A Brief History of Homeschooling in Wisconsin
- There were no legal protections.
- Children were kept indoors during school hours. Some hid when someone came to the door as to not have anyone asking questions about why the children were home.
- Families often felt that they and their children could not be honest about their educational choice. For example, “Where do you go to school?” was a difficult question to answer.
Under the DPI “home tutorial” program, families often had difficult experiences. Here are a few examples that were shared in public hearings.
Several of these families were required to send the DPI:
- a picture of their children,
- copies of the floor plan of their house,
- daily personal schedules of both parents,
- demonstration that their program would be “substantially equivalent to that of public or private schools in the area of residence.”
A mother (who also happened to be a certified teacher) was required to:
- allow the DPI to visit her home any time, unannounced (which they did).
- notify the school district if, at any time, during the school day, she and her children needed to leave their home.
Another family was required to:
- hire a certified teacher from five to eight hours a week.
- have their children tested at the end of the year.
In spite of receiving satisfactory results, this family was still denied approval for next year because the DPI was concerned about their physical education, music, and art programs.The family was informed that guitar lessons were an unacceptable alternative to owning a piano. When the family agreed to rent a piano, they were told that this was not sufficient even though the mother had studied piano for several years.
What led to 1983 Act 512 (Wisconsin’s Homeschooling Law)?
In 1983, Laurence Popanz (a homeschooling father, who had incorporated as a private school as a way of attempting to homeschool legally) was charged with truancy on the grounds that their home was not a private school. The Wisconsin Supreme Court agreed to hear the case and on April 26, 1983, declared that Wisconsin’s compulsory school attendance law was “…void for vagueness since it fails to define ‘private school.’” (State v. Popanz)
In other words, the Court ruled that if families were going to be prosecuted for failure to attend a private school, the statutes first needed to be changed so people had a clear definition of a private school.
Our current homeschooling legislation was created in an attempt to answer the question of what is a private school.
1983 Assembly Bill 887 was introduced in December 1983. It was drafted by a committee that included no homeschoolers. It defined home-based private educational programs (homeschools) as instruction elsewhere than at school and required that such programs be approved by the DPI as substantially equivalent to a public or private school. (This last part is very common in some other states as something that remains part of their homeschooling laws.)
On January 6, 1984, a group of homeschooling parents met in Stevens Point and organized Wisconsin Parents Association (WPA) to oppose AB 887 and work for the passage of a more appropriate bill. The group included people with different backgrounds, incomes, religions and approaches to education.
People at the meeting that day agreed on one very important principle: They were going to insist that the legislature recognize the right of parents to choose, for their children, an education consistent with their principles and beliefs.
Parents who were trained teachers would not agree to submit their curriculum for review and approval.
Parents whose children scored well on standardized tests would not agree to requirements for state-mandated testing.
Parents with high school or college degrees would not agree to requirements that parents have diplomas.
Everyone would stand together in opposition to state control of homeschooling.
Homeschoolers worked hard through the newly formed WPA to educate legislators and the general public about what homeschooling was and what it was not. WPA supplied information sheets to people who attended public hearings on the bill. We worked to build a network of homeschoolers throughout the state who worked together to reclaim their right to homeschool.
One of the founders of WPA wrote: “The seriousness of the legislation and the strength of public reaction against it were demonstrated to the Legislature on January 25, 1984, when 2,500 people, the vast majority opposed to the bill, converged on the capitol for the first public hearing.”
Several important amendments were made to AB 887 and it was passed by the Legislature and enacted as 1983 Act 512 on May 10, 1984.
Was it smooth sailing after that?
From 1984 through 1998, homeschoolers faced many challenges.
- The first DPI form called for additional information not outlined in the statutes.
- There were constant attempts by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) to gain more control over homeschoolers. One example of this was the funding of a study on home based private instruction referred to as the “1987 Lufler Report.” This report focused on how the public school officials and other educational experts felt homeschooling was working. The report was filled with inaccuracies. Homeschooling families, working through WPA, worked hard to share facts with legislators and the general public.
- In 1990, The Wisconsin Legislative Council studied home-based private educational programs. Again, homeschoolers worked hard to share information about why this study was unnecessary and to inform their legislators and others about homeschooling, including information that other institutions had gathered. This study, therefore, resulted in no new proposed legislation.
- There were many homeschooling laws proposed, in spite of some true challenges, homeschooling law in Wisconsin remained as it was passed in 1984.
In recent years legislation has passed that changed the environment of homeschooling in Wisconsin. These changes have led to more regulation of the homeschoolers who choose to take advantage of these special favors. This is more regulation than Wisconsin has seen since 1984 and includes:
- legislation that forced school districts to offer public school classes to homeschoolers (WI Statute 118.53)
- a law requiring attendance of kindergarten once enrolled and a student not being allowed into first grade without having completed a kindergarten program (2009 WI Act 41)
- school districts being forced to allow homeschooled students to play on public school sports teams and join other extra curricular activities (WI Statute 118.133)
How do we protect our homeschooling freedoms in Wisconsin?
There are five main things that you can do, as a homeschooler, to protect homeschooling freedoms.
- Know the history of homeschooling in Wisconsin and why homeschooling in Wisconsin is unique.
- Know the law and homeschool responsibly. Do what is required of homeschoolers and no more.
- Do not push for additional legislation for homeschoolers. Legislation is often amended and rarely passes in the condition that it was introduced.
- Do not ask for favors from the government. Favors and money from the government come with additional regulation.
- Contact your legislators regularly.
It is vital that WI homeschoolers consistently call/email/write/visit their state representatives to say that Wisconsin homeschoolers do not want any changes to the current state law, including any type of favors or money.
People MUST contact their legislators well before legislation comes up for a vote. By the time things are up for a vote, the details are in place. It is critical to call, write and visit well before there is a specific piece of legislation on the table. This is why we ask members to contact their representatives at the beginning of each new legislative session. This is why we encourage people to visit their legislators in person. The most proactive thing that can be done is to develop a habit of consistently making your opinions known to your representatives. If they hear from homeschoolers over and over again, saying that homeschoolers do not want any favors, including money, from the government, they remember.