In the 1980s in Texas the modern home school movement was in its infancy. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) had declared that home schools were not private schools and therefore were in violation of the compulsory attendance laws. The TEA encouraged school districts to prosecute home school families. More than 100 families in Texas were prosecuted for simply teaching their children at home.
When attorney Shelby Sharpe filed a class action lawsuit against the state of Texas to put an end to this legal harassment of home schooling families, it seemed like a very reasonable approach, to most of us. However, many home schoolers fell prey to fear-mongering arguments that this suit against the state would in fact result in more regulation rather than less. One group even went so far as to oppose the suit in court.
I’ll never forget speaking to a friend, who argued that his family had not had any problems so he didn’t see a need for this legal action, in spite of the scores of other families across Texas who had been prosecuted by the state. There were vigorous debates and arguments all over the state between those who saw this suit as an appropriate reaction to defend home schooling and those who saw it as simply an action that would draw the ire of the state and result in more state control.
From our perspective today, the Leeper decision was a huge victory that not only secured freedom for Texas home schoolers but that also had an impact across the nation.
Today a similar debate is raging over the legislation to allow home school students to participate in University Interscholastic League (UIL) activities (SB 929 & HB 1374). Interestingly, we are hearing the same kinds of arguments against this effort we heard 25 years ago against the Leeper lawsuit.
The major argument that we hear from home schoolers against these current bills is that passing this legislation would ultimately result in the regulation of all home schoolers. This fear is based on the assumption that if we receive some service from the state, we will be regulated. The premise of this argument is that if we don’t allow home schoolers to make this choice, our freedom will be secure henceforth and forever. That, of course, is a false premise.
One thing we can say from decades of experience is that some in Austin will always oppose the freedom that parents have in Texas to teach their children at home. Virtually every session we see bills filed to erode or limit that freedom. That is why THSC exists and why we spend a great deal of time and money each session monitoring legislation and killing any and every attempt to limit the right of parents in Texas to home school—things we have already done this session.
Those who argue that not passing this bill will keep us free are misinformed. The same arguments could have been made when we changed the law to force the public schools to allow home school students to take the PSAT because in some areas that’s the only place those tests are offered. Opponents could also have said the same thing when we changed the law to require public universities to recognized home school graduates as high school graduates and when federal law was amended to make home school graduates eligible for student loans or grants. When we passed laws to require community colleges to allow home school students to take dual credit classes the same as public school students; to guarantee that home schoolers receive child support benefits or public assistance; or to allow military enlistment, etc., the same things could have been said, but they were not. I could go on and on, but my point is that all of these changes that were made to allow home school students to have equal access to the same benefits as public school students could have been opposed on the same basis as the arguments made today against the “Tim Tebow Bills.” Why is it that only on this issue does the argument get raised by so many? I believe it is out of fear.
Texas is one of the freest home school states in the nation because we have worked diligently to change laws to eliminate artificial barriers against home schooling and have worked even harder to oppose any attempt to take away our freedom. We didn’t get here by cowering in our homes and hoping the government would not take our freedoms away if we didn’t do anything.
In 1913 UIL was established by the Texas Legislature, and its first constitution made it available for all students in Texas. Two years later that document was changed to allow only “white public school students” to participate. At that time, according to evidence presented at the Leeper vs. Arlington ISD case, as many as 80% of the students in Texas were being home schooled. UIL was forced in the late 1960s to allow minority students into UIL. It’s time that home school students are allowed back in as well!