WHPA’s Ten Principles

Here are things we can do to maintain our freedoms. They require understanding and a strong commitment, but except in the time of a crisis, they do not require much time or money. They provide important learning opportunities for us and our children. And they help us discover how to maintain freedoms in other areas of our lives as well.

Click on each of the following Ten Principles to learn more.

1. Know what Wisconsin’s homeschooling law says, what it does and does not require, and how it is interpreted and enforced.
Get to know Wisconsin homeschool law so you clearly understand what the law requires and, perhaps more importantly, what it doesn’t require. If you don’t understand, you are likely to put yourself, your family, and others at risk. If you don’t know your rights and exercise them, you will not have them. No one else, including lawyers, will make sure your rights are respected and protected; you have to take responsibility for them. If you don’t know what the law does and does not require, you will not be able to follow some of the other principles.

Have a copy of the homeschooling statute available for reference when you need it. Don’t ask school officials or the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) for information about statutes, regulations, or what is required. They often do not know, misunderstand, have been misinformed, or have purposely misconstrued what the statutes or regulations say. Be careful about information from books or websites that cover the laws in all 50 states. They sometimes provide only the text of the statutes without essential information about how they are interpreted and enforced, or interpret the law of one state through their experience with the law in another state, oftentimes ending up with an incorrect or inaccurate interpretation.

2. Do only the minimum required by statute or regulation. Doing otherwise will reduce freedoms you and other homeschoolers enjoy.
Homeschoolers who don’t comply with the law provide a golden opportunity for opponents and critics who want to increase state regulation of homeschooling to claim that more regulation of homeschooling is needed. As a result, Wisconsin’s reasonable homeschooling law could be changed. For example, file the PI-1206 Homeschool Report online at the appropriate time for your circumstances. Under Wisconsin law, homeschoolers are required to have a curriculum. Since a curriculum is basically an educational plan, even the most determined unschoolers can (and should) say “Yes” when asked if they have a curriculum.

However, do only the minimum the law requires. When people do otherwise, they voluntarily and unnecessarily increase the power and authority that public officials have over homeschoolers. They set precedents that limit their freedoms and those of other homeschoolers. Therefore, if a school official asks or tells you to do more than is required, politely refuse and explain what is and is not required. If they persist, ask them to show you the statute or regulation that gives them the authority to make such a request.

Occasionally, it may be tempting to take what seems like the easy way out and do more than the minimum by showing officials things such as our curriculum, school calendars, samples of our children’s work, or test scores, even though these are not required by statute in Wisconsin. Perhaps we are proud of our children’s accomplishments or want to educate officials about homeschooling or show them how well it works. But any action that exceeds statutes or regulations sets a precedent and is likely to increase demands officials make of us and other homeschoolers in the future. It may also increase the questions, doubts, concerns, and criticisms that officials have about our homeschooling.

3. Maintain the distinction between homeschooling and other “school at home” options, such as:
--Public school at home programs, including virtual charter schools.
--Public or private schools which employ a part-time-on-campus and part-time-at-home model.
--Wisconsin-based online or virtual schools, including schools which participate in one of the Private School Choice Programs, which receive taxpayer monies.
Under Wisconsin law, homeschooling parents take direct and full responsibility for their child’s education. By contrast, parents of public school students (including those who enroll in a virtual charter school or other public school program that allows them to study in their homes) turn the responsibility for their children’s education over to the public schools. Likewise for private school students. Unless the clear legal distinction between virtual charter schools and homeschools is maintained, homeschoolers are likely to be expected to comply with these standards and requirements.
4. Do not ignore violations of your rights, even when they seem too small to matter or it takes time and effort to protest.
Major freedoms are often lost one small step at a time. Our failure to respond also encourages those who are limiting our freedoms to continue. For example, suppose a school district requires that homeschoolers submit their curriculum for review and approval, something not required by Wisconsin statutes. If homeschoolers do not object, before long the district may also ask for periodic reports. Another example is when school districts ask families to file their PI-1206 Homeschool Report before both the statutorily defined third Friday in September enrollment count date and the October 15 due date – when families comply with such requests, then filing early becomes both expected and required. On the other hand, if homeschoolers object strongly the first time the district exceeds (either by mistake or deliberately) its authority, school officials will probably be more reluctant to take on homeschoolers in the future. It also reduces future, perhaps more serious, challenges. Some people think that homeschoolers shouldn’t complain about requirements like review and approval of curriculum, reporting, or testing as long as no one declares that homeschooling is illegal. Such people greatly underestimate the importance of choosing an approach to education and a curriculum, allowing children to pursue their interests and learn at their own pace, and offering our children an education consistent with our principles and beliefs rather than those of the public school system.
5. Learn to work with your legislators, regardless of their political party.
Communicate with your state and federal legislators at the beginning of each new legislative session. Establish a working relationship before there is a crisis. Remember that homeschooling is not a partisan issue. We need to work with members of both parties to avoid problems when control of the Legislature changes from one party to the other. Start with an issue you and your legislator agree about, no matter how minor. Share information with them that they are most likely to find convincing given their overall perspectives. (Note: While homeschooling may sometimes seem to be in line with traditionally conservative politics, in 1984, Wisconsin’s reasonable homeschooling law was passed by a Senate and Assembly that were both controlled by Democrats, and signed by a Democratic governor.)
6. Do not seek or accept benefits from the government. Such benefits are likely to be followed by increased regulation, especially because the government is accountable for how tax dollars are spent.
Do not seek or accept benefits from the government, including public funds for homeschooling, tax deductions, tax credits, vouchers, participating in public school programs, sports, or extracurricular activities, or having public school per pupil money “follow” a child (including for homeschooling expenses). It is tempting to think about benefits for children or money for more homeschooling resources, especially because most homeschooling families give up income or make other financial sacrifices so parents can spend more time with their children.

However, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Such benefits are likely to be followed by increased regulation, especially since the government is accountable for how tax dollars are spent. Even benefits that seem quite safe, like homeschoolers playing on public school sports teams, have opened the door for increased regulation of homeschooling. (Athletes who are public school students need to meet eligibility requirements. Reports from homeschoolers across the state who have chosen to play public school sports show that some schools are asking for things that are not legally required of homeschoolers, such as curriculum, grades, and health records.)

Regulation stemming from favors or benefits would undoubtedly apply to all homeschoolers, not just those accepting the benefits. Families would not have the option of refusing the benefit and avoiding the increased regulation.

It’s important for homeschoolers to resist the temptation to seek benefits or favors from the government, to refuse such benefits if they are offered, to make it clear to legislators that they do not want such benefits, and to encourage other homeschoolers to do these things as well.

7. Do not push for new homeschooling legislation. Small minorities generally have difficulty getting legislation passed. Also, legislation can be changed so much through amendments, as well as produce unintended results, that it may end up working against those who introduced it.
Small minorities generally have difficulty getting legislation passed. In addition, once a bill has been introduced, it is very difficult to control. It can be changed so much through amendments that it actually ends up working against the minority that introduced it rather than in their favor. For example, Wisconsin’s very reasonable homeschooling law resulted from legislation that was introduced by opponents of homeschooling and then changed through amendments so it ended up supporting homeschooling. It is easier for a small minority like homeschoolers to gain support from non-homeschoolers when we are a beleaguered minority being put upon by a large interest group like a teachers union than to find support for legislation we initiated ourselves. This is why we would be unlikely to succeed in getting favorable homeschooling legislation passed if we initiated it, even though we were successful in turning harmful legislation around in 1984. In addition, since we have one of the best laws in the county, we don’t need additional legislation.
8. Stay out of court if at all possible.
It is almost always better for homeschoolers to try to reach settlements through negotiation or arbitration than to take cases to court. Rulings in court cases having to do with any topic, not just homeschooling, generally uphold the status quo and support the dominant culture. This means that rulings concerning small minorities such as homeschoolers tend to be biased in favor of conventional education rather than alternatives. We are much better off without any court rulings than with rulings that go against us. Evidence to support this idea can be found in a 1990 report by Jane Henkel of the Wisconsin Legislative Council titled, “Recent Court Cases Examining the Constitutionality of Other States’ Laws Regulating Home Schools.” Her report showed that court cases uphold the constitutionality of increased state regulation of homeschooling. The report states, “Special care was taken to attempt to find reported cases striking down state regulations. With the limited exception of cases which found regulations to be unconstitutionally vague, that effort was unsuccessful, which tends to indicate that there are few, if any, such cases.” The cases having to do with the most substantive aspects of regulation, namely review and approval of curriculum, required testing, and periodic reporting, have not been overturned in courts and still hold true as regulatory constraints on homeschooling liberties in the states where the cases were heard and more generally in most states.
9. Understand and apply the distinction between compulsory school attendance and compulsory education.
Basically, remember and remind school officials and others that the law requires that young people attend school, but it does not require that they receive an education while doing so. Therefore, it is discriminatory for school officials, judges, court commissioners, and others to insist that homeschoolers meet goals, standards, and requirements which are not required under Wisconsin law.

Remember that your actions affect other homeschoolers’ freedoms.

10. Work with other homeschoolers on the grassroots level. Set aside differences in areas including approaches to education, curriculum choices, and political, religious, and philosophical beliefs. Work to maintain the right and freedom of each family to make its own decisions.
Share these principles with other homeschoolers. Some of homeschooling’s greatest strengths come from the fact that it is a grassroots movement. It becomes even stronger as we communicate with each other, share information and experiences, support each other, and work together to maintain our freedoms. On the other hand, our freedoms are at risk when individual homeschoolers or homeschooling organizations fail to understand what Wisconsin’s homeschooling law does and does not require, do more than the minimum the law requires, blur the distinction between homeschoolers and public school students studying in their homes, try to splinter into homeschooling factions, seek homeschooling legislation and money and other favors from the government, and take cases to court when there are other ways to resolve the issues.

Joining WHPA is an excellent way to work with other homeschoolers. WHPA is strong because it includes all homeschoolers, regardless of their approach to learning, homeschooling, lifestyle, philosophy, politics, or religious beliefs. WHPA is strong because it relies on people like you knowing their rights and responsibilities. Our homeschooling freedoms depend on our working together. Renew your membership; tell others about WHPA; donate; and attend the annual conference and resource fair. Also consider joining a local homeschooling support group. If none exists in your area, start one.

These ten principles are the reasons homeschoolers in Wisconsin have been able to maintain their freedoms. WHPA has had to work hard to maintain them in the face of opposition to homeschooling from the educational establishment, some legislators, and some members of the general public.

Together we can preserve independent, parent-led, privately-funded educational freedom for homeschooling families who take direct responsibility for the education of their children.

Click here to read the Wisconsin homeschooling statutes.

Last Updated on 06/16/22

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