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Understanding Homeschooling Law

If you’re new to homeschooling, one of the first questions you probably have is, “What are the laws regarding homeschooling?”  The federal government regulates many areas of life, so you might expect interference here. Fortunately, you won’t find any.

The federal government has no jurisdiction over homeschooling, and educating your child at home is a fundamental right protected by the Constitution. In fact, the 10th Amendment gives power to individual states to regulate all forms of education, including homeschooling.

State Laws

Although the federal government doesn’t have a say in your homeschooling choices, the states certainly do. Since 1996, homeschooling has been legal in all fifty states, but states vary widely in their rules and regulations. The most lenient states, including New Jersey, Texas, Idaho, and Oklahoma, have almost no regulations. Other states, including Nebraska, Kentucky, and Arizona, require only that parents notify school authorities of their intent to homeschool.

Colorado, Tennessee, Virginia, and other states require that homeschoolers notify authorities and complete annual evaluations or assessments to track progress. A few states, including New York and Pennsylvania, have very strict regulations. In these states, parents must submit annual test scores or evaluations, use an approved curriculum, or go through a qualification process.

It’s vitally important that you understand your state’s laws before you embark on the homeschooling journey. Talk with other parents and call a local homeschooling group to learn more. Many states have a governmental department specifically devoted to homeschooling regulations. Understanding the regulations upfront will help you organize your homeschool to efficiently comply with the laws. It will also save you a lot of potential trouble down the road.

If you decide to move to another state, don’t assume the laws are similar. Learn about the laws before you move so you’re not hit with unexpected new regulations after you move.

Typical Regulations

Although every state is different, most states’ regulations cover similar topics. States frequently change regulations, so it’s important to contact local authorities to learn about the most current rules. Below are a few of the common issues that state regulations address:

Notification. You’ve decided to homeschool, but before you start, you may have to notify the local school district or even the department of education. Some states require no notice; others require annual notice, usually in the summer or fall. Some states do not require notice for a child who’s never attended school, while other states require notice for all children.

Age of Compulsory Attendance. The next thing to know is at what age your child is legally required to attend school. All states have compulsory attendance laws. For example, in California, all children between the ages of six and eighteen must attend school, while in Idaho, children ages seven through sixteen must attend school. Additionally, each state has a birthday cut-off date for six year olds. In California, children who turn age six by December 2 must start school. In Colorado, the cut-off date is August 1.

Attendance And Record Keeping. Children in all fifty states must legally attend some type of educational program, but individual states determine how many days and hours children must attend. In Colorado, for example, homeschooled children must attend an average of four hours, 172 days per year. Parents have some flexibility in determining how to meet the mandatory attendance rules. Some families continue homeschooling through the summer for only two hours per day and take vacations in the winter. Other families have a longer school day, but homeschool fewer days during the year. You’ll also want to find out if your state requires you to keep an attendance log and if and when you must share that log with officials.

In addition to attendance logs, some states require parents to keep other records, including immunization records, work samples, or quarterly progress reports. If you live in a state with strict record keeping regulations, the paperwork can become quite burdensome. Talk with your local homeschool organization for tips on keeping records.

Parent Qualifications. Most states have no parental requirements to homeschool other than that the parent be a legal guardian, capable of making reasonable and informed decisions for her child. A few states, though, require parents to have completed a certain level of formal education. In Washington State, for example, parents must be deemed capable of homeschooling by the local school superintendent, attend a qualifying course, or have completed forty-five units of college credit. In other states, parents may be required to be monitored by a certified teacher.

The subject of parental qualifications is an interesting one. On the one hand, if you happen to have a teaching certificate, in many states, you’re automatically exempt from all regulations, including testing and attendance-taking. On the other hand, a teaching certificate doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re prepared to homeschool. Training for teachers include instruction on classroom management, lesson plan development, and assessment methods for classroom use. Most of these strategies aren’t necessary, or even appropriate, in a quiet homeschool setting.

Private School Status. Another common question is that of defining the homeschooling experience. Some states lump homeschoolers with private schools, although the two are quite different. Other states define the two as completely separate types of organizations. A few states allow homeschoolers to operate as either one, or as a hybrid of the two.

In most instances, defining a homeschool as a private school offers few advantages and much more paperwork and regulation.

Curriculum. Most states have some requirements about the subjects you teach in your homeschool. These subjects usually include the ones you would expect—reading, writing, math, science, history, speech, geography, and social studies. Most homeschoolers have no trouble meeting curriculum goals and usually learn much more than the state requires. More importantly, few states have regulations about how content is taught, giving parents the freedom to choose an instruction method that suits their child’s learning needs. Parents are free to incorporate field trips, projects, online classes, or any other method that fulfills their goals.

Testing and Evaluations. This is probably the area that homeschooling families complain about most. Many states require testing and evaluations to ensure children are making adequate progress. These tests must usually be administered by a certified teacher or other school official. In some states, if students fall below a certain percentile on standardized tests, they may be required to attend public schools.

Special Needs. Many parents raising a child with special needs opt to homeschool because the child’s needs aren’t being met at school. Some states have specific rules regarding homeschooling a child with special needs, including increased supervision or record keeping. On the other hand, your child may be eligible for free speech therapy or other services provided through the school district even if you homeschool.

All of this may seem daunting at first, but don’t become discouraged. Once you understand your state’s rules, following them is usually fairly simple. If you run into challenges, contact a local homeschooling organization for support.

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