North Dakota Loosens Homeschooling Law

Published June 1, 2009

North Dakota home educators have scored a victory with the state easing a big burden in one of the nation’s most-restrictive laws. Now they are pressing for further changes.

In April, Gov. John Hoeven (R) signed House Bill 1171, removing burdensome government monitoring requirements from homeschooling families. Previously, parents lacking the equivalent of state-endorsed teaching certification had to report weekly to a certified teaching monitor. If not appointed by a local school district or state agency, the family would have to pay the monitor directly.

“It’s a step in the right direction for people to be able to homeschool without the monitoring,” said state Rep. Bette Grande (R-Fargo). “Those who homeschool choose to do so because they have good reason to think they can do a good job of educating their children and are not satisfied with some aspect of the public school system.”

Monitoring Burden

The North Dakota Home School Association (NDHSA) agrees, saying the legislation could boost the state’s current number of 4,000 homeschooled students to 5,500—nearly 3 percent of the public school population.

“Monitoring has been a burden upon homeschool families that needs to be removed,” said NDHSA Executive Director Jim Bartlett. “We’ll see an increase in homeschooling as a result.”

Others disagree.

“There should be monitoring of home schools,” said Bev Nielson, spokeswoman for the North Dakota School Boards Association. “We can see [students] are achieving what their parents say they are achieving, but without monitoring you don’t know.”

A 2008 study in the online journal Academic Leadership found state regulation had no effect on homeschooled students’ SAT scores.

‘Inalienable’ Rights

According to a Home School Legal Defense Association analysis released before the law’s passage, North Dakota is one of six states with “high regulation.” Bartlett says the state’s current regulation isn’t just high; it’s excessive.

“We believe it is an inalienable right for parents to direct the education of their children,” Bartlett said.

Nielson says the new law allows too much individual freedom.

“They may believe they have an inalienable right, but states have all sorts of regulation about what you can and can’t do with your children,” Nielson said. “The state has a vested interest in the education of their youth.”

Looming Sunset Clause

Bartlett recognizes NDHSA cannot rest on its laurels, as a two-year sunset clause amended into the final version of the law will require further action. In the meantime, the group plans to press forward with a longer-term agenda to eliminate the state’s achievement testing mandate and other legal restrictions still in place.

“It’s a national trend to take the burden off homeschoolers, because that burden doesn’t help children,” Bartlett said.

Ben DeGrow ([email protected]) is a policy analyst for the Independence Institute, based in Golden, Colorado.

For more information …

“State Regulation of Homeschooling and Homeschoolers’ SAT Scores,” by Brian D. Ray and Bruce K. Eagleson, Academic Leadership, August 2008:

“State Laws,” Home School Legal Defense Association: