She Spent 10 Years Working to Improve the Law. Now She’s Running for Office.
by Maggie McKneely • May 9, 2018
Maryalice Newborn lives her life one step of faith at a time. She started out as a successful mechanical engineer, then gave it up to be a homeschooling mom to her five kids at a time when homeschooling was still uncommon. And now she’s changing course yet again by campaigning to be a state representative.
A decade-long effort
It was in 2004 that Home School Legal Defense Association first got to know Maryalice. Pennsylvania had the most restrictive home education law in the nation—Act 169—and Maryalice and her husband Mark were fed up with it.
Under this law, homeschooling families were required to submit their documentation and curriculum to the local school districts for approval. For the Newborn family, this law was philosophically burdensome. “The fact that the Pennsylvania law required a government official to determine the appropriateness of a religious education” was unacceptable, Maryalice said.
But Maryalice is a problem-solver; instead of merely accepting a law that forced her to act against her convictions, she decided to change it.
With help from HSLDA, the Newborn family filed a lawsuit against the Franklin Regional School District, arguing that they should be granted an exemption from Act 169 under Pennsylvania’s Religious Freedom Protection Act. At the same time, she worked on legislation that would fix the offensive parts of the law.
From 2004 to 2014, HSLDA attorneys Jim Mason, Darren Jones, and others fought alongside Maryalice and her family as they worked to make the Pennsylvania homeschool law less onerous. The case went back and forth between state and federal courts for 10 long years.
“It was very uncomfortable to put my family out there under public scrutiny,” Maryalice said. But she and Mark refused to let the case go.
In 2014, just before the case was scheduled to appear in front of yet another court, the passage of House Bill 1013 rendered the Newborns’ case moot. The bill, which Maryalice helped write, eliminated the requirement that a public school superintendent review homeschool documentation.
Maryalice’s kids had all moved on to college by the time the battle was over. But for Pennsylvania homeschooling families today, Maryalice’s perseverance means that they have more educational freedom than the generation before them.
An unusual choice with a lasting impact
Before she took on the Pennsylvania court system, Maryalice already had an impressive résumé, further testament to her hard-working spirit. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Marquette, a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Carnegie Mellon, and another master’s in business from Duquesne, she worked as a senior technical strategist at Alcoa before opening her own consulting firm. It was at Alcoa that Maryalice met her husband, Mark.
Eventually Maryalice took a step of faith and left her thriving engineering profession to begin her second career as a homeschooling mom—an unusual choice at that time.
She chose to homeschool because she loved her kids and “wanted to continue being a part of their lives,” a sentiment all homeschooling parents can relate to. Maryalice simply wanted to be the main influence in her children’s lives. But she had no idea of the impact that her decision to homeschool would have on the entire state of Pennsylvania.
Her kids are now pursuing their own successful careers, and their achievements are evidence that, for the Newborn family, homeschooling was the right choice. Her oldest son is an attorney and occasionally helps Maryalice on the campaign trail. Maryalice’s daughter became a calculus professor and recently added motherhood to her résumé. Another son is in medical school, the fourth is working on a doctorate in chemistry, and the youngest is pursuing her doctorate in occupational therapy.
“Everything isn’t solved by a bill”
Now, Maryalice is preparing for the next chapter. She’s not running for office because she’s particularly political; it’s just that she knows that Harrisburg has a lot of problems and she has a lot of experience fixing them.
Maryalice believes her years as a homeschooling mom will make her an effective representative. According to her, homeschooling moms have to have a bit of a do-it-yourself mindset.
“Everything was a learning experience,” she said—especially in the early days of homeschooling, before there were all of the resources and support that there are now. “Whenever I had to do something I had never done before, I just figured it out!”
She applied this attitude to her campaign by going without expensive consultants and instead finding the most frugal way to get the data and information she needed. She believes that if she’s elected, that perspective will help her look for unique and fresh solutions. Maryalice understands that “everything isn’t solved by a bill—bringing together resources and people to try and solve problems is important.”
Maryalice is not afraid of looking for whatever the next chapter in her life is, now that her kids are grown, even if that means jumping into politics. And she wants other homeschooling parents to have that same kind of daring. They “should be courageous and take the next step on the path that God gave them. Because for me, taking that first step into homeschooling was a step of faith, and this next step into politics is another step of faith.”