National media describe an army of homeschoolers propelling Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee over the top in Iowa, but several blogs suggest not all home educators are marching in lockstep.
“When you understand he’s a Baptist minister, you don’t have to ask what he stands for,” one homeschooler told the Des Moines Register, explaining Huckabee’s appeal.
The Washington Post said an estimated 9,000 Iowa children are homeschooled, and their parents could form a sizeable portion of 80,000 Republicans expected to show up for caucuses Jan. 3.
The Los Angeles Times cited speculation that a quarter or more of Huckabee’s Iowa volunteers are homeschoolers.
“Home-school families are making his campaign into one giant home-school field trip,” Michael Farris of the Home School Legal Defense Association told the New York Times. “They are making a family activity, a civics lesson out of it, if you will–manning phone banks, passing out literature, talking him up in church.”
Farris’ early endorsement of Huckabee, unprecedented for the HSLDA’s political-action arm, received much credit for making the former Arkansas governor a household name among Iowa homeschoolers.
Homeschoolers like the fact that Huckabee appointed the first-ever homeschooler to the Arkansas State Board of Education and signed a pro-homeschooling law in 1997.
“I have been a strong, consistent supporter of the rights of parents to home school their children, of creating more charter schools, and of public school choice,” Huckabee proclaimed on his campaign Web site.
A blog called Home Educators for Mike Huckabee carried this quote: “As Governor of Arkansas, I fought for homeschooling because I believe that ultimately the choice of how to educate our children is best left to parents and not to government bureaucrats.”
“I have the real strong support of the homeschoolers,” Huckabee told CBN’s David Brody, “but I’m also the only Republican that’s ever had the endorsement of an NEA.”
Huckabee is the first Republican to be endorsed by the New Hampshire chapter of the National Education Association. On the Democratic side the group endorsed Sen. Hillary Clinton.
Huckabee explained the irony to CBN.
“My attitude is leave the homeschoolers alone,” he said. “They’re doing a great job. Let them do their business. Let them make those education decisions. But in those public schools, where my own kids went, let’s really reform this. Let’s not make it where we have finger pointing and blame. Let’s pay teachers better. We did that in my state. Let’s expand the curriculum. Let’s have accountability. Let’s have better results. Let’s see those results. Let’s have charter schools and some competition, but make sure that it’s something that we’re all a part of bringing in, and it’s not that we’re blaming teachers for the problems in education.”
Huckabee was the only Republican presidential candidate to address the NEA national gathering in July, and he received a warm welcome.
“I’m astonished there are not more Republican candidates here,” Huckabee told delegates. “Do they not think education is important? Or are they just afraid of the NEA? I don’t know.”
“One of the achievements I’m proud of as governor is when I went into office we had some of the lowest teacher pay in the country,” he told the teacher union. “When I left office, especially if you account for per capita income, we had some of the highest.”
Huckabee’s coziness with the NEA didn’t sit well with some homeschool advocates, who view the organization as an ardent foe.
“Isn’t the NEA the group that has passed a resolution that would effectively end our right to homeschool if implemented?” one blogger reacted. “Isn’t the NEA the group that calls homeschooling parents ‘wannabe amateurs’ on their Web site? Their New Hampshire organization is supporting homeschool-friendly, Mike Huckabee? As a homeschooling mom, this sets off warning bells in my head.”
Another blog argued Huckabee “is not as strong a supporter of homeschooling as his campaign might suggest.”
Two years after signing the 1997 law providing Arkansas homeschoolers with relief, Huckabee signed additional legislation turning back some of the earlier bill, opposed by the HSLDA as giving Arkansas “the unique distinction of becoming the first state in the nation to add restrictions to its existing home school law.”
Asked about the matter in a conference call, Huckabee explained to one blogger the bill he signed in 1999 was a “defensive measure” to prevent an even stronger anti-homeschool bill from becoming law.
That didn’t persuade Karen Braun, who blogs at Spunky Homeschool.
“Huckabee’s signature demonstrates that he is not opposed to compromising our freedom to homeschool in the face of Democrat pressure,” she asked. “Do we want a president who will so easily surrender his principles in the face of sure opposition by Democrats in Congress? As a homeschooler, I want a president that is not afraid to fight against and veto any legislation that would compromise our ability to homeschool no matter who introduces it.”
An open letter at FreeRepublic.com said Huckabee has been against many of the HSLDA’s positions on education, increased funding for education and supported mandated testing. “You wouldn’t go to the football game or the basketball game or the baseball game and say, ‘Just turn the scoreboard off,'” Huckabee said while governor. “And neither could we realistically say we’re really interested in improving the quality of education, but we’re not going to keep score. So do we need tests? Yes.”
Spunky Homeschool said Huckabee can’t have it both ways by being pro-homeschool and pro-NEA, citing an NEA resolution that says, “home schooling programs based on parental choice cannot provide the student with a comprehensive education experience.”
The blogger coined the candidate’s record the “Huckabee Homeschool Hustle.”
“He has somehow convinced homeschoolers in Arkansas that increasing regulation on homeschooling was their only option; even over the objections of the Homeschool Legal Defense Association,” she said. “That’s a pretty good hustle, when you can convince homeschoolers that you know better than the organization whose purpose is to defend them!”
Another blogger observed: “First Huckabee signs a law helping homeschoolers, then signs a law further restricting them. Changing one’s mind on critical issues based on which way the political winds are blowing? Does this remind us of another Arkansas politician?”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.