Episode 205: The Homeschool Revolution

Everybody was a homeschooling parent last year. Jeremy Newman with the Texas Homeschool Association joins us to bring us all up to speed on the future of homeschooling in Texas and around the nation…Hint: The future looks bright.


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Jonathan Schober:
I’m here today with Jeremy Newman, with the Texas Home School Coalition. And if there’s anything that we learned in the last year is everybody can be or was a homeschooling parent. Well, I’m super excited about this interview for our family, my seven children. We’ve homeschooled them all the way through. My youngest now is 10. My oldest is 24. So we have been long-term advocates of homeschooling and have seen it just explode. And I’m super excited to have Jeremy join me today to kind of talk about what’s going on in Texas and around the nation. Jeremy, welcome to the show.

Jeremy Newman:
Absolutely. Thanks for having me.

Jonathan Schober:
So let’s kind of get started a little bit. We just came out of a regular session, the 87th session. What were some of the legislative highlights here in Texas for the homeschooling community?

Jeremy Newman:
Yeah, so for us, the legislative session actually went really well. And to kind of give context to the listeners, anyone in the legislature knows this, but the public at large doesn’t, it’s not intuitive necessarily for them, that we get involved in issues that are more generally related to the right of families to raise their children, not only the issue of homeschooling specifically. And we kind of came to that place probably about 10 years ago now, through this realization that the right to homeschool is based fundamentally on this premise; do you have the right to raise your kids?

And so we started defending that right more broadly. So you’ll see us in the legislative session working on CPS issues, family law issues, anything that affects that more fundamental right.

So this past legislative session, one of our big priorities was CPS reform. And we’ve been involved in a number of cases that really highlighted some major problems in that area. And so we had this really big omnibus bill, called the Parent-Child Protection Act, that we were pushing through. That included, I think, about eight different reforms all packaged together inside that bill. We’ve been working on for about four years. It got all the way through this legislative session and it was actually almost unanimous on the House and Senate, which that was strange to me because that doesn’t normally happen.

Jonathan Schober:
Something unanimous on both sides of the House and Senate. That’s amazing.

Jeremy Newman:
I know. That was strange to me. The people who’ve worked in that space for a long time, and I agree with them, describe it as the most significant pro-family CPS reform that has ever passed in Texas. That went into effect this past September 1st.

The other really big thing we worked on that made it through the session is a bill called the UIL Equal Access Bill. The idea behind that bill is to allow homeschool students to access extracurricular activities at their local public school. Most other states have allowed that for a long time and Texas didn’t. We’d actually been working on it for about 20 years, finally got it through this legislative session. So those were probably the two big highlights.

Jonathan Schober:
Yeah. So just as a homeschooling parent, I mean what that means is my child can participate in football and band and some of these other things, even as a homeschool. Prior to this, we didn’t have that option. I think that’s important is what the homeschool movement is about creating options. With the big thing, I think we just heard it in Virginia, where the gubernatorial candidate is co-parenting with the government. If there’s anyone I don’t want to co-parent with, it’s the government. Tell us about some things that maybe are on the wish list around family rights and around options for homeschooling that maybe we didn’t get. We never wanted to say, “Hey, we were successful”. What are some things as you look forward, potentially in some of the special sessions, but probably more likely in the 88th, what are some things that you see advocating for here in Texas?

Jeremy Newman:
Yeah. So there are a number of things that I would anticipate coming up in the future. One of the ones that we actually did work on this session, but it was lower on the priority list, is juvenile curfews. People don’t stop and think about often how this might disproportionately affect homeschool families, but it does, because the way a juvenile curfew ordinance normally works in a local county or a local city is they say a student that is school age, K through 12, is not allowed to be out during certain hours. But the fundamental difference between a homeschooler and all of the other students is that they do not keep the same school hours. And so it has traditionally been… It’s had a disproportionate effect on homeschool students compared to other students. And we’ve actually had to fight that one at a time locally in a bunch of cities around the state over the last decade or so.

We worked on a bill to prohibit those statewide, and didn’t make it through this session, so that’s something we might be putting higher on the priority list in future sessions. Something else that I’m sure is going to come up, it’s been coming up for the last several sessions, is some type of school choice legislation and that’s been presented in a lot of different forms, but the general point is that homeschool families pay twice right now. They pay all of the taxes to support the public education system and then they pay again to go educate their own students. And so different states have done this differently, some of them have done some type of scholarship, or a tax credit, or an education savings account. The overall point is some type of mechanism that allows the family to keep some portion of the dollars that they would normally be sending to the state, educate other people’s kids, and use those to pay for education of their own children as well.

Jonathan Schober:
Yeah. I think that just common fairness, right. Just to be treated the same. I mean, if we’re going to make the decision, which I think it’s the right decision that there is a public good in making sure that everyone is educated, then I think everyone, all kids need to be educated. And I think ultimately, I think that needs to flow or be presumptively through the parent. But the point is that homeschooling and private schools and government run schools, the kids and the parents should be treated the same. I think that’s a huge thing that we need to kind of close the gap on that, on school choice. Well, this year, because of COVID, there’s just been phenomenal growth with homeschooling. Tell us about some of the growth and also some of the growing pains that you’ve seen, not just here in Texas, but maybe in some of the other places as more and more people are starting to get involved with homeschooling.

Jeremy Newman:
Yeah. This is a fascinating change actually, that’s happening inside the education community. And virtually everybody knows at this point that there was a humongous homeschooling boom in 2020, most people probably know there was another big homeschooling boom in 2021. And so I like to try and put context to that for some people, because what happened in… Several interesting things in the spring of 2020, all at the same time. The first thing that happened was that there was this big push by the education establishment to come up with some model regulations for homeschooling across the country. There was actually a panel discussion that Harvard University put together and it was being hosted by a couple different professors whose self professed ideology was that homeschooling should be presumptively banned across the country.

Jonathan Schober:
Yeah, those are definitely the people that we want writing the regulations for home schoolers, the people that assume it’s a bad thing to start with.

Jeremy Newman:
Of course, everyone’s top choice right there. They got tons of pushback on that and they kind of stuck to their guns until COVID came around, and overnight, everybody in the country became home schoolers. And up till that point, the messaging had been homeschooling is kind of this far, radical, religious right, fringe movement, where kids are being isolated from the government; nobody knows what’s going on. It’s very conspiracy theory, laden talking points that they’re using, but then all of a sudden, everybody became a homeschooler. So now, who exactly are you targeting? That was the problem they ran into. And so they canceled their event and then we went on this… about eight months at that point, another eight months through the year, we had this huge boom in homeschooling that went through the summer, we approached the fall, and everyone’s question was, will these people continue homeschooling?

And they did in humongous numbers. It depends on whose numbers you trust. But we’re talking about somewhere between probably a doubling and a tripling of homeschooling that happened in the fall of 2020. Then you get back around to the fall of 2021, and everyone’s question again was how many of these people are going to stick to homeschooling? Was this just a temporary shift? And then in the fall of 2021, the numbers started going up again, and that was around the same time that the Delta variant became a big thing again. There were more conversations about shutting down schools or conversations about vaccine mandates. It all hit the news again. We had this huge influx of people who were asking us how to start homeschooling. The point of context I try and make people understand is that I don’t think we can assume that anything will go back to normal.

That includes education. One of the big reasons for that is because what we saw happen in 2020 was kind of this unveiling of these system-wide problems with the public education system. It’s because we were in a state of crisis, but what people don’t realize is the individual families go through crisis all the time. That’s a normal thing for individual families. And when they’re going through an individual state of crisis, they experience all the same things that everybody experienced during COVID. You might have someone get sick, you lose transportation, you lose housing, you lose a job. Any of those types of things might totally throw off your schedule. The problem with the public education system that everyone realized was there’s no flexibility, there’s no stability. So they went looking for that somewhere else and they found it in homeschooling.

What people have started to realize, and this is what we’re hearing from the people who started homeschooling the fall of 2020 that are coming back a year later. They’re saying we started homeschooling because of COVID, but now we’re continuing to homeschool because we’re realizing it’s meeting needs that we’ve had for a long time and that we will continue to have after COVID is over with. That’s why fundamentally, I feel like we might have a lot of people go back to public school. I think a lot of people will also stay in homeschooling, but what we won’t have is a return to normal. People are going to demand more options because they realize now the options are out there.

Jonathan Schober:
Yeah, just to share from personal experience. I’ve gone through a move, I’ve gone through a job firing, I’ve gone through a layoff. In 20 years, I’ve gone through all the normal things that happen in life. My kids have had an extremely consistent education experience all the way through because we have this flexibility. What would be some things as people are sort of looking at homeschooling or they’ve maybe experimented it for the last year. What’s some advice, both, some practical advice and then also I think some legal advice, because I do think people are sort of concerned about the legal things. What’s some advice that you guys could give someone that’s thinking about starting homeschooling or continuing to homeschool.

Jeremy Newman:
Yeah, the thing I would tell someone who’s considering it, I think, maybe two things at the same time. One is that the hesitation most people normally have is, they have the sense that this is going to be really hard, this is a big commitment, and they’re right, it is. But at the same time, I would pose a question, is it harder than the alternative? It’s a different type of hard for sure. Different type of commitment, but is it harder? I think for a lot of people, it’s not, because all the inconveniences that you deal with on a daily basis of having to put your entire family’s life schedule around the public education system, that is a big deal. It’s really hard for a lot of people. You have to take on some different responsibilities if you’re going to do it all yourself and plug into a community who can help you with that.

The point I would make is yes, it is a big commitment, but realize a lot of people have done it before you, and it might not be harder than what you’re doing now. It’s a different type of hard, but it might not be harder. And kind of on the legal side of things. I think that a lot of these concerns go away for people as they become more familiar with homeschooling. In terms of the legal status in Texas, there really isn’t any type of serious risk that you’re going to end up in major legal troubles because you homeschool. Now, what is more frequently the case is if you end up in legal trouble for some unrelated reason, someone might try and use the fact that you homeschool against you. We see that more frequently, but homeschooling is very rarely the cause of some major legal problem that you’re going to have.

More often, the thing you’re going to deal with is some bureaucrat behind a desk somewhere doesn’t know how homeschooling works and you have to go through this inconvenient process of explaining to them how it works. What you’ll find is that the rules at the back of that process, almost uniformly, will support your right to homeschool and you’ll be able to gain access to that like anybody else will.

Jonathan Schober:
Well, if someone wants to get some more information, what’s the website to go to?

Jeremy Newman:
They can go to thsc.org, Texas Home School Coalition.

Jonathan Schober:
Well, we’re going to take a quick break, but when we come back, I do want to ask you what keeps you up at night?

[BREAK]

Jonathan Schober:
Welcome back to The Elephant Herd. We’ve been having a conversation about the homeschool movement here in Texas and across the nation. And I’m with Jeremy Newman, with the Texas Home School Coalition. Jeremy, what I always like to end up… end this podcast with is a question. What keeps you up at night?

Jeremy Newman:
I’ve been thinking about this since you posed it before the break actually. And you know, I’m a political guy, right? I’ve kind of lived in that world for a long time. I feel like though the more deep seated concerns that I have relate to the status of things at a cultural level in America, not just a political level. The way I see it, the political wins shift back and forth all the time. They go one way you don’t like, they go the other way you do like, it’s a constant teetering back and forth. You do have to work constantly on that, but to me, that that whole debate is a little bit more surface level than the main problems. The main problems are happening at the cultural level. One of the reasons that I am personally passionate about the homeschooling topic is because I see it as one of these solutions to a lot of the problems that we have culturally, because we have this really, really harsh partisan separation and this rapidness has kind of seeped into our culture at the really deep level.

I think that a lot of it has to do with the monopolizing of a lot of America’s educational institutions. The way I see it, one of the things that’s unique about homeschooling is it’s the one form of education that can never be monopolized. You will always have free exchanges of ideas going on inside the homeschool community because it’s being organized by a million different people all at the same time. And they don’t all agree with each other. They have some things that they hold in common, but overall, the point is that there’s a diversity and a freeness there that I think breeds in a healthy way against some things in our culture that we don’t have. In our culture, there’s an expectation in a lot of institutions that there are only certain things you can believe, only certain things you can say, only certain things you can teach. It’s not like that in the homeschooling community. Fundamentally, I think that’s one of the types… That’s one of the things that will help transform our culture in a positive way, is if we can move more into this form of education that can’t be monopolized.

Jonathan Schober:
Yeah, I think that’s so true and you’re right. There is such a… you talk about diversity. There’s such a huge diversity of ideas and thoughts and philosophies within the homeschooling community. Jeremy, thank you for what you’re doing. Once again, if you want some information, if you’re interested in learning more, you can go to thsc.org and get your information. I think it’s something that in all sincerity, every parent should strongly consider homeschooling. It might not be for everyone, but I think that every parent should at least consider seriously homeschooling your kids. Well, thanks again for being a part of The Elephant Herd. If you do have any questions, comments, or suggestions for future episodes, you can text me at 512-729-5712. If you want to listen to previous episodes, you can go to texasgop.org/podcast.

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