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Feature Article: A Fifteen Year Perspective
ifteen years ago, when Michael Farris and Michael Smith founded Home School Legal Defense Association in March of 1983, home schooling was just a tiny blip on the education radar screen. The concept of parents teaching their children at home was relatively obscure, and the families who chose to follow this non-traditional education route were fairly certain to face opposition from the educational bureaucracy and following legal entanglements, as well as from their own friends and family.
     Looking back over the years it is amazing to see how the home school movement grew and developed, and how God has led Home School Legal Defense Association to where we are today. HSLDA started with a handful of member families, Mike Farris working from his home in Olympia, Washington, and Mike Smith from his law office in Santa Monica, California. Shortly thereafter, Mike Farris was hired to head up the legal department for Concerned Women for America in Washington, DC. He moved his family east, and the HSLDA office relocated to Fort Worth, Texas. In 1984, attorney Jordan Lorence was hired to work two part-time jobs; one half of his time was devoted to HSLDA, the other half to CWA. At that time the membership records were transferred from Fort Worth to Washington, DC. Within a year, Home School Legal Defense Association’s membership had grown to the point that a real office and a full-time staff were needed. Melinda Allen was HSLDA’s first full-time employee, followed by Christopher Klicka who was hired as executive director to handle membership services and legal contacts. Mike Farris was full-time by the fall of 1986, and Mike Smith by March of 1987.
     Today, Home School Legal Defense Association employs over 50 staff members in both full-time and part-time positions. Our office is now in Purcellville, Virginia, about 50 miles west of Washington, DC.
     All six of HSLDA’s attorneys are home schooling dads. Among our current staff, we are home schooling, or have finished home schooling, 42 children. Over 20 home school graduates work for us in various staff positions. Defending home schoolers is not just a job for us, it is our very way of life and our heartfelt conviction.
     Although HSLDA has changed in the past fifteen years—in terms of the size of our membership, the number of staff, and our physical location—our original vision and purpose remains unchanged. HSLDA exists expressly for the purpose of advocating family and freedom. During the last decade-and-a-half, home schooling has been recognized as “legal” in every state. Each state varies, however, as to the manner in which it restricts the right of parents to teach their children at home. Because of vague or overly-restrictive laws, many parents still face criminal prosecution every year.
     The cost of membership in Home School Legal Defense Association has not increased in 13 years. Although our costs of operation have risen during that time, the number of families who have joined makes it possible for us to maintain the $100 annual cost of membership per family. The National Center for Home Education was founded by HSLDA in February 1990 to serve state leaders by providing information about state and federal legislation of concern to home schoolers. The National Center also works on special public relations projects related to home schooling and functions as a clearing house of major home school research, news, and resources. Regional support group leadership seminars, a national leadership conference, and a federal legislative leadership briefing are sponsored by this division of HSLDA each year. In January 1993, the National Center launched the Congressional Action Program (CAP) in response to concern raised by many home school families over the direction of the Clinton Administration’s policy regarding parental rights and education reform. CAP helps home schoolers identify and target for action federal measures which have a direct impact on home schooling.
     In the fall of 1991, HSLDA of Canada was launched in response to repeated calls for assistance from Canadian home schoolers, and after a couple of years, our neighbors to the north were able to take off on their own. More recently, one of our senior staff members helped the fledgling home school movement in South Africa start their own National Home Education Defense Fund. HSLDA has also assisted individual home educating families around the globe in establishing the freedom to home school to whatever extent we can. Whether through diplomacy, letter writing, or simply personal encouragement, we do all we are able to help secure the right of parents to teach their own children wherever they live.
     Home School Legal Defense Association’s original vision was to help home schoolers and only home schoolers, and we have remained faithful to that vision. We are committed to the overall success and advocacy of home education in the arenas of the courts, education, the media, Congress, state legislatures, churches, families, and neighborhoods. And we will continue to provide our very best efforts to advance freedom for families to teach their children at home, here and around the world.

published by Home School Legal Defense Association
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