Darren Jones wants homeschool families to add this item to their back-to-school checklist for the fall: join a state homeschool organization.
There are lots of good reasons to do this, he explained, but the most important one has to do with basic civics.
“State laws govern your homeschool program,” said Jones, senior counsel and director of group services at Home School Legal Defense Association. “And your state homeschool organization is usually the front line of defense against bad homeschool legislation—and the chief advocate behind good homeschool legislation.”
Their work is especially effective when combined with HSLDA’s efforts to promote homeschooling in all 50 states—and internationally.
Two veteran homeschoolers in leadership positions at state organizations in California and Virginia agree.
Rebecca Kocsis, general manager and support network director for Christian Home Educators Association of California (CHEA), said that many homeschool families don’t realize her organization does much more than run an annual convention and provide occasional training.
“We’re here 12 months out of the year,” Kocsis said.
Yvonne Bunn, director of homeschool support and government affairs for Home Educators Association of Virginia (HEAV), emphasized the same thing about her organization.
Even though Virginia’s legislature convenes for less than two months each spring, HEAV never stops monitoring proposed laws and maintaining a dialogue with lawmakers.
Because state laws directly affect homeschool freedom, Bunn explained, “you need an advocate who can not only be there when the General Assembly is in session, but all year round.”
Active and Informed
State organizations keep an eye on the legislature in a number of ways. They employ lobbyists and examine each new crop of bills. Some have commissioned studies in order to present lawmakers with hard data about who homeschoolers are and what they accomplish.
State groups also keep constituents informed about issues that may require action—from phone calls and emails to specific legislators, to rallies at the state capitols.
To help spread the word about good and bad bills, state organizations work closely with HSLDA. Our joint analyses of legislation, combined with HSLDA’s ability to communicate quickly to a national network of members and friends, make efforts to inspire informed action that much more effective.
In fact, grassroots activism is so fundamental to the cause of homeschooling, recounted Bunn, it figures into the story of HEAV’s genesis.
HEAV formed in the early 1980s, when a coalition of families were lobbying lawmakers to codify the right of parents to teach their children at home. A handful of activists set up a card table outside a statehouse committee room and circulated a newsletter signup sheet—and a state homeschool organization was born.
Making a Difference
Since then, groups such as CHEA and HEAV have helped forge individual homeschool families into a force for freedom that elected officials find hard to ignore.
In 2018, for example, CHEA and Family Protection Ministries worked with other homeschool groups like HSLDA to rally thousands to Sacramento in opposition of a bill that would have added red tape to homeschool laws and invaded the privacy of homeschooling families. Parents and children packed a hearing room for seven hours until the Assembly Education Committee chairman called for a vote—and not one member supported the bill.
For Kocsis, victories like these clearly illustrate how state organizations amplify the collective voice of homeschoolers.
She said that’s why she tells homeschool families, “if they value their freedom, it’s important to join the team. Stand up and be counted.”
There is, of course, much more that state homeschool organizations do.
Many are perhaps best known for hosting large annual conferences. These feature lectures, workshops, opportunities to connect with local homeschool groups, and other activities designed to inspire and inform.
The events also attract a wide range of vendors, including publishers. Jones said that, for this reason, he has found state conferences a great way to sample curriculum for his own homeschool program before making a commitment to purchase an entire year’s worth.
State organizations also make their encouragement and expertise available on a smaller scale. Many keep information about homeschool laws and events on their websites and have staff available to answer queries from parents and local groups leaders.
Bunn recalls how, when she began homeschooling her five children in 1986, Virginia’s homeschool laws were still new. Parents who didn’t take extra care to understand and follow the rules risked serious repercussions.
“We didn’t want to do anything illegally and jeopardize our family,” she said. So they turned to HEAV for information.
The Kocsis family’s story is similar. Rebecca and her husband started homeschooling in the 1980s, too, because they wanted to inculcate in their five children the Christian faith they embraced as adults. They turned to CHEA for information about education laws and ended up volunteering.
As homeschooling has grown, the outreach of state organizations has kept pace, even through the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kocsis said that, over the last 18 months, CHEA “spent a lot of time and energy helping homeschool leaders know what they could do in light of restrictions.”
Instead of one big, in-person conference, CHEA organized a series of virtual events. And now that the health crisis appears to be easing, the group was recently able to put on a curriculum fair in Irvine, California, that drew about 500 participants.
“It was like a big party,” said Kocsis, reflecting on how joyful it felt to finally interact with other homeschoolers face to face. She added that, from CHEA’s perspective, “one of our biggest victories has been hearing leaders say: ‘You’ve helped us weather this storm.’”