Milton Gaither, educational historian and author of Homeschool: An American History, once described difficult task of writing the legal history of homeschooling as follows:
One of the greatest achievements of the homeschooling movement was the legalization of homeschooling in the 1980s and early 1990s in every state in the country. Yet this very important story has seldom been told outside the annals of homeschoolers’ own publications. It is a difficult story to tell, for two reasons. First, since U.S. education law is predominantly a state affair and not a federal one, there are actually fifty stories to tell. These fifty stories interface in complicated ways as well: court cases in one state are cited in others, legislative trends become contagious, and national organizations often exert significant influence on local politics. Secondly, the sharp division between closed and open communion homeschoolers we chronicled in the last chapter has left a strong imprint on the way various homeschooling groups themselves have described what happened.
If one reads the closed communion memories and artifacts, one might learn that “the modern homeschool movement was started through a miraculous moving of the Holy Spirit” that began around 1983, prior to which time homeschooling was legal “in only five states,” or perhaps was banned “in all but three states.” It “was treated as a crime in almost every state” and parents who homeschooled “frequently faced jail terms and the loss of their children to foster care.” But “because of HSLDA, which has won virtually every legal battle it has fought, and because of the warm support of Republican legislatures, home schooling is now legal in all 50 states.”
If you read HSLDA’s critics, on the other hand, you get the impression that, while there were some problems, on the whole homeschooling has always been fairly easy to do in most places so long as homeschoolers were civil, and in those places where it was not easy, the heavy lifting had been done before HSLDA even came on the scene. Furthermore, critics allege that most of HSLDA’s work since then has actually made matters worse for homeschoolers. A faithful account of the legislative and legal history of homeschooling must therefore accomplish the difficult task of reducing the various state stories to some sort of manageable order while avoiding the pitfalls of partisan polemics.
We are dedicated to constructing histories of homeschooling that accurately trace the development of homeschooling both legally and culturally. In putting our state histories together, we draw on a variety of material, including HSLDA’s Court Report and John Holt’s Growing Without Schooling, newspaper articles, legislative documents, and histories written by homeschoolers. Our hope is to tell the story of homeschooling in each state from the early years of homeschooling up to the present.
Individual State Histories
Early Alaskan homeschoolers enrolled their children in correspondence schools or operated their homeschools as private schools. In 1997, Alaska passed one of the most most minimal homeschool statutes in the country, removing any previous ambiguity. Nevertheless, Alaska’s correspondence schools tend to be popular among the state’s homeschoolers, likely because they offer access to public funds and various services. For more, see A History of Homeschooling in Alaska.
The Arizona legislature passed a homeschool statute in 1982, requiring parents to pass a proficiency exam and students to take annual standardized tests. In 1993, the legislature removed the proficiency exam requirement, instead requiring parents to have a high school diploma or GED (this requirement, too, was later removed). In 1995, the legislature removed the testing requirement from the state’s homeschool statute. For more, see A History of Homeschooling in Arizona.
When the first Colorado families began homeschooling, state law allowed for education at home with approval of the State Board of Education. However, many homeschooling parents found the requirements of the state board too intrusive, and some enrolled their children in private schools while educating them at home even as the Colorado Department of Education contested the legality of this practice. By the time the 1980s drew to a close, the legality of educating a child at home under the supervision of a private school had been settled a homeschool statute passed in 1988 had replaced state board approval. For more, see A History of Homeschooling in Colorado.
Connecticut’s compulsory education statute includes an exemption when parents are “able to show that the children are elsewhere receiving equivalent instructions in the studies taught in the public schools.” Connecticut has never passed a homeschool statute; from the earliest years of homeschooling to the present, parents have homeschooled under this “equivalent instruction” exemption. In 1982 the State Education Commissioner issued guidelines for school districts to follow when administering this exemption. New guidelines were issued in 1990, but neither set of rules ever had the force of law behind them, making them in effect voluntary. A 2002 bill to make the guidelines law failed to pass. For more, see A History of Homeschooling in Connecticut.
Early homeschoolers sought to operate under the state’s private school law. In 1990, a bill that would have barred homeschoolers from using the private school statute and created a homeschool statute with oversight requirements failed to pass. The legislature finally passed a homeschool statute in 1997, requiring parents to homeschool in affiliation with a homeschool association or under the auspices of the local school district. The state’s current homeschool statute, which classifies homeschools as nonpublic schools with only minimal paperwork needed and dispenses with the requirement to homeschool through a homeschool association or the school district, was passed into law in 2003. For more, see A History of Homeschooling in Delaware.
Early homeschoolers were required to go to the local school district and obtain permission to operate as a private school. Throughout the early 1980s, the state superintendent sought unsuccessfully to define “private school” so as to exclude homeschool. In 1985, the legislature passed the state’s homeschool statute, which was one of the least restrictive in the country. Over a decade later, in 1997, Georgia homeschoolers rebuffed a state lawmaker’s attempt to increase oversight of homeschooling. Finally, in 2013, the legislature made several small changes to the state’s homeschooling law, requiring parents to report to the state superintendent instead of the local board of education and decreasing the amount of reporting required. For more, see A History of Homeschooling in Georgia.
The legality of homeschooling today rests on People v. Levisen (1950). In that decision, the Supreme Court of Illinois stated that homeschools should be allowed to operate as private schools, provided they followed the state’s requirements for such schools. This case was later followed by Scoma v. Chicago Board of Education (1974) which stated that homeschool parents must be able to show that they are providing the required plan of instruction. Over the years, Illinois legislatures and education officials have proposed laws to create more thorough oversight of homeschooling in the state, but none has passed. For more, see A History of Homeschooling in Illinois.
The legality of homeschooling in Indiana rests on State v. Peterman (1904). In that case, the Indiana Appellate Court defined a school as “a place where instruction is imparted to the young” and held that a school at home counts as a private school. In Mazanec v. North Judson-San Pierre School Corporation (1985), the Seventh Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals affirmed the legality of homeschooling and ended local school districts’ jurisdiction over homeschooling. The Indiana General Assembly has never legislated on homeschooling. For more, see A History of Homeschooling in Indiana.
The early years of homeschooling in Iowa were difficult ones, as private instruction was not permitted without a teaching certificate. In 1991, Iowa homeschoolers successfully lobbied for House File 455, which made homeschooling without a teaching certificate legal, subject to certain requirements. In 2013, Rep. Matt Windschitl, assistant majority leader in the Republican-controlled Iowa House of Representatives, slipped a deregulation amendment into House File 215, a bill to reform public education. The bill quietly passed the legislature and was signed into law. As a result, homeschooling in Iowa was completely deregulated. For more, see A History of Homeschooling in Iowa.
In 1984, the Maryland State Board of Education prohibited homeschooling without a teaching certificate. In 1987, after a controversial homeschooling bill was scrapped by the previous year, the Board created a new set of regulations for homeschooling, in consultation with Maryland homeschoolers. In 2011, House Bill 500, which would allow homeschooled children to participate in public school extracurriculars, was introduced to the legislature; it has not made any progress. For more, see A History of Homeschooling in Maryland.
Nebraska has never passed a homeschool law; instead, homeschoolers in the state homeschool under the state’s private school law. Through the early 1980s, Nebraska required private, denominational, and parochial schools to have state accreditation and approval, which included a requirement that all teachers be certified. Ultimately, the State Department of Education allowed private schools to operate without state accreditation and approval, provided they follow certain testing and visitation requirements. In 1987, Attorney General Robert Spire ruled that the state’s testing and visitation requirements could not be arranged in the absence of parental consent. As a result, the State Board of Education does not currently require testing or home visits for homeschoolers. For more, see A History of Homeschooling in Nebraska.
The earliest parents to homeschool in New Hampshire requested permission to homeschool from local school boards. In 1980 the Department of Education sought to resolve disagreements by forming a Home Study Committee, which stated that parents should be allowed to homeschool if they could show that homeschooling would be a benefit to the child. The New Hampshire Supreme Court upheld this requirement in Appeal of Pierce (1982). Growing tensions between homeschoolers and local school boards resulted in the passage of RSA193-A, the state’s current homeschool law, which required annual notice and evaluations. In 2012, the legislature made notification one-time rather than annual and removed the requirement that homeschool parents submit their students’ annual evaluations. For more, see A History of Homeschooling in New Hampshire.
Early homeschoolers homeschooled under the state’s compulsory attendance statute exemption for those receiving “equivalent instruction elsewhere.” In 1997, the state’s Education Commissioner issued guidelines requiring parents to submit an outline of their curriculum to local school boards, but these guidelines were rescinded after protest by the state’s homeschoolers. In 2004, after four adopted children were discovered in a state of intense malnutrition, the New Jersey legislature attempted to pass a bill requiring testing and medical examinations of homeschooled children, but were unsuccessful. For more, see A History of Homeschooling in New Jersey.
New York State is well-known for its rigorous and comprehensive homeschooling standards. Prior to the enactment of New York State’s major homeschooling regulation in 1988, homeschool families and local school districts were engaged in numerous legal and administrative battles over the permissible scope of regulation. The 1988 policy, set forth in Section 100.10 of the state’s Rules and Regulations, established the expansive oversight regime in place today and firmly entrenched New York as one of the leading states with respect to homeschooling accountability. For more, see A History of Homeschooling in New York State.
Early homeschoolers attempted to homeschool under the state’s private school law. Homeschoolers faced opposition from the Department of Non-Public Education (DNPE) until the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled in Delconte v. State (1985) that they should be permitted to operate under the rules governing private schools. In 1987 the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) proposed legislation to bring homeschooling under the jurisdiction of local boards of education. The legislature passed the state’s current homeschool law in 1988, distinguishing homeschools from private schools but keeping them under the authority of the DNPE. For more, see A History of Homeschooling in North Carolina.
After a contentious decade, the North Dakota Legislative Assembly passed the state’s homeschooling law in 1989. Before this year, homeschool parents had been required to have teaching certifications. The 1989 law allowed parents without teaching certifications to homeschool under the supervision of a certified teacher. This requirement was relaxed in 1995. In 1997, the legislature allowed for the homeschooling of developmentally disabled students and standardized the assessment process. Further legal changes have relaxed requirements further, and have allowed homeschooled students to participate in public school extracurriculars. For more, see A History of Homeschooling in North Dakota.
Early homeschoolers made use of a provision allowing superintendents to excuse a child from compulsory attendance if such a child was “being instructed at home by a person qualified to teach the branches in which instruction is required.” Alternatively, some chose to homeschool through association with an existing Christian school and others qualified to operate as non-chartered, non-tax supported schools (also called 08 schools). In 1989, the Ohio State Board of Education adopted official regulations governing homeschooling. These rules remain in effect. For more, see A History of Homeschooling in Ohio.
Early homeschoolers in Tennessee argued that their homeschools should be considered legal private schools. A number of families were prosecuted, and in 1984 two judges found the state’s compulsory attendance law void for vagueness because of its lack of clarity in defining private schools. In 1985 the state legislature passed the state’s homeschool statute. This statute was amended in 1994 and 2011 as the legislature added additional homeschool options, allowing parents to homeschool in affiliation with church-related schools. In 2011 and 2013, the state passed sports access bills, expanding homeschooled students’ access to public school athletics. For more, see A History of Homeschooling in Tennessee.
Virginia created a religious exemption from compulsory attendance in 1976, coinciding with the beginning of the homeschooling movement. However, most families sought to homeschool by operating under the state’s private school laws. The legality of homeschooling under these laws was in question, and in 1982 the Virginia Supreme Court ruled a family doing so. Virginia passed its homeschool statute in 1984. Some parents have continued homeschooling under the religious exemption to the present day, and in January 2014 a proposal to study the application of this exemption was defeated. For more, see A History of Homeschooling in Virginia.
Early homeschooling families requested permission from the Department of Public Instruction or incorporated as private schools. The Department of Public Instruction was highly critical of homeschooling, but in 1983 the Wisconsin Supreme Court declared in State v. Popanz that the state’s compulsory education law “void for vagueness since it fails to define ‘private school.’” In response, the Wisconsin legislature passed a homeschooling law with minimal requirements the following year. This law remains in force today. For more, see A History of Homeschooling in Wisconsin.