The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has led many more Americans to discover the benefits of homeschooling, but this trend is receiving mixed responses from officials and legislatures.
Growth in homeschooling during the latter part of 2020 also corresponded with a drop in public school enrollment. This has prompted some officials to seek legislation that will grant them more authority to monitor and regulate homeschoolers.
Unfortunately, officials’ unchallenged control over public school children leads them to believe they are responsible for all children’s education.
This instinct to monitor and regulate undermines what parents have found to be key strengths of homeschooling. Parents who have chosen to take full responsibility for educating their children have discovered one of the greatest contrasts between traditional classroom education and the homeschool approach is the incredible freedom and flexibility to customize each child’s learning experience.
Michigan State Superintendent Michael Rice, for example, recently lamented the loss of 50,000 students from public school rolls and argued that he needs better tools to help identify and serve these youths.
“We can’t distinguish between children who are being homeschooled at the present time and children who aren’t being educated at all,” Rice told Michigan media. “This gap needs to be addressed with a change in state law.”
Rice’s concerns have been echoed by authorities in several states. Late in 2020, a Kentucky lawmaker pledged to draft legislation increasing homeschool regulations in the Bluegrass State. In Iowa, a bill calling for increased scrutiny of homeschool families has already been introduced.
Moving Toward Freedom
According to Home School Legal Defense Association President Mike Smith, there’s nothing terribly surprising about these developments.
“Every year we monitor legislation to see if there are measures that might restrict the ability of parents to direct the education of their children,” he said.
Thanks to the advocacy of our members and state organizations, the trend has been toward greater homeschool freedom—especially as families continue to illustrate the effectiveness of this educational option.
Smith added that he was a little puzzled that officials would make restricting homeschooling a priority, when so many families have found it a safe and effective way of keeping their kids learning during a pandemic.
Smith also noted that HSLDA encourages homeschool families to connect with others and plug into support networks so they are homeschooling in the strength of community.
Numbers Tell the Story
In fact, in the past year, several states have reported a remarkable surge in homeschooling.
According to the Raleigh News & Observer, from July 1 through January 22, more than 18,000 families filed notices of their intent to homeschool in North Carolina—compared to about 8,000 during the same period a year earlier.
Various media also reported that in Wisconsin, from July through mid-October 2020, homeschool notices were filed for 26,600 students—up from 14,800 students in 2019.
Nicole Washington, a consultant with Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction, told the Dubuque Telegraph Herald in an article on homeschooling in several states, “One could make an assumption that, based on the state of the pandemic and maybe families not feeling comfortable with in-person learning that a homeschool approach might be a better fit for the families.”
Seeking More Control
Unfortunately, some officials have expressed a less-accommodating view of this historic change in how children are being educated.
According to the Lexington Herald Leader, a number of public school superintendents in Kentucky have asked legislators to draft laws to “ensure that adults providing K–12 educational instruction in homeschools meet some minimum educational and safety requirements.”
The newspaper went on to quote Jim Flynn, executive director of the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents, as saying, “We know that by and large homeschooling parents care deeply for their children and provide quality academic instruction. We are concerned with those who misuse the homeschooling statute to avoid accountability for truancy, disciplinary actions, or even worse.”
Meanwhile, in Iowa, the Telegraph Herald reported that state Rep. Bruce Hunter “filed a bill that would require districts to conduct quarterly visits with families providing home instruction to check on children’s health and safety.”
Tide of History
HSLDA Senior Counsel Scott Woodruff noted that the Iowa homeschool bill is probably not so much a response to the pandemic as it is a recycled version of similar legislation that has failed to gain traction in previous years.
There is no evidence that the type of regulations this bill espouses provide any benefit to anyone.
He added that he remains committed to defending homeschool families from unreasonable restrictions.
“Most state legislatures get it,” Woodruff said. “When they sit down and think through the issues, they consistently vote against adding new regulations on homeschool families.”
HSLDA Staff Attorney Tj Schmidt agreed, recounting how previous attempts to increase homeschool restrictions in Kentucky have also failed, in part because advocates have shown that existing regulations are more than adequate.
“The current homeschool law in Kentucky is as stringent, if not more so, than all of the states surrounding the commonwealth,” he said. “Homeschool parents must educate their children in the same subjects that are required in public schools and they must maintain records of their children’s progress.”
Not Going Back
And as for determining what kind of progress children who homeschool are making, officials would be well-advised to listen to families who actually made the switch to home education in order to cope with the pandemic.
North Carolina mom Terah Boyd pulled her children with special needs out of public school when she discovered distance learning was not working for them.
She told Today.com that homeschooling made a world of difference.
“It's really amazing to watch the lightbulb go off in their head as they grasp things that they hadn’t been able to in school,” she said. As for her daughter, Boyd explained, “in the classroom … she wasn’t learning. So to see her actually get concepts and remember things I’m teaching her because her environment is conducive to her, it’s really amazing.”
She added: “I could not possibly send them back. They need to be at the front of the class, not the back.”