House Bill 5912 may seem harmless enough to the average observer. The
legislation, introduced in March by Rep. Brenda Clack, D-Flint,
requires parents to register their home-schooled children with local public
school authorities. The problem, though, may be the bill’s dangerous subtext.
Certainly, if the reasoning behind a recent California court ruling in the
Rachel L. et al. case finds its way east, there is cause for concern. In late February, the California 2nd District Court of Appeals ruled that all California home-school students must be taught by certified instructors. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, representatives of the California Teachers Association went on record praising the decision. Fortunately, the court has agreed to rehear the case; pending that reconsideration, the court's previous ruling has been vacated.
Although the final ruling will not be binding in Michigan, the case may still be relevant here. Requiring home-school students to have certified teachers and mandating
registration are part of a slippery slope of state regulatory interference in
home education. First, state officials may force home schooling parents to
register their children. Next, officials may mandate that home schools use
certified teachers. Then, home-schoolers may be required to report the number of
days and hours spent on each subject, then adopt a required curriculum and so
on. The possible areas for state regulation of home-schoolers are endless.
Such misguided policies would affect an increasing number of Michigan families.
Michigan has a growing population of home-schooled students. According to a 2006
report from the National Center for Education Statistics, approximately 1.1
million students were home-schooled nationally in 2003. Researchers at Michigan
State University estimated the number of home-school students in Michigan at
100,000, or 5 percent of the state’s students in 2003.
home-school movement continues to grow in response to perceived failures of the
public schools to meet individual student needs. Concerns over
inadequate academic performance figure prominently among
reasons for choosing to home-school. Parents also choose this option when
they wish to introduce religious instruction into the curriculum.
According to the Home School Legal Defense Association,
great variability exists in levels of restrictiveness across state
regulations regarding home schooling. In Michigan, the law is relatively
unrestrictive. For example, if parents elect to home-school without registering
as a nonpublic school, they are free to choose any instructor for their children.
reason that home-school instructors do not need to be certified is at the heart
of the choice to home-school: Parents are seeking an alternative educational
environment for their children. Of course, the strongest argument against the
requirement that home-school instructors be certified is that parents, not the
state, have the fundamental right to look after the welfare and rearing of their
These assertions should not be misconstrued to mean that the state should have
no role in ensuring the health, safety and welfare of children, as long as
agencies do not abuse their powers. One can envision bad home-school scenarios
where children fail to learn or experience neglect. In fact, existing laws
already provide structures to look after the health and safety of children to
prevent their abuse. Moreover, it is dubious for the state to show undue concern
over home schooling when it has failed to guarantee safety and educational
quality in public schools.
reality is that most home schooling parents make responsible choices concerning
their children’s education. If they are incapable of teaching their children a
certain subject, they find a tutor who can. As reported in
Michigan Education Report, many home schooling families are using college
programs. In fact, it is routine for home-school parents to seek high-quality
academic and social outlets for their children. It is not an accident that
home-schooled students are disproportionately represented as winners of chess
tournaments, spelling bees and geography contests.
Requiring home schooling parents to register their children with local districts
may seem harmless even to those amenable to home schooling, but anyone
interested in preserving parental rights should be vigilant. Though registering
home-schooled students may seem like merely a hassle to many Michigan residents,
it may well be the first step down the wrong path.
Marc Holley is a doctoral fellow in the Department of
Education Reform at the University of Arkansas and an adjunct fellow with the
Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute
headquartered in Midland, Mich. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is
hereby granted, provided that the author and the Center are properly cited.