Not Your Father’s Law: A Brief Account of Arizona Homeschool Law by: Tom Lewis

The inclination of Legislatures is to limit parental rights in the area of homeschooling.  We cannot let this happen.  Thanks to Arizona Families for Home Education you have the best homeschool law in the nation.  This is not only my opinion, but is also the opinion of Mike Smith, president of the Home School Legal Defense Association.

The reason our law is so good is that it is simple and objective. All a parent needs to do is file an affidavit of intent with the county school superintendent when they first start homeschooling. That’s it!  The law requires no student testing, no parent testing, no curriculum review, and no hours of instruction review.

Your father’s law, however, was entirely different. Yes, it was simple. But it was also subjective. The original 1912 state statues required schooling through the eighth grade by a competent teacher.

The rub came in the definition of a “competent” teacher. Now we all know what a competent teacher is, right? It is a homeschooling mom and dad! However, the education bureaucrats in the '70s decided it should be a state certified teacher.

They were so certain of their course of action that they made violation of the law a misdemeanor. That meant courts, fines and jail time for some homeschoolers, and fear and intimidation for most others. The last parent in Arizona to be jailed for the dastardly crime of homeschooling was Tom Sidar, a resident of Apache Junction. The year was 1991.

There were some crazy misconceptions about homeschooling in the days of your father’s law. In one debate on the House floor in 1982, a legislator asked, “Why are we having this discussion? After all, the children belong to the state.” At that point, Representative Jim Skelly of Scottsdale leaped to his feet and said, “I beg to differ. Children are a gift from God for parents to raise.”

On another occasion, when ritualistic cattle killing was filling the headlines of the Arizona Republic and Phoenix Gazette, a legislator asked me, “Mr. Lewis, how many homeschoolers drink blood and do animal sacrifice?” Wow! How do you answer such an absurd question…. three?

Misconceptions aside, your father’s law also had quirks. In 1981, the parent doing the schooling, usually mom, was required to take and pass the Arizona Teachers Proficiency Examine ("ATPE") before starting to homeschool.

The ATPE consisted of three modules of reading, writing and arithmetic, and was offered quarterly, rotating between venues near the three state universities. So, for example, a parent wanting to home school in Flagstaff, depending on the time frame, had to travel to Tucson to test. God forbid that they failed one of the modules because that meant waiting several months to test at another location. And, to top it all off, home educators had to pay to take the test.

Not surprisingly, these homeschooling moms outperformed university education graduates who had spent thousands for their degree. And those degrees were a bargain in the '80s compared to today! The homeschooling moms outperformed the college grads by preparing with a $2.95 book entitled Studying for the GED.

Over time, the testing portion of the home school law grew to better accommodate home educators. In the end, the ATPE was rescinded, collapsing under its own weight because of minority discrimination issues.

Another quirk of your father’s law was standardized testing. There was only one test to choose from and we had to pay for it. More unfortunately, no publishers at that time would sell it to a home school. So, we were stuck trying to find a public or private school that would accommodate testing our children.

Then, the test results were subjectively evaluated with different criteria from county to county. I remember a situation where a child who was testing in the 60th percentile two years in a roll was deemed "not progressing academically." And, yes, we had to pay for those silly evaluations too.

From 1995–1999, the law evolved into, essentially, what we have today: the best homeschool law in the nation! During that timeframe, we gained:

No student testing! Thanks to SB1348 that originated with then Senator John Huppenthal!

Access to interscholastic sports! Now, a homeschooled student in Arizona can go out for football just like Tim Tebow did in Florida.

Access to public college scholarships! Thanks to Bethany’s Law, written by a 17-year-old home school student, homeschool grads have access to scholarships at our three state universities.

Hopefully this brief account will motivate you to protect the great home school law you inherited. Protect it for the sake of your children. Protect for the sake of your children’s children. After all, I want to spend my golden years playing with my grandchildren, not lobbying at the Arizona Capitol.
Tom Lewis has been active in the homeschool movement since the mid 80’s. He served on the board of Arizona Families for Home Education (AFHE) for over 12 years. During this time, he served as President, Director of Public Relations and Director of Legislative Affairs. In addition, Tom launched the AFHE Scholarship Program.

Tom played a crucial role in those early years in developing a positive media image of homeschooling, unifying homeschoolers at the capitol and architecting the strategy that led to Arizona’s exceptional homeschool law.

Tom and his wife Colene live in Gilbert where they completed homeschooling their three daughters. These three now married daughters have provided them with eight beautiful grandchildren and more exciting times as the next generation starts the homeschool adventure.