A History of Homeschooling in North Carolina

When homeschooling began to spread in North Carolina in the 1970s and 1980s, there were only two educational options in North Carolina: public schools and private schools (overseen by the Department of Non-Public Education (DNPE) beginning in 1979). The early 1980s was characterized by a series of protracted legal battles, which were originally unfavorable toward homeschooling. North Carolinians for Home Education (NCHE) was founded in 1984 in an effort to organize homeschoolers and lobby for the right to homeschool. A key moment came when the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled in Delconte v. State (1985) that homeschools should be permitted to operate under the rules governing private schools.

The Department of Public Instruction (DPI) proposed legislation in 1987 that would have given the DPI and local boards of education the jurisdiction to oversee homeschooling. Under the leadership of NCHE, homeschool parents lobbied hard against this proposal, arguing that homeschooling should continue as it had since the 1985 ruling. Nevertheless, several bills based on the DIP proposal were introduced into the legislature. When one of these bills passed an initial vote, NCHE went into hyper drive, opposing DPI oversight of home education. Finally, State Senator Dennis Winner brokered a compromise with NCHE, introducing a slightly revised version of NCHE’s proposed substitute bill into the state legislature. The result—North Carolina’s current homeschool law—passed in 1988.

North Carolina’s 1988 homeschool statute did not grant the DPI or local school boards authority to oversee homeschooling, but it did require that homeschool parents have a high school diploma or its equivalent and that homeschooled children take annual nationally standardized tests and make the results of those tests available to the DNPE on site. The DNPE has used various methods for viewing these scores over the years, including both mail and public meetings in local public spaces. The homeschool lobby has generally been congenial, but has pointed out that technically the DNPE does not have the authority to either require the test results to be sent by mail or require homeschool parents or guardians to attend meetings.

The 1988 homeschool statute defined a homeschool as “a nonpublic school in which one or more children of not more than two families or households receive academic instruction from parents or legal guardians, or a member of either household.” This became a problem as the DNPE interpreted it to mean that that all academic instruction had to come from the homeschool parents or guardians themselves. In 2013, the state legislature changed the definition of a homeschool to “a nonpublic school consisting of the children not more than two families or households, where the parents or legal guardians or members of either household determine the scope and sequence of academic instruction, provide academic instruction, and determine additional sources of academic instruction.” This has solved the problem by expanding the definition of homeschools to acknowledge the reality that homeschool parents often choose to find outside academic instruction for their children.

Also in 2013, a bill that would have opened public school sports to homeschoolers was proposed, but did not pass; a similar bill had been introduced two years earlier. Another bill was proposed in 2013 that would have offered tax credits to homeschool families, but also did not pass. While North Carolina is currently a very friendly state toward homeschooling, concern about compromising the funding and integrity of public education has prevented the passage of these measures.

See also “A History of Homeschooling in NC” and “Law and Policy.”

For more state histories, see Histories of Homeschooling.

Click here for more on homeschooling in North Carolina.

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