In addition to recent legislative reforms, West Virginia homeschool families are also benefiting from an improved relationship with the state Department of Education.
Last week I joined John Carey, legislative liaison with Christian Home Educators of West Virginia (CHEWV), and Kathie Crouse, President of West Virginia Home Educators Association (WVHEA), in a meeting with West Virginia superintendent of schools, W. Clayton Burch, and his staff to talk about homeschooling.
Historically unfriendly toward home education, the state Department of Education has become more supportive of homeschooling in recent years. This attitude was confirmed by Superintendent Burch, who says that he wants his department to serve all West Virginians.
“We want all parents to know that we support them in seeking the best education for their kids, whether that is private, public, or homeschooling,” Burch told us. “We want people to have the information. We want this agency to be a service agency, and we serve everyone.”
For homeschoolers, the atmosphere in West Virginia has changed dramatically in a short time.
Changes in the Statehouse
Now, there are numerous homeschooling parents serving in the legislature—and the current chairs of the House and Senate education committees are homeschooling parents! More homeschool-friendly laws have been passed in West Virginia than in any other state in the last seven years.
HSLDA, along with our partners CHEWV and WVHEA, have been effective in recommending and supporting the passage of at least five bills during that time period. These bills have made homeschooling a more accessible option for West Virginia parents, preparing the way for the rapid growth of homeschooling in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.
Data from the US Census Bureau suggest that homeschooling has at least doubled since 2020.
Examples of bills that have passed include the following:
- reducing unnecessary bureaucracy when reporting to school districts;
- recognizing homeschool diplomas for the purpose of college admission and employment;
- empowering homeschool parents to certify academic progress for driver’s license purposes;
- authorizing homeschool parent to issue work permits; and
- requiring public institutions to recognize homeschool transcripts.
These achievements would not have been possible without the numerous homeschool parents who determined that they would run for office and get elected. Senator Patricia Rucker, a homeschooling mother of five, serves as chair of the Senate Education Committee. The vice chair of that same committee is Senator Robert Karnes, a homeschooling father of nine. The chair of the House Committee of Education is Delegate Dr. Joe Ellington, who also homeschooled his children.
This kind of service in state political office can have a tremendously positive impact, and HSLDA commends these individuals and all others who have served.
John Carey, who has been CHEWV’s legislative liaison for almost 30 years, said that the present environment is unbelievable.
“I remember how hard it was to fight to make it possible for parents to be able to homeschool through high school back in 2003,” he recalled. “It used to be that you had to have a college diploma to homeschool all the way through high school. It was hard to roll that requirement back. But the progress made in the last seven years is nothing short of miraculous.”
He added: “It’s a real testimony to having a national organization like HSLDA backing up our state organizations. I always like to tell legislators when I’m at the capitol that I carry a lawyer around in my pocket”—by which he means me and the legal staff at HSLDA. “I know I can always call and get a hold of Mike in a heartbeat. And he is well known in the capitol. We never could have made this much progress without HSLDA’s investment in this kind of work.”
Kathie Crouse, who made news when she started homeschooling over 10 years ago, runs the WVHEA organization and handles calls from all over the state. She also credited the positive changes in West Virginia to the long-term efforts of many.
“I started homeschooling because my kids were being mistreated in the public schools,” she said. “The schools did not serve my children well, and that is true of many of our fellow citizens. Homeschooling needs to be an easy option for parents whose kids are being bullied or having other problems. That is why I got involved with WVHEA.”
She added: “I know that when I encounter a tough problem, I can refer people to HSLDA and they will get the best help possible. I’m really glad that the state Department of Education and Clayton Burch understand that parents have a right to homeschool, and that they are willing to support parents who choose homeschooling. I’ve really appreciated the staff at the Department of Education who have been willing to work with me and to contact school districts when needed to clarify the law. That has been a real help.”
Freedom and Information
At our meeting last week, Crouse, Carey, and I spoke with staff for about 90 minutes, discussing a number of initiatives that the Department of Education is considering to improve the flow of information about homeschooling. One of those projects is a page on the WVDE website with information to help different groups to understand homeschooling.
I shared the example of my experience working with the Ohio Department of Education to develop a web page about homeschooling and how helpful this was, as long as it contained accurate information.
I recommended that the department consider providing links for employers, colleges, schools, and parents on the new web page. When people have access to accurate information, that helps the homeschool community.
HSLDA intervenes in many cases where these groups are simply unaware of the law and might be skeptical of a letter from an HSLDA attorney—even though we are extremely familiar with homeschool law. Being able to point to a state agency website helps affirm what we are saying and would go a long way toward advancing a climate where homeschooling is recognized by everyone as a mainstream educational option.
The work of CHEWV and WVHEA—along with their leaders—to advocate for homeschooling families consistently and passionately over the years has been invaluable. West Virginia has some of the hardest-working homeschooling organizations in the country. HSLDA highly recommends you support them. Joining HSLDA is an important way you can protect your family and support the continued growth of homeschooling. Not a member? Join today at www.hslda.org/join.