2 Oct 2013

North Carolina homeschools began receiving email requests from the NC Division of Non-Public Education (DNPE) this fall to go to the DNPE website and provide some information about their homeschool. The information asked for includes verification that the homeschool is still in operation, any modifications to the school’s contact information and the homeschool’s enrollment numbers. It is important to recognize that the NC homeschool statute does not require homeschools to participate in this annual update. There are no repercussions if a homeschool decides not to participate. Participation is voluntary.

In another voluntary program, DNPE randomly invites homeschools that are in their second, fourth, seventh or tenth consecutive school year of being listed with DNPE to participate in a Record Review Meeting. During this meeting the homeschool’s administrator or teacher and the DNPE representative will mutually examine the homeschool’s legally required records. DNPE selects a place to meet, such as a library or a community center, in locations throughout the state. These meetings typically last about twenty-five minutes. During this meeting, a DNPE official may inquire about your home education practices. This information is not required but it is their way of getting to know you and how homeschooling is working. You are free to share this information or not.

The easiest response to these requests to provide information or to meet is to not participate. However, I want to encourage you to consider taking part in these voluntary programs. From the early days when DNPE first started requesting participation in a voluntary inspection by mail program, NCHE has recommended that homeschoolers participate. We fully acknowledge that it is voluntary and not required by law. So why would NCHE recommend that homeschoolers go beyond the requirements of the law?

North Carolinians are fortunate to have a Division of Non-Public Education to oversee the law governing private schools and homeschools. (This benefit did not come easily. It resulted from a hard-fought battle waged by heroic private Christian school leaders and pastors, culminating in the 1979 law that established DNPE and removed private schools from the jurisdiction of the Department of Public Instruction. Often sleeping in their cars in order to be in Raleigh during the legislative session, these men brought about the benefit that now blesses us.) To the best of our knowledge, North Carolina is the only state to have such an office. Other states simply have a department to oversee education in that state. Typically, that department is primarily oriented toward effective public education, and as such is heavily regulated. As you can expect, there is often an internal tension within these departments between public and non-public education. Given the orientation in public education toward regulation, the absence of regulation is frowned upon. As a result, in many states homeschools are much more heavily regulated. The freedom that North Carolina home educators possess is directly related to the governance under the Division of Non-Public Education and not the Department of Public Instruction. Distinct agencies facilitate distinct governance practices. Therefore, it is in our best interest, if we wish to maintain our freedom, to maintain this distinction.

The best way to maintain this distinction is to support the Division of Non-Public Education in its oversight practices. Policy-influencers, from journalists, to social scientists in research institutions, from lobbyists to legislators, use data to defend the effectiveness of laws. The absence of quality data often gives way to accusations. Quality data enables a more robust public discussion. Currently, DNPE’s practices to gather data are voluntary. The alternative is that they not be voluntary, but required. When we provide DNPE with quality data, DNPE is better able to service requests concerning the effectiveness of the current law. It is good for the citizens of North Carolina when good data is voluntarily made available. It also has the benefit of demonstrating that a separate agency for non-public instruction, with voluntary programs, is an effectual way to govern. Without quality data, ammunition is given to those who believe non-public education should be more heavily regulated. Opponents could argue for increased regulations in the law, or governance under Department of Public Instruction (DPI), which, judging from past history, would almost certainly lead to increased regulation and regimentation. It is the NCHE view that governance under DPI would not be in the best interest of maintaining our freedom. DNPE, we believe, functions as a positive mediator between the homeschool and the policy-influencing citizen. It is in our best interest that the policy-influencing citizen agree with the above assessment, and trust DNPE to understand us and represent us well. Our work to keep a good relationship with DNPE is practical, but also strategic.

From a principle point of view, it is NCHE’s position that responsible citizenship is characterized by an active participation in governance. This active participation means governing power is shared. An indicator of liberty is shared governance. The alternative is concentrated power in the hands of a few. While most people recognize this principle in their duty to vote in the election of our governing officials, many question the value, necessity and even wisdom of participating in information-gathering government programs, such as the DNPE online record update or Record Review Meetings. Voluntary participation is an act of shared governance. The stronger the shared governance, the fewer regulations are required, and more liberty is experienced. As the saying goes, “Freedom is not free.” In order to have liberty, we should participate with the good and resist evil. While we understand homeschoolers’ tendency to be wary, NCHE believes the officials at DNPE understand shared governance. We believe they are not collecting any data that the average citizen could keep private if their child were educated elsewhere. As of today, it is NCHE’s position that DNPE is a partner with NC home educators in maintaining the freedom of North Carolina citizens to chose among education alternatives. We advocate that NC home educators share governance with DNPE, and that means participating in non-intrusive voluntary programs.

“The efforts of the government alone will never be enough. In the end the people must choose, and the people must help themselves.” John F. Kennedy

Spencer Mason and his wife, Debbie, homeschooled their four children from birth through high school, starting in 1981. Now their five grandchildren are being homeschooled. Spencer has served on the NCHE board for thirty-three years—serving in several different positions, including twice as president. He now serves as law and policy director where he managed the successful campaign to improve our homeschool law in 2013. Under his leadership, NCHE maintains a respected voice on both sides of the aisle in the legislature. In addition to his board position, he is now serving as the NCHE executive office manager.