Tel.: (860) 354-3590
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Attorney Deborah G. Stevenson, Executive Director
Bulletin #66 The “GIVE” Act 03/30/09
Did you know? that the “GIVE Act” may affect thousands of homeschoolers?
The “GIVE Act” is the short title for new legislation proposed by the President and adopted recently by Congress. Its long title is: “Generations Invigorating Volunteerism and Education Act”. Both titles sound laudable and innocuous. But, as they say, the devil is in the details.
The full text of the “GIVE Act” may be found at: http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=h111-1388
The bill expands and strengthens service-learning programs. The idea of service-learning programs in America has a long history going back to the early 1900’s. Most well known in past history is President Roosevelt’s action to establish the Civilian Conservation Corps. The idea continued with the establishment under President Kennedy of the Peace Corps, under President Johnson with the establishment of VISTA, and under President Clinton with the establishment of AmeriCorps. There are at least two entire chapters, including hundreds of federal laws, under the United States Code dealing with “Domestic Volunteer Services” and National and Community Service. (Chapter 66, 42 U.S.C. §§4950 et seq.; Chapter 129, 42 U.S.C. §§12501 et seq.) The “GIVE Act” actually amends some of these existing laws, including the National and Community Service Act of 1990 and the Domestic Volunteer Service Act of 1973 to revise the programs and reauthorize appropriations for them through fiscal year 2012. Essentially, the “GIVE Act” is nothing new. It merely authorizes the appropriation of a lot more public funding to encourage exponential growth of these existing programs, and to add some further embellishments.
For example, Section 3 of the “GIVE Act” says it is the sense of Congress that “the number of participants in approved national service positions, including the Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) and the National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC), should grow to reach 250,000 participants by 2014.” In fact, Sec. 501 of the bill specifies that some $97,000,000 is authorized for certain of these programs for fiscal years 2010 alone, while another section provides more than $485,000,000 for other programs for fiscal years 2009-2012.
Some reports in the media have indicated that the “GIVE Act” would establish a youth corps akin to the youth movement of Nazi Germany, complete with uniforms, mandatory service, and training. While anyone in power may abuse that power, the “GIVE Act” does not go quite that far, although there are some provisions that may give one concern. For example, consider these provisions:
1. Section 111 – “School-based service learning programs promote service-learning as a strategy to… engage students in meeting community needs with demonstrable results, while enhancing students' academic and civic learning; and…
`(B) developing service-learning curricula, consistent with State or local academic content standards, to be integrated into academic programs, including an age-appropriate learning component that provides participants an opportunity to analyze and apply their service experiences…
(2) implementing, operating, or expanding school-based service-learning programs, which may include paying for the cost of the recruitment, training, supervision, placement, salaries, and benefits of service-learning coordinators, through distribution of Federal funds by State educational agencies, Territories, and Indian tribes made available under this part to projects operated by local partnerships among--
`(A) local educational agencies; and
`(B) 1 or more community partners that…
`(ii) may include a private for-profit business, private
elementary or secondary school, or Indian tribe (except that
an Indian tribe distributing funds to a project under this
paragraph is not eligible to be part of the partnership
operating that project);
2. Section 151 – National Civilian Community Corps – “`It is the purpose of this subtitle to authorize the operation of, and support for, residential and other service programs that combine the best practices of civilian service with the best aspects of military service, including leadership and team building, to meet national and community needs.”
3. Part II – Higher Education Provisions and Campuses of Service – “…may coordinate with service-learning curricula being offered in the academic curricula at the institution of higher education or at one or more members of the consortia…”
4. Section 119 – “The Corporation, after consultation with the Secretary of Education, may annually designate not more than 25 institutions of higher education as Campuses of Service, from among institutions nominated by State Commissions.”
5. Section 198E(a)(3) – “The Corporation shall establish a National Service Reserve Corps…”
6. Section 198E(b) – “Annual Training- The Corporation shall, in consultation with the Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, conduct or coordinate annual training sessions for individuals who have completed a term of national service, and who wish to join the National Service Reserve Corps.”
7. Section 198E(e) – “Deployment of National Service Reserve Corps-
`(1) IN GENERAL- If a major disaster or emergency designated by the President under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (42 U.S.C. 5121 et seq.) occurs and the Corporation, in consultation with the Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, determines is an incident for which National Service Reserve Corps members are prepared to assist, the Corporation shall--
`(A) deploy interested National Service Reserve Corps members on 30-day
assignments to assist with local needs related to preparing or recovering from the
incident in the affected area, through organizations certified under subsection (c);
While these provisions may sound disconcerting, and may, indeed, at some point in the future lead to abuses, you have to read them in context and understand that they are merely amendments to already existing federal statutes. The effort to increase service learning has been ongoing for years. This bill simply has gotten more publicity than others.
Basically, the President and Congress are using the same tactic that politicians before them have used to enlarge federal influence Constitutionally. The bill does not directly require states or individuals to do anything. The federal government does not have that Constitutional authority. The bill authorizes the federal government to hold out the carrot of millions of dollars to state and local governments and community organizations, who then would voluntarily agree to accept the funding. Of course, in return for accepting the funding, the bill requires those on the receiving end to develop certain programs that have certain requirements. In essence, the federal government can only require individuals to participate in the service based learning if state and local officials accept the federal funding. Moral of the story – don’t accept the federal funding and you won’t be required to do anything.
Nonetheless, the bill does pose a potential threat for individuals to be required to abide by the regulations. That’s because individuals affected by the bill are not in a position to refuse to accept the money. For example, individual students and their parents are not in a position to refuse to accept federal funding offered to their local public school. The local public school may not be in a position to refuse to accept federal funding either, if the state Board of Education or other state official has accepted the federal funding. Once individuals are enrolled in those systems, they must do as they are told.
Those in charge of the public school system on the state level may be in a position to refuse the federal money, and if they don’t want their public school system to participate in the service based learning, they can refuse to accept it. The only thing individual students and parents can do, in this case, is to actively lobby their state officials to “just say no” to the federal funding.
How may the bill affect homeschoolers? Again, they will not be directly affected, however, they could be indirectly affected. That’s because section 115 of the bill talks about “Participation of Students and Teachers from Private Schools”. Unfortunately, the possibility exists that the bill may affect those homeschool students in those states in which homeschools are considered “private schools”. Unfortunately also, there are many states in which homeschools are considered to be “private schools” today.
One way that the possibility exists that the bill may affect these individuals, is if the laws in those states are written in such a way as to describe the homeschool as under the auspices of a larger entity, such as a larger brick and mortar private school or a public school board. If those private schools or public school boards have accepted federal funding and are participating in the requirements under the bill, a government official may interpret the law to mean that individual homeschoolers also must comply with those requirements.
Has anyone interpreted the laws in those states to require the participation of homeschoolers in the already existing service learning programs? If not, chances are good that they won’t interpret this new law any differently. But that’s not to say that if some government official would never interpret the law in that manner. Government officials bent on acquiring control of individuals often are ingenious in developing alternative ways to exert that control.
NHELD always has recommended against the establishment of laws considering homeschools as “private schools”, for reasons just such as this. It is far easier for any government official looking for a means to have more control over homeschool families to use federal laws such as this to accomplish that goal, than it would be if the homeschools were not considered to be “private schools” at all under any state law.
For those in states where homeschools are considered “private schools”, NHELD urges you to carefully read your statutes, and to carefully read the “GIVE Act”. If after studying those laws, you believe that a potential problem exists, we urge you to educate your local and state officials as soon as possible, and to ask them to take appropriate action.
As always, we, the people, have the ultimate power, and the ultimate responsibility to know what are elected officials are doing, and to prevent them from overstepping their bounds. As tedious as it may be, we all must watch continually, with calm steadfastness and patience, for each piece of legislation being proposed in Washington, and in our state capitols, to make sure that our legislators act Constitutionally and as we, the people, direct them to act. Otherwise, you might as well sit back and allow your rights continue to be eroded.
Judy Aron - Director of Research, NHELD – firstname.lastname@example.org