This article was originally copied (with permission) from Tim Lambert's blog "Right in Texas". That blog was discontinued with selected articles archived at the Texas Home School Coalition website.

A Home School History Lesson

Tim Lambert

President of the Texas Home School Coalition

Home education continues to grow by leaps and bounds not only in Texas, but also all over the country. Many estimate that the number of home schooling families is increasing by 15 percent per year. Nationally, some put the number of home educators at around one million. In Texas, there are between 75,000 and 100,000 families home educating. As more and more people make the ultimate choice in education, the advocates for this educational alternative multiply. As we become aware of the background of this movement from a national and state perspective, we are better able to defend this precious freedom. Some say that if we do not learn from our history we are doomed to repeat it.

National Background

In colonial America, home education was the norm, and the literacy rate was around 98 percent. Our founding fathers had a strong conviction that children should be able to read for the very important reason of reading the Bible for the spiritual benefits and truth it contained. Sometimes parents would join together to hire a teacher to teach their children subjects in which they did not feel qualified.

Later, education developed into religious training as many of the universities in the Ivy League were established to train ministers. The entrance requirements often included being able to read and translate Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. Eventually, communities and states began to establish schools supported by government funds; however, these schools continued to have a very distinctive religious flavor as evidenced by the use of the New England Primer which was so popular at that time. In fact, the Catholic parochial school movement began in this country as a response to what Catholics perceived as the overt Protestant nature of the public schools.

In the 1880s, the compulsory attendance movement began. Those promoting this viewpoint argued that the state had a compelling interest to make sure that every child received an education so that they might be productive citizens. Some of those opposing compulsory attendance at that time contended that these laws eroded the authority of the parents by making the state the final authority rather than the parent. One by one states passed compulsory attendance laws, but public schools continued for some time to have a distinctly Christian character.

However in the early 1960s, the United States Supreme Court issued a series of decisions that would dramatically change the face of public education in this county and set the stage for a return to home schooling. The U.S. Supreme Court declared that it was a violation of the Constitution to read the Bible, pray, or even post the Ten Commandments in a public school.

As a direct result of these changes, private Christian schools began to spring up all over the county. The proliferation of such schools was an attempt by parents to give their children an education integrated with the values that they held. Ten years later, the circle was completed as parents began to teach their own children at home. As this movement has grown, we are discovering the benefits of the tutorial method and low teacher/student ratios with which our founding fathers were so familiar.

In Texas

On a state level, home education has been an accepted method of education since the days of the Texas Republic. The state department of education, the Texas Education Agency (TEA), had never attempted to regulate, oppose, or discourage home schooling in Texas until 1981. In that year, the TEA issued a policy that stated, “Educating a child at home is not the same as private school instruction, and therefore, not an acceptable substitute.” (Sic)

The matter did not come into open conflict until the much publicized case of the State v. Short, (Dallas County, 1982). In this case, the Richardson ISD took the Short family to court for educating their daughters at home. Dave Haigler, the lawyer for the Shorts, was interviewed on the CBS evening news after the judge had ruled against the family; however, the next morning, the justice of the peace reversed himself and ruled in favor of the Short family. The legal argument of vagueness of the law became the standard defense used by home schoolers all over the country.

As a direct result of the change in the TEA’s policy, over 100 families were prosecuted by school districts for violation of the compulsory attendance law. In those days, the attitude of most home school families in Texas was one of fear. At home school meetings, people did not give out their addresses or phone numbers and the thought of a list of the group getting out to the public created much anxiety and apprehension.

In March 1985, attorney Shelby Sharpe, on behalf of several home school families and curriculum suppliers, filed a lawsuit against all the school districts in Texas on behalf of all home educators in Texas. In what became known as the Leeper vs. Arlington class action suit (Leeper v. Arlington I.S.D. No. 17-88761-85), home educators asked the court to give a declaratory judgment on the question of whether or not the legislature had intended home schools to be private schools when they enacted the compulsory attendance statute in 1915. The basic question was, are home schools private schools?

In the Leeper court proceedings, one point that was established and never challenged by the state was that in the early 1900s, when the compulsory attendance law was passed by the legislature, over 70 percent of the students in Texas were being taught at home. Lawmakers would most certainly not have enacted a law that would have had over half of the population in violation of it. It seems that home education was the norm in Texas even in the early 1900s.

While the Leeper case was pending, Texas Attorney General Jim Mattox was seeking to negotiate with the lead attorney in the case, Shelby Sharpe, to get him to drop the suit in exchange for regulations or rules passed by the TEA. The case was not dropped. Finally, the attorney general encouraged the TEA and the State Board of Education (SBOE) to set up a new accreditation agency within the TEA. This agency would accredit private schools. The purpose of this was to settle the issue of what is a private school by defining it as one accredited by this body.

The SBOE held a public hearing on this issue in April of 1986 in Austin. To the shock of the TEA and SBOE, approximately 6,000 people appeared to testify and protest what they perceived to be government intrusion into private education. This rally came to be known as the “Austin TEA Party.” Several legislators testified that neither the TEA nor the SBOE had any authority to deal with private education because the Texas Legislature had not given them that authority by statute. The Texas Education Code applies only to public education. The SBOE finally passed a resolution asking the Texas Legislature to define private schools or give them the authority to do so. The legislature refused to do either.

In April of 1987, the Tarrant County District Court ruled that home schools are indeed private schools. The court said that if the parent or one standing in parental authority has a curriculum that covers the basic areas of reading, spelling, grammar, math, and a course in good citizenship (civics), and he is pursuing it in a bona fide (not a sham) manner, the student is attending a private school and is therefore exempt from the compulsory attendance statute.

In January of 1987, the class action lawsuit finally came to trial. The trial lasted for a week and a half and included expert testimony from such national figures as R. J. Rushdoony, Raymond Moore, and Sam Blumenfeld. On April 13, 1987, presiding Judge Charles J. Murray issued a decision (binding on all 1,100 school districts) which was a complete vindication of the rights of parents to educate their children at home in the State of Texas. The judge concluded that:

“A school-age child residing in the State of Texas who is being educated in a bona fide manner by the parents, or those standing in parental authority, in or through the child’s home using a curriculum, consisting of books, workbooks, other written materials, including that which appears on an electronic screen of either a computer or video tape monitor, or any combination of the preceding from either (1) a private or parochial school which exists apart from the child’s home or (2) which has been developed or obtained from any source, said curriculum designed to meet basic education goals of reading, spelling, grammar, mathematics and a study of good citizenship, is in attendance upon a private or parochial school within the meaning of Section 25.086(a)(1) of the Texas Education Code and exempt from the requirements of compulsory attendance at a public school.”

The case was appealed by the state, and on November 23, 1991, the Court of Appeals, Second District, upheld the lower court’s ruling completely and without changes. The state again appealed, and in June of 1994, the Texas Supreme Court, in a unanimous 9-0 decision {Texas Educ. Agency v. Leeper, 893 S.W.2d 432 (Tex. 1994)}, confirmed the lower court’s decision.

As a result, the only requirements for home schooling to be legal are that (1) the instruction be bona fide (i.e. not a sham); (2) the curriculum be in visual form (e.g. books, workbooks, video monitor); and (3) the curriculum include the basic subjects of reading, spelling, grammar, mathematics, and good citizenship. Parents may obtain curriculum materials from outside sources or develop their own. They may also send their children into the home of another parent for instruction or have a tutor come into the home for all or part of the instruction.

The Leeper decision recognizes the right of these officials to make “reasonable inquiry” to determine whether or not a school-age child is in attendance upon a private or parochial school. Without the ability to make reasonable inquiry, school attendance officials could not carry out their duty as required by law. In 1995, the TEA gave direction to school districts on how to apply this ruling (see Nelson's letter, page 2-7).

History of the State Organizations

Kirk McCord, a Dallas attorney, and the late Brad Chamberlain formed THSC in 1986 as a political action committee (PAC). These men had the foresight to realize that the real battle to win and protect this freedom would ultimately be fought and won or lost in the political arena.

In 1983, Kirk and Beverly McCord, both attorneys who had been leading the fledgling home school movement in Texas, started a state newsletter for home schoolers named The Texas Home Educator’s Newsletter and developed the Handbook for Texas Home Schoolers. In 1985 in Richardson, they began the Home School Book Fair (which later moved to Arlington), the first of many book fairs in the state.

On the day of the Austin TEA Party, Kirk McCord met with officers of Austin Christian Home Educators Association to discuss starting a state home school organization. They saw the need for a recognized organization to answer questions and promote home schooling throughout Texas. At that point, he turned over the newsletter to this group which became Home Oriented Private Education (HOPE) for Texas. HOPE eventually associated with the Teaching Home magazine and published the Texas newsletter inside each issue of that bimonthly magazine. HOPE also began publishing and marketing the Handbook in 1988.

During that time, THSC and HOPE for Texas enjoyed a close working relationship and shared several board members. They worked hand-in-hand at book fairs, leadership seminars, and other events across Texas.

HOPE focused on helping new home schoolers get the information they needed to get started as well as helping local support group leaders learn how to help people teach their children. HOPE focused on supporting the home educating families of Texas. In the meantime, THSC worked to educate public officials concerning the benefits of home schooling and on the public relations and public policy side of keeping parental freedoms.

In terms of numbers of home school families, Texas has now become the leading state in the nation. This has created additional challenges as THSC seeks to meet the needs of new and veteran home schoolers as well as work to maintain home school freedoms. In February of 1998, the HOPE and THSC boards voted to merge the two organizations. Their purpose in taking this action was to become more effective in doing the work that the two groups had done separately in the past while avoiding duplication of services. They also wanted to alleviate the confusion caused by having two state organizations.

The Ongoing Battle

In the early days before the first Leeper decision was handed down, many home educators believed that when the case was won, the battle would be over. It became obvious that this was not to be when the state continued to appeal. Today there is no doubt that home education is legal; however, the battle is now over whether or not home schools should be regulated by the state. Some say that they only want to set some minimal guidelines and standards to guarantee that all children in Texas receive a quality education. THSC's response is that the public education system, with all of its standards, cannot insure that a student who graduates from a public high school will be able to read. Government control is not the solution.

THSC encourages home educators to be involved in the election process. Home educators have learned that the election of home school advocates is directly related to successful grassroots lobbying during the legislative session. The Texas Home School Coalition joins with other pro-family organizations in distributing voter guides that include information of interest to home educators.

The Coalition communicates with school districts that do not understand the law or are simply harassing home educators. It also helps home educators understand their legal responsibilities and how to deal with their school districts.

THSC PAC continues to research, endorse, and support pro-home schooling candidates. The PAC is supported by donations that are not tax-deductible.

The Texas Home School Coalition is dedicated to serving and protecting the home school community of Texas. While the board of the Texas Home School Coalition is comprised of Christians, the purpose of THSC is to promote home education in Texas on behalf of all parents in the state who choose to educate their children at home. Because there is no evidence that the children of Texas would benefit from the regulation of home education, THSC works to prevent any erosion of parents’ rights to direct the education and upbringing of their children.

(This article was originally published in the Spring 1997 issue of The Texas Home School Coalition Review)

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