When Wisconsin families first began homeschooling in the 1970s and 1980s, whether or not their actions were legal was unclear. Some requested permission from the Department of Public Instruction while others incorporated as private schools and still others simply homeschooled without going through either process. Under the leadership of its state superintendent, Herbert Grover, the Department of Public Instruction was highly critical of homeschooling. Questions over the legality of homeschooling came to a head when a homeschool family was taken to court and the case worked its way through the judicial system. Ultimately, the Wisconsin Supreme Court declared in State v. Popanz (1983) the state’s compulsory education law “void for vagueness since it fails to define ‘private school.’” This threw the question to the legislature.
From late 1983 into early 1984, the newly formed Wisconsin Parents Association, a organization of homeschool parents opposed to oversight of homeschooling, engaged in a legal battle with the Department of Public Instruction, which wanted the right to oversee homeschooling. The WPA argued that parents were granted by nature or God the right to educate their children as they saw fit, and that oversight of homeschooling was a violation of that right. The homeschool parents’ lobbying efforts were successful and in 1984 the state legislature passed the Wisconsin’s current minimal homeschooling law.
For the remainder of the 1980s, the Department of Public Instruction made efforts to gain the authority to oversee homeschooling. In 1987 the LaFollette Institute of Public Affairs published A report by Henry S. Lufler and Robert Kranz titled Home Instruction in Wisconsin, which found that while some homeschools were excellent others were sorely lacking and called for “minimal safeguards” and “program standards.” The WPA, which continued to argue that any standards or oversight were invasive and unnecessary, successfully opposed these efforts.
In 1993, Herbert Grover was replaced with a new state superintendent who was more conciliatory toward homeschooling, and in 1998 the state legislature passed a law requiring public high schools to allow homeschool students to take up to two courses per semester. While some education officials have continued to favor greater oversight of homeschooling in the years since the contentious 1980s, the climate has changed since that decade and none of their proposals have made it to the legislature.
For more state histories, see Histories of Homeschooling.
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