HOME schooling is legal in all 50 states, but legal restraints vary. Iowa and Michigan, the two most restrictive states, require home-school instructors to be certified teachers. California, Oregon, and Washington, which have been pioneer home-schooling states, have higher concentrations of home schoolers than the rest of the country.
Since 1982, 30 states have passed more lenient home-schooling laws, according to Michael Farris, president of Home School Legal Defense Association in Paeonian Springs, Va.
``We have basically won the battle over the right to exist,'' Mr. Farris says of the current legal status of home schooling. But some states are beginning to impose what Farris characterizes as ``excessive and harassing legislation.''
The education establishment is generally wary of home schooling, and some officials criticize parents who take kids out of the public schools for abandoning public education when it most needs their support. Since most school districts receive state funds on a per-pupil basis, declining enrollments are a serious threat.
Some school districts are now reaching out to home schoolers. In California, several cities have started programs that subsidize the cost of home schooling. Cupertino, Calif., offers a $1,000 expense account to parents who register in the school district's independent-study program. The funds can be used for books and other educational expenses. Students in the program can choose to attend specific classes or activities at the school. Some might come for after-school sports or art and music classes. Eve ry student added to the school's roster brings in about $3,000 in state aid. So the district still comes out ahead.
While some home schoolers are signing on enthusiastically, others are cautious. ``When you take that $1,000 in state aid and enroll your child in an independent study program, what you have to do is administer the school's program. You're losing your alternative character all together,'' says Patrick Farenga, president of Holt Associates, a Cambridge, Mass., clearinghouse on home-school issues.
Some home schoolers already receive textbooks or other materials from their local schools. Making the school another community resource - along with libraries and museums - is a positive development, say many home schoolers.