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Colorado's Homeschool Law Turns Twenty: The Battle Should Never Be Forgotten

IP-12-2008 (December 2008)
Author: Marya DeGrow

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Executive Summary

Beginning in the late 1970s, as parents became dissatisfied with the public education system, the modern homeschooling movement grew rapidly. The 1983 report, A Nation at Risk, confirmed some parents’ belief that their children were receiving a mediocre education in public schools. Research by John Holt and Dr. Raymond Moore encour- aged many parents’ confidence in their ability to homeschool. Conflict between some Colorado public school districts and parents led to the adoption of a 1988 legislative bill that established guidelines for home education. A timeline of important events follows:

1973: Compulsory school attendance law is amended to require students educated at home to be “ under an established system of home study approved by the state board [of education].”
1980: The State Board of Education creates rules for home education programs:

  • Parents may purchase state-approved curricula
  • Parents without teaching certificates may choose their own curricula if their school district of residence gives its approval
  • Parents holding valid teaching certificates may homeschool their children with curricula of their choice.

1981: The number of children registered as using state-approved curricula: 51
1981: Two Western Slope families face truancy charges in court for home-educating with unapproved curricula (more than 20 other families follow suit in the next 7 years).
1983: Legislature amends statutory language from “attends” to “enrolled” to exempt students “enrolled” in a private school from compulsory school attendance law.
1985: The Colorado Home Schoolers Advisory Committee begins to meet.
1986: CDE considers stricter regulations of homeschooling. Representative Mike Bird drafts a bill to limit state control over homeschooling. CDE agrees not to increase regulations, and Representative Bird agrees not to introduce the bill.
1987: Senator Joe Winkler and Representative Bill Owens sponsor homeschool legislation, Senate Bill 138. The bill dies in the House Education Committee.
1987: The State Board of Education passes Emergency Rules, which give homeschoolers freedom to notify the local school district of their intent to homeschool and to choose their own curricula.
1987: Widefield School District v. Bohl clarifies that students who are “enrolled” in a private school but educated at home are exempt from compulsory school attendance law, and are under private school law, not homeschool law.
1988: The number of children registered as using state-approved curricula: 630
1988: Senator Al Meiklejohn, Senator Winkler, and Representative Dick Bond sponsor homeschool legislation, Senate Bill 56. Governor Roy Romer allows the bill to become law without his signature. High-lights of the bill include (see Appendix 1 for the current law):

  • Parents are exempt from teaching certificate requirements
  • Parents must notify local school district of intent to homeschool 14 days prior to establishing the program
  • Students must be tested in grades three, five, seven, nine, and eleven
  • Parents must maintain records of attendance, test results, and immunization
  • Children scoring at or below the 13th percentile on a standardized test must be placed in a private or public school

In the fall of 2008 there were 7,023 registered homeschool students. After 20 years, some organizations still desire to limit homeschool freedoms. The law needs consistent defense against those who would restrict parental rights.

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