Home schoolers don't break the laws—they change them. A new law has made life much easier for Tennessee's high school aged home schoolers.
For the last nine years, Tennessee has required anyone teaching a high school aged child to have a bachelor's degree. Although a lot of Tennessee parents without degrees have done an excellent job teaching their children up to the eighth grade, many have been zealously prosecuted once their children reach high school age. HSLDA is dedicated to defending each member family's constitutional right to home school, whether or not state law recognizes that right. In May, parents in two families (not HSLDA members) were jailed for criminal failure to compel their children to attend school. We have been forced to defend many of our member families in courts across Tennessee. By the grace of God, each member family has been able to continue home schooling, despite the wording of the old law.
The Tennessee Home Education Association worked for years to persuade the Tennessee Legislature to drop the bachelor's degree requirement. It took a terrific amount of work, patience, prayer and careful lobbying, but in April, Tennessee passed a law which finally permits parents to home school their high school aged children without a bachelor's degree.
This bill is a big step forward for many high school aged home schoolers, but did not come without a cost. The bill was not drafted by home schoolers, and initially contained a number of terrible provisions. Fortunately, the state home school organization had worked for years to develop valuable contacts in the Legislature. Each of these contacts was critical, as home schoolers worked behind the scenes to preserve the good, kill the bad, and limit the ugly provisions of the bill.
Under the new law, students may be home schooled in grades nine through twelve as long as these programs are affiliated with a Tennessee church-related school. The parents must possess a high school diploma or GED; the children must be registered with the local education agency; and the children must be administered the standardized test or assessment which is used by the local education agency. If the child fails to meet or surpass the average level of achievement two consecutive times, the child must be enrolled in a public, private, or church school. (Not that "average," on a standardized test, does not mean the 50th percentile. Instead, on most standardized tests, "average" ranges from the 23rd to 77th percentile.)
The original bill would have imposed the testing requirements on all home-schooled children, not just those of high school age; it would have shut down the entire home school if one child failed; and so forth and so on. Claiborne Thornton, President of the Tennessee Home Education Association, worked valiantly to eliminate the worst aspects of the bill. Because of the years of preparation which had gone before, Senators and Representatives everywhere treated Mr. Thornton with respect and trust. It was impressive to see an ordinary citizen have so much impact at the State House.
The new law goes into effect for the 1994-95 school year, and there are still a number of unresolved problems in Tennessee. HSLDA still has one case in federal court, and seven member families in state courts. These cases may not be resolved for some time, since the new law only helps people who choose to affiliate with a church-related school.