HOUSTON (CN) — Stoked by school shootings, bullying and underfunded public schools, interest in homeschooling is growing, and proponents in Texas says the state’s hands-off approach makes it an ideal place for home education.
There are around 2.3 million home-educated students in the United States, and an estimated 150,000 Texas families teach their children at home, according to the National Home Education Research Institute and the Texas Home School Coalition.
The coalition’s president Tim Lambert said he and his wife started homeschooling their four children in the 1980s. “We wanted to be able to integrate our faith in the education of our children and we realized that you can’t do that in a public school anymore,” he said.
Lambert said it surprised him when he got several calls from Texans interested in homeschooling after the Valentine’s Day shooting at a Parkland, Florida high school that left 14 students and three adult staff members dead.
“I think the Parkland shootings just raised the concern of safety for a lot of families. Probably they already had some concerns about safety. ... It’s not uncommon for us to get calls from people whose children are getting bullied, or targeted by gangs,” Lambert said.
But Jube Dankworth, founder of Texas Home Educators, said she saw an unusual spike in people inquiring about homeschooling in January, before the Parkland shootings, and that the trend has continued.
Dankworth got involved in the movement in the 1980s when she removed her special-needs child from a public school.
“There’s another upswing like I have not seen since the ‘90s,” Dankworth said, citing the Texas Supreme Court’s 1994 ruling in the class action Leeper, et al. v. Arlington ISD, et al.
The state supreme court held that like private school students, children taught at home are exempt from the attendance requirements of public school students, effectively establishing the state’s lax homeschool regulations.
“So once Leeper was decided, a lot of people who were looking at homeschooling but were hesitant to because of the legal ambiguity were no longer afraid … and homeschooling surged,” Dankworth said.
A spokeswoman said the Texas Education Agency does not oversee homeschools, other than asking parents to comply with a vague requirement that coursework include lessons about “good citizenship.”
She referred questions to Lambert’s group, the Texas Home School Coalition.
Lambert said in a telephone interview that many parents choose to homeschool to ensure their children are getting a quality education. That’s a valid concern in Texas, which ranked 43rd in the nation on spending per public school student in fiscal year 2015, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Texas spent $8,861 per pupil. Top-ranked New York spent $21,206.
Lambert likes to tout the freedom Texas gives its homeschoolers.
“There is no need to register with your school district. No need to inform them of any extracurricular activities, no need for testing, and no need to have your child evaluated annually by a psychologist,” he says in a primer video titled “Is It Legal?” on his group’s website
“In fact, the only requirement for Texas homeschoolers is that they pursue math, reading, spelling, grammar and good citizenship in a bona fide manner.”