Every state requires parents to send their children to public school with two exceptions, private schools and homeschools. Private schools are regulated by the same state political entities as the public schools. State regulations vary, but most regulate private schools like public schools. The difference comes as private schools provide their own local authority under state law.
The state sets guidelines for registration and certification.1 Requirements for teacher certification and length of school day and school year are set. Curriculum must be approved and meet state minimums. Records must be kept and things like attendance reported to the state. Health and safety certifications of teachers and staff from the state adhere to the qualification for all educators in the state. Textbooks and testing may have to be approved, depending on the state. Parents engage the private school and authority is transferred by the state for that child to the private school.
Homeschools fall under special statutes within each state. This is also summarized in the private school document referred to above. Because no mechanism exists for transferring education authority to the parent-teacher, the homeschool child remains under the same Local Education Authority (LEA) as the public schools. Homeschools must meet fewer state standards than other private schools, but the ultimate authority lies in the LEA. Usually, parents deal with the district employees who work for the superintendent who represents the LEA.
When parents withdraw children from public education, it is a political act, not necessarily for the parent, but always for the district. The parent may not recognize the political impact, but the district does. The public school loses revenue and loses influence. The elected school board and the district superintendent retain primary educational authority over the child. The district assures that the family adheres to all state and federal laws. If a family naively breaks a rule, the district can and will call the sheriff or social services.
Consequently parents should never just file the declaration of withdrawal and happily run off with their children and Charlotte Mason2 to pursue learning. Even though most districts have a light touch with homeschoolers, the parents should do two things to assure they do not run afoul of the LEA or any district employees accidentally.
First, the prospective homeschool parent should identify the various people in the local district, but especially the Superintendent and the Board Members. This information is often hard to find. Call the local school to get the times of the next public meeting. Attend. Attend online if the COVID rules are still in force. Take notes. Be on the lookout for policies, or changes in policies, that will affect your homeschool.
Second, the parent should learn the day jobs, resumes, and public statements of members. School boards set policy and make decisions for a public school district. Since no elected homeschool parent sits on a school board, it is fair to assume that all the members on the LEA are politically opposed to what the homeschool parent is doing. School Boards are both rule-making and enforcement groups, just like the County Commissioners and the City Council. Decisions in school board meetings affect the community. Much local regulation in your area comes from school politicians. School boards are the most powerful local government. They have huge budgets. Small does not matter. COVID teaches that local power over individuals can be devastating. Who could name a County Public Health Administrator in 2019?
Public education is a very powerful political force in every state. Education in Colorado is 34% of the entire state budget. Many millions of dollars are dispensed from the state government through the unpaid school boards. The education budget is much larger than the municipal budgets in most districts. The elected school board members are among the most influential politicians in the state. They also strive to be low-key. Bottom of the ballot. Nothing to see here.
Parents should follow the money. Paid School Board Members receive modest compensation. Often they make less than custodians at any school. They hold other jobs. The parent should know who pays specific district school board members. Many have income associated with education. No district allows board members to be district employees, but many are teachers’ union employees or consultants on education policy. They are democratically elected by the voters in the district. Like most judges, LEA members are non-partisan elected officials who serve 2, 4, or 6 year terms with staggered elections so that no more than a third are up for election. No single election could change the ideology inside any existing board.
As a governing body a school board strives to administer by consensus, keeping individual disagreements and perspectives private, backing the actions of the superintendent. This sort of democratically elected administrative and rule making body used to be called a soviet, but fashion is off that term. Under any name, this is the democratic organization most vulnerable to authoritarian influence. Anyone who tried to get changes through the PTA, or in a parent-teacher meeting, will understand that the voter-parent has very little influence and is included only to provide consensus. Board Members receive orientation when elected. Usually this orientation comes from the National School Boards Association, where the majority of members in any district belong. In the NSBA words the mission is to provide leadership.
The NSBA is a lobbying organization that educates the 19,000 individual elected LEA members. National policy runs downhill to all the 12,000 school districts in the country. The Department of Education and State Secretaries of Education listen to the NSBA. Local members join to have influence over state and federal policy.
Homeschools stand in opposition to this massive political machine. Because homeschools are legally self-funded, they are also a drain on the machine resources. The justification for taxation and appropriation to fund this multi-billion dollar industry comes from “butts in seats.” The LEA cannot stop a homeschool parent who abides by state law, but it might like to.
Moreover, public education continues a movement. The people who run for this political office at the local level, and serve on the cheap, see themselves as good people. They continue a great tradition in public education. As Frederick Taylor Gates said, “In our dream, we have limitless resources, and the people yield themselves with perfect docility to our molding hand.” Gates’ dream of 1913 is the public school reality of 2021. Homeschool families are not yielding themselves with perfect docility. Homeschools are suspect.
Homeschool parents want to teach their children the basics away from dangerous and ideological environments, but this is not how the district administration will see it. Many LEA members see the homeschool as pulling away from all the good things that public education brings to society.
This is not the 20th Century and the last of the ignorant rural folk faded long ago with the cotton sack into old pictures. Now most families work in offices and stores. People no longer need to be condescended to, if ever they did. In 2021 every person who has a smart phone or access to the internet has more information and educational opportunity available than the most educated elite in 1913. Automation and information changed everything. The cotton fields of LBJ’s Texas are mechanized. Everything changed and got better except the public school system and it’s archaic political skeleton.
Homeschooling is the future as surely as the smartphone replaced dial-tone. Homeschooling serves the people destined for something greater than the local district has in mind for them. The incubator is here today where literate adults mature, where children emerge from the home prepared to become lawyers or preachers, politicians or statesmen. How can we know this? We know because homeschool creates excellence when it is focused on the individual talents and needs of individual children, run by the people who know them best and care for them most. Nothing stops that.
1“State Regulation of Private Schools” by The Department of Education, Office of Innovation and Improvement, Office of Non-Public Education https://www2.ed.gov/admins/comm/choice/regprivschl/regprivschl.pdf