. So, the fine Karen cites in relationship to the health care system is apt in communicating an important parallel point about educational compliance. (11:30pm CT, 12-17-2015)