Since I originally published Alternatives to HSLDA on December 18, 2007, I’ve received more feedback on it than any other blog post. I’ve updated the post and verified that all links are still working. Please note that I am not anti-HSLDA, though I have come across homeschoolers who vehemently oppose the efforts of this nonprofit organization. I simply believe that homeschoolers should make an educated decision about membership and that the decision shouldn’t be based on fear, peer pressure from other homeschoolers, or the notion that HSLDA provides legal insurance (they do not). I am troubled by the almost religious fervor with which so many homeschoolers push HSLDA membership and admonish those who question the need for it, and my intent is to provide some balance to the discussion. If you want to join and benefit from membership in HSLDA, that’s great! You have the right to financially support any organization for any reason. I am providing this information as a resource only, and I don’t personally endorse any of the links below. Glean from them what you will.
I appreciate the Home School Legal Defense Association for providing information, advocating for home educators, and standing up for homeschooling rights. I use their site as well as their alerts as a resource. However, I am not a member and don’t plan to become one. I did have a 3-month trial membership previously but didn’t renew it for several reasons: I don’t agree with their legislative stance on several federal issues that have little if anything to do with homeschooling; I don’t believe that they are the mouthpiece for American homeschooling that many believe they are, nor do they represent the views of many if not most homeschoolers; and I simply don’t see HSLDA membership as a necessary part of my homeschooling journey.
But to hear some (many?) homeschoolers put it, I am a fool and am putting my homeschooling liberty and religious freedom in jeopardy by not joining HSLDA. I wonder if some supporters even think of them as lawyers at all but rather as some sort of homeschooling superheroes that have more knowledge of the law, the Constitution, and civil rights than mere lawyers. I appreciate the efforts they have made to protect homeschooling rights, but I think it’s also important to recognize that many other individuals, groups, and state organizations are strong advocates for homeschooling rights though they don’t have the HSLDA’s level of name recognition.
Many homeschoolers describe HSLDA as legal insurance, but as the organization clearly notes on its application: “HSLDA is not an insurance company and cannot guarantee legal representation in every situation.” Given the limitations and restrictions on cases that HSLDA will represent, a prepaid legal insurance plan that covers a much broader range of legal issues than just homeschooling-related ones might be a better option if you want the security of having legal insurance. But is prepaid legal insurance a necessity for homeschoolers? Perhaps.
As I see it, the most important thing homeschoolers can do to protect their educational liberty is to be thoroughly familiar with their own state’s homeschooling laws and ensure that they are following all requirements and keeping good records to back that up should they ever have a need to prove it. And they need to be assertive and be their own advocate. Yes, in rare circumstances they might still need to obtain legal representation (preferably from a family lawyer familiar with homeschooling law), but having all records in order will help make a stronger defense.
I have no problem with people joining HSLDA as long as they understand that membership is not legal insurance and HSLDA does not guarantee representation in every circumstance, including parental custody disputes involving homeschooling. I also think that HSLDA uses scare tactics to convince people to join and am not comfortable with some of their manipulative wording; fear shouldn’t be the only reason on which homeschoolers base their decision to join HSLDA. There are benefits of joining as well, and I certainly don’t begrudge anyone for joining the organization.
Here are a few of the resources and organizations I have found so far that are alternatives to joining HSLDA or additional resources to check out if you’re already a member. I have not yet researched all of them but have seen all of them referenced in more than one place. Feel free to comment further on any of these groups you are familiar with, and let me know of any other organizations or alternatives you know of.
“NHELD is an acronym for National Home Education Legal Defense, a national organization open to all who wish to join, that seeks to protect and defend the rights of families who wish to educate in freedom.”
“Founded in 1982 by constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead, The Rutherford Institute is a civil liberties organization that provides free legal services to people whose constitutional and human rights have been threatened or violated.”
“AHSA is an informal network of attorneys and legal experts in the United States supporting homeschooling and homeschoolers by providing legal information about homeschooling issues, empowering homeschoolers to have the legal tools they need to meet homeschooling challenges, and providing a network of attorneys for legal representation.”
“In 2009, the CLA [Christian Law Association] assembled a dedicated team of homeschool parents, homeschool graduates and attorneys to form Homeschool Legal Advantage – a division specifically charged with protecting the rights of homeschoolers, and providing practical advice regarding home education and compliance with homeschool laws. Today, the HLA team includes a large group of full-time attorneys and an additional 200+ affiliated attorneys throughout the United States.”
Home Education Magazine’s Laws and Regulations Page
A to Z Home’s Cool Legal Resources
Dana has a great post related to this topic in CA, HSLDA, and Protecting Homeschooling.