Home schooling
 

U.S. Homeschooling Laws 

In the United States homeschooling laws make it legal in all 50 states to homeschool your children. In some states homeschooling parents are occasionally faced with prosecution under truancy laws. The U.S. Supreme Court has never ruled on home schooling specifically, but in Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205 (1972) it supported the rights of Amish parents to keep their children out of public schools for religious reasons. Many other court rulings have established or supported the right of parents to provide home education if they so choose.

Lawyers and teachers


Every state has some form of a compulsory attendance law that requires children in a certain age range to spend a specific amount of time being educated. Only a short time after compulsory attendance laws became common in the United States, Oregon adopted a statute outlawing private schools which the U.S. Supreme Court subsequently struck down as unconstitutional in its 1925 ruling in Pierce v. Society of Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, 268 U.S. 510 (1925).

The Court held that a state may not prohibit a parent from satisfying a compulsory attendance requirement by sending their children to private school. This case has frequently been cited by other courts in support of the proposition that parents have a right to satisfy compulsory attendance requirements though home instruction. Parents' right to home school their children has clearly been established through subsequent court decisions to such an extent that any statute attempting to forbid it entirely would certainly be struck down on constitutional or other ground.

 


Homeschooling laws can be divided into three categories:

  • In some states, homeschooling requirements are based on its treatment as a type of private school (California, Indiana, Texas, for example) In those states, homeschools are generally required to comply with the same laws that apply to other (usually non-accredited) schools.

  • In other states, homeschool requirements are based on the unique wording of the state's compulsory attendance statute without any specific reference to "homeschooling" (New Jersey, Maryland, for example). In those states, the requirements for homeschooling are set by the particular parameters of the compulsory attendance statute.

  • In other states (Maine, New Hampshire, Iowa, for example) homeschool requirements are based on a statute or group of statutes that specifically applies to homeschooling, although these statutes often refer to homeschooling using other nomenclature (in Virginia, for example, the statutory nomenclature is "home instruction"; in South Dakota, it is "alternative instruction"; in Iowa, it is "competent private instruction"). In these states, the requirements for homeschooling are set out in the relevant statutes.

While every state has some requirements, there is great diversity in the type, number, and level of burden imposed. No two states treat homeschooling in exactly the same way. Generally, the burden is less in states in category 1, above. Furthermore, many states offer more than one option for homeschooling, with different requirements applying to each option.

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Some Examples of State Homeschooling Laws:

Some states do not require any notice of intent.  While others require the filing of a notice with local school officials containing specified information. In conformity with the general trend to ease requirements however, only two states, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, still require parents to obtain approval prior to home schooling. More onerous requirements even include the need to have a teacher with credentials supervise the home schooled child's education.

Proponents of heavier requirements argue that they are a necessity in order to achieve the societal goal of having an educated public who are prepared to participate in democratic society. There are no scientific studies, however, that indicate heavier requirements produce better results.

In general, standardized test scores in states with high requirements are no better than in states with lower requirements, casting doubt on the wisdom of placing high requirements on homeschooling since higher requirements create higher administrative costs.

In California, for example, home schoolers must either a.) be part of a public homeschooling program through independent study or a charter school, b.) use a tutor with credentials, or c.) enroll their children in a qualified private school (Such private schools may be formed by the parents in their own home, or parents may utilize a number of private schools which offer some kind of independent study or distance learning options).

All persons who operate private schools in California, including parents forming schools just for their own children, must file an annual affidavit with the Department of Education. They must offer certain courses of study (generally similar to the content required in public schools, but described in one page rather than the hundreds of pages of scope and sequence requirements that public schools must follow) and must keep attendance records, but are otherwise not subject to any state oversight. There is no requirement in California that any private school teachers, whether the school is large or small, must have state credentials, although all teachers must be "capable of teaching".

Texas, which is considered to be very friendly toward home schooling (after losing a landmark case when it attempted to outlaw homeschooling), has very minimal requirements. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) has no authority to regulate home schools (TEA considers home schools to be equivalent to "unaccredited private schools"; TEA states that private schools are not required to be accredited, and it has no authority to regulate those either). The requirements (based totally on state law, or more precisely the absence of state law), are based on a near-laissez faire attitude toward homeschooling, and are as follows:

  • State law only requires that a school (of any type) curriculum 1) must teach "reading, spelling, grammar, mathematics and a study of good citizenship" (the latter is interpreted to mean a course in civics), and 2) must be taught in a bona fide manner (which means there must be a real intent to actually provide education). Texas Home School Coalition FAQ states that the curriculum may be obtained from any source(s), and does not have to be approved or even provided to the state or the local school district.
  • State law does not specify any minimum number of days in a year, or hours in a day, that must be met.
  • State law does not require achievement tests for home school graduating seniors.
  • State law does not restrict home school families from combining into one group setting.
  • State law does not require registration or annual filings.
  • State law does not require any teacher credentials, or any capability for that matter.
  • State law requires notification only if the child was previously in a public school and is withdrawn; the notification required is merely a letter notifying the school district of the parent(s)' intent. Parents who home school from day one are not required to give any notice

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