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Homeschool Laws Vary by State

Here are examples of states ranging from very lax homeschooling regulations to highly regulated ones. I compare Utah and Texas, which are both relaxed, to Washington, which is considered moderate, and Pennsylvania, which has high regulation. You can easily see the variance.

Several states, including Utah, do not have strong homeschooling laws. In Utah, for example, you must teach certain subjects for a certain period of time and you must provide a signed affidavit that you will. However, there is no monitoring for this. There is no assessment requirement and the state has very little right to ask you whether or not you are following these rules. They cannot inspect where you are teaching or decide whether or not you are qualified to teach. As soon as you provide the affidavit, you will be allowed to homeschool in Utah.

If that sounds too tense, groups of families can form a “private school” free from regulation.

In Texas, homeschooling families are also highly protected. Similar to Utah in the amount (or lack of) regulation, Texas goes further than Utah and actually protects the rights of homeschooled families to choose how they teach their children.

Subjects covered should include:

  • Citizenship
  • math
  • reading
  • spelling
  • grammar

In Texas, homeschooled families are considered private schools, and as long as they teach “good citizenship,” they are exempt from other regulations. Like many other states, Texas cannot decide if you are suitable to teach, cannot verify you, and cannot ask you to provide an assessment. A few states, including Texas, have enshrined in law that homeschooled children cannot be discriminated against when applying to college or university.

The story in Texas is contentious: in the 1980s, 80 families were actually tried in court for truancy. Fortunately, this opened the door to a legacy in Texas that makes homeschooling easier. I tip my hat to these pioneering families.

Contrast that with Washington, which is considered to have “moderate” regulation.

Washington’s homeschooling law gives families two options. The “home school” option and the “private school” option. The regulations are byzantine compared to Utah or Texas. Subjects that must be taught include:

  • Professional training
  • Science
  • math
  • Language
  • social studies
  • the story
  • health
  • reading
  • Writing
  • spelling
  • developing an appreciation for art and music

Another regulation in Washington is that you must use a program and you must meet certain criteria if you are homeschooling your children. Specifically,

  • the parent is supervised by a graduate person who helps plan the year together, has a minimum of 4 contact hours each month, and this person evaluates the child’s progress.
  • the parent has either forty-five quarterly college credits or the equivalent
  • the parent has completed a homeschooling course
  • the parent is “deemed sufficiently qualified to provide home schooling by the superintendent of the local school district”.

Also, compared to Texas and Utah which require no assessment, Washington requires standardized testing. These tests must be carried out annually and in the prescribed manner. Test results must be filed and kept for a number of years.

Under the “private school” option, children are home-schooled by parents according to a curriculum prescribed by a private school.

Homeschooling families in Pennsylvania have five legal options, some of which may be a little strange. Comparing Pennsylvania to Texas, for example, shows just how huge a gap there is from state to state.

Under the Homeschooling Act, families file an affidavit each year. They must first file this affidavit when they begin home schooling, and then annually by August 1. The affidavit must include the following information:

  • Parent’s name, child’s name and age, address and telephone number
  • Assurance that subjects are taught in English
  • overview of the educational objectives proposed by domain
  • Immunization Insurance
  • Assurance that the child has received the required health and medical services
  • Proof that the program will comply with homeschooling statutes
  • Assurance that parents, all adults living in the home, and supervisors have not been convicted of certain criminal offenses within the past five years.

Unlike in Texas and Utah, at the end of the school year, parents must submit a portfolio of their children’s work, and in some classes they must also include standardized test scores. There are pretty strict rules about what should be included in the portfolio, as well as who is allowed to provide an assessment of your child.

Finally, if your child has been identified as needing special education services, their education plan must be approved by a special educator or school psychologist.

In Pennsylvania, you can also choose to homeschool under the “private tutor” option. You must have a criminal record check and you must be a certified teacher. If you are, you can homeschool your children in Pennsylvania. Curiously, the law states that the guardian (mom or dad) must be paid or otherwise compensated for their services.

Homeschooled families in Pennsylvania can teach their children in their home as a satellite campus of a day school or church. This option works if you already belong or are ready to join a church-based home-schooling group. A list of these groups is available.

The home schooling program in Pennsylvania must contain:

  • English
  • Arithmetic
  • Science
  • Geography
  • Civics
  • History of the United States and Pennsylvania
  • Safety education (I’m not making this up) Including regular and continuous instructions on the danger of fire prevention
  • Health and Physiology
  • Physical education
  • Music
  • Art

Frankly?

The requirements for high school are almost the same, including the fire prevention stuff. Secondary students also need a foreign language, but can skip physical education, music and art.

There is also an accredited boarding or day school option. You can homeschool your children if you are approved for this option.

As I sifted through all the information about homeschooling regulations in every state and province, reading the laws, parent blogs in the different states, education department information from each state and the information published by the Homeschool Legal Defense Association, I became more and more amazed at the huge difference between each area. We live in British Columbia, which, after reading and writing about this for the past 8 months, is, I am convinced, the best place to homeschool in North America. I would like to know if there is a correlation between the states with the highest regulation and student outcomes.

Another interesting thing I’ve noticed is that some states seem to have an adversarial relationship with homeschoolers, and some seem to encourage it. This despite the level of regulation. In fact, I’ve noticed that some states and provinces seem to have lax regulations coupled with strict penalties for non-compliance. In this case, the ambiguity could prove to be quite stressful. How can you be sure that you have provided adequate instructions if there is no clear definition of what that means? At least in Pennsylvania you know what you’re up against.

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