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A School Board President Who Homeschools? How Dare You!

“On a school board in Lincoln,” Schulte said, “there are seven of us, and only three of us have kids in school. ... What it takes to lead our schools is to have someone who’s passionate about a good education for all kids, not just their own kids.” He added that local school boards affect people’s lives more than any other government entity, “so we need really good, thoughtful people in those leadership positions.”

Bahorich wasn’t elected to the Texas Board of Education until 2012, nearly a decade after she finished homeschooling. But she said teaching her young sons until they enrolled in private Christian schools shaped her views on education in general.

“As a homeschooler, I didn’t have the regulations,” she said, so now she looks at classroom requirements with an eye toward doing only what helps. “I don’t just accept that this is the way we’ve always done it so we have to keep doing it.”

Bahorich also has a strong empathy for the work of teachers, including the long hours of planning and the challenges of creating interesting lessons. “At least I have an understanding of it because I did it for 13 years,” she said.

In West Virginia, whose governor just signed a bill easing homeschool regulations, Henthorn formed her views on state education policy as her children worked their way through the system – and she didn’t like what she saw. She took her concerns about Common Core standards to the county board in 2013.

“We listened spellbound as Bonnie recounted real examples and genuine concerns for the usurpation of parental rights, the encroachment of government into daily lives, and our school system’s path to mediocrity,” West Virginians against Common Core recounted after the meeting. “The Mama Bear Factor was on display.”

Less than a year later, Henthorn finished second in the voting for school board, and her colleagues elected her president. Speaking only for herself, she then took the fight against Common Core to the state level in 2015 during a summer interim meeting of the legislature.

As Henthorn has emphasized repeatedly, the problem is not the quality of public education in Tyler County, which last year ranked fourth among all of the school districts in West Virginia. The problem is at the state level.

Fortunately, plenty of parents in Tyler County and West Virginia share Henthorn’s concerns about Common Core. They respect her right to pull her children out of school, both to improve their education and to instill religious values that are forbidden in public schools. And they are smart enough to reject the illogical and superficial suggestion that she is suddenly disqualified to be a public servant.

Two Tyler County school board members defended Henthorn’s decision to homeschool when she announced it, as did state Senate candidate Ginger Nalley at another board meeting. There is also a Facebook page to support Henthorn.

“What more could we ask for,” county resident Dave Metzger wrote, “than a mother who is so passionate about her children's education that she would make a stand for what she believes in and take on the challenge of homeschooling them regardless of the criticism she knew she would face.”

The key to homeschoolers like Henthorn being accepted as leaders in the debate about government-run education may be in their ability to stay focused on the mission. That worked in Texas for Bahorich, who was elected to the state board despite an opponent who made an issue of Bahorich’s homeschooling background.

She welcomes questions, even hostile ones, from state residents, especially those who are unfamiliar with homeschooling. “For most people who have not been in that world,” Bahorich said, “they just don’t get why you would do that.”

Doing extra work to improve education also can change perceptions. Bahorich, for instance, is visiting school districts around her state to discuss Texas’ goals for assessments and accountability with parents, business leaders and educators.

“You have to find ways to serve that are really going to help others,” she said. “If you come in with that attitude ... I think people appreciate the honest effort.”