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On June 16, 2011, Governor Bill Haslam signed into law House Bill 1631, which makes significant improvements to Tennessee’s homeschool law beginning July 1, 2011. This legislation amends the statutory provisions of Section 49-6-3050 of Tennessee Code Annotated, first enacted in 1985 as state law governing home instruction. Following are the noteworthy changes made to the law by the Tennessee General Assembly in HB 1631:
- Whereas the old law defined a “home school” as a school conducted by parents or guardians for their own children, the new law expands the definition to a school “conducted or directed” by parents or guardians. This indicates the legislative intent that parents or guardians do not have to personally provide the instruction but may oversee instruction provided to their children by someone else.
- Parents who elect to homeschool in association with a church-related school are no longer required to register their children in grades 9–12 with the local education agency. Further, these children are no longer required to take state tests at these grade levels.
- An additional option for homeschooling is created by the new law for parents who enroll their children in a church-related school and “participate as a teacher in that church-related school.” These parent-teachers are subject to the requirements established by the church-related school for homeschool teachers. No other requirements for homeschooling apply.
- Parents who elect to homeschool without any association with a church-related school must now provide notice to the local director of schools of their intent to do so “prior to each school year.” Prior law established a deadline for giving the notice as August 1, but parents were permitted to give the notice as late as September 1 upon payment of a penalty of $20 per week. Further, under the old law, the local superintendent had the authority to waive the September 1 deadline. The new law makes no mention of any extension or waiver of the deadline.
- Parents homeschooling through the local education agency (not through a church-related school) are required to have a high school diploma or GED to teach all grade levels, not just K–8. The old law required parents teaching grades 9–12 to have a bachelor’s degree or obtain an exemption of this requirement from the commissioner of education.
- Parents homeschooling through the local education agency are no longer required to notify the superintendent of whether a college preparatory or general course of education will be taught for students in grades 9–12. Further, parents are no longer required to submit to the superintendent a description of the courses to be taught in each year to meet this former requirement. (Parents homeschooling through the local education agency are still required to describe the proposed curriculum to be offered in the annual notice of intent to homeschool.)
- Regardless of which homeschooling option is chosen by parents, they may employ a tutor with the qualifications required of parents for particular grade levels to teach in their place. Prior law limited use of such tutors to parents homeschooling through the local education agency.
Homeschoolers in Tennessee are indebted to Senator Mike Bell (Dist. 9), the chief architect of this legislation and a homeschooling father from Riceville (McMinn County). He worked closely with the Tennessee Home Education Association in drafting the language of the Senate version of HB 1631 and shepherded this bill through the entire legislative process.