Op-Ed Graduates Win Military Equality

by J. Michael Smith, HSLDA President

The Senate's passage of the National Defense Reauthorization Act in December advances the gains homeschoolers have made in their quest to be treated equally by the military. Included within the act is an amendment called Section 522, which instructs the Pentagon to develop a policy whereby homeschool graduates can compete equally with their peers from institutional schools.

It has taken many years for homeschoolers to reach this point. As recently as 1998 most home-educated graduates were barred from full military service. Prior to 1998, homeschoolers were considered to be dropouts and therefore could not enter the military on the same footing as public school graduates. Homeschoolers were placed in a lower category, or tier, and consequently experienced discrimination simply because their high school diploma was earned through an alternative method of education.

The tier structure, which governs how new recruits are admitted into the military, posed significant problems for homeschoolers. New recruits without traditional high school qualifications are placed in Tier II, which is designed for people who are thought to possess fewer skills and abilities. Starting a military career in Tier II, rather than Tier I, disqualifies recruits from making significant upward progression. The rigid tier structure of the military left little room for homeschoolers.

Fortunately, a five-year pilot program was started by Congress in 1998 that allowed homeschoolers full access to the armed services. But this program was ended, after a one-year extension, in fall 2004.

Homeschoolers were left in limbo, and many of the Home School Legal Defense Association's member families were unable to get their children into the military and asked for our help. In response, we have been negotiating with the Department of Defense to resolve the problems facing homeschoolers when they try to enlist.

In January 2005, the Department of Defense issued a letter stating that homeschoolers were considered "preferred enlistees" and that there were no "practical limits" to the numbers of homeschoolers who could obtain entrance into the armed services. Ever since then, the Department of Defense has worked with HSLDA to resolve almost every local recruitment problem concerning homeschool graduates.

In particular, the Army has been favorable to homeschoolers and adhered to the assistant secretary of defense's January 2005 policy. Recently, the other branches (Navy, Air Force and Marines) began offering the same benefits for homeschoolers as the Army, including cash bonuses, college funds and availability of positions.

The "preferred enlistment" status currently given to homeschool graduates enhances the Tier II category so that it is essentially equivalent to Tier I. There should be no significant difficulties experienced by homeschoolers seeking to gain access to the military.

With the passage of the new legislation, Congress will declare that the military must always treat homeschoolers fairly. Without the legislation, it would be possible for the Department of Defense to simply change its policy and exclude homeschoolers again.

HSLDA looks forward to continuing to work with the Department of Defense to ensure that homeschoolers are simply treated equally. If homeschoolers are treated equally, then HSLDA is confident that, over the years, thousands of homeschoolers will be welcomed into the ranks of the military, distinguish themselves, and prove the merits of a home education while protecting our nation's freedom.

Michael Smith is the president of the Home School Legal Defense Association. He may be contacted at (540)338-5600; or send email to media@hslda.org.