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Influential Lobbying Group Drives Home Schooling Oversight Policies Nationally

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A small but influential group has been a major force in keeping home-schooling regulation in the country to a minimum, according to a story by ProPublica.

Home schooling oversight policies vary greatly from state to state, and ProPublica details multiple times that the Home School Legal Defense Association, whose membership makes up an estimated 15 percent of the home school population, has beaten back attempts by state lawmakers to tighten home schooling oversight.

Some of these efforts are sparked by child abuse cases, such as a New Jersey legislator who introduced a bill in 2004 after thee home-schooled boys were discovered severely malnourished.

New Jersey Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg's legislation would have compelled parents to notify the state if they decided to home school, among other requirements.

Her office was soon inundated with phone calls, and Weinberg said a small group of home-schooling parents began following her around the capitol.

"There are very few fights I have given up in the more than 20-some-odd years I have been involved in the state Legislature, but this was one of them," Weinberg told ProPublica.

ProPublica reporter Jessica Huseman goes on to write:

"To lawmakers who have made similar efforts across the country, this comes as no surprise. Since homeschooling first became legal about 25 years ago, HSLDA's lobbying efforts have doomed proposed regulations and rolled back existing laws in state after state. The group was founded in 1983 by lawyer and ordained Baptist minister Michael Farris, who also founded Patrick Henry College. Although its members represent only about 15 percent of the nation's estimated 1.5 million homeschooled children—up from 850,000 in 1999—its tactics have made it highly influential.

'To my knowledge, I can't think of an occasion where we went backwards [in our goal],' said Farris, who said the HSLDA has been involved in 'virtually all' legislative efforts involving homeschooling in the past two decades."

The HSLDA generally argues that what might appear to be a single, benign law will lead to government overreach. It's a topic I broached in a recent story I wrote about a Michigan lawmaker's attempt to pass a bill that would require parents to notify the state if they home schooled their children.

Almost 40 states plus D.C. have a notification rule.

Democratic state representative Stephanie L. Chang proposed the bill after two Detroit children were found dead in a freezer. Their mother had claimed to be home schooling them.

"It's a slippery slope, but it's also just the notion that when one person commits an illegal act, that millions of others should be subjected to checking in with officials," James Mason, the director of litigation at the Home School Legal Defense Association, told me at the time.

HSLDA was founded in the early 80's, in part to provide affordable legal services to home-schooling parents when the movement was in its infancy and the rights of parents to educate their children at home were not recognized in many states.

"We started in the days when it was illegal to home school in Michigan, and people were getting arrested and thrown in jail," Mason said.

However, sources in both my story and ProPublica's argue that HSLDA's stance is outdated and now that home schooling is more mainstream, it is no longer under constant threat.

HSLDA founder Michael Farris responds to that point, and many others, in the ProPublica story, which you can check out here.

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