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Homeschool Laws Vary by State

Here are examples of states varying between very lax homeschooling regulation to highly regulated. I am comparing 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, Utah included, do not have rigorous homeschool laws. In Utah, for example, you need to teach certain subjects for a certain length of time, and you need to provide a signed affidavit saying you will do this. However, there is no oversight for this. There are no requirements for assessment, and the state has very few rights to ask whether or not you are following these rules. They cannot inspect where you teach, 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 uptight for you, groups of families may form a "private school" that is exempt from regulation.

In Texas, homeschool families are also highly protected. Similar to Utah in the amount (or lack of) regulation, Texas does go further than Utah and actually protect homeschool families' rights to choose their method of teaching their children.

The subjects covered need to include:

  • Good citizenship

  • math

  • reading

  • spelling

  • grammar

In Texas, homeschool families are considered private schools, and as long as they teach "good citizenship" are free from other regulation. As in many other states, Texas cannot decide whether you are fit to teach, they cannot check in on you, and cannot ask you to provide assessment. A few states, Texas included, has written into the law that homeschooled children cannot be discriminated against when applying to university or college.

The history in Texas is litigious: in the 1980s, 80 families were actually tried in court for truancy. Luckily, that opened the door to a legacy in Texas that actually makes homeschooling easy. My hat is off to those pioneer families.

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

Washington homeschool law provides two options for families. The "homeschooling" option and the "private school" option. The regulations are byzantine compared to Utah or Texas. Subjects that must be taught include:

  • Occupational education

  • science

  • math

  • language

  • social studies

  • history

  • health

  • reading

  • writing

  • spelling

  • development of an appreciation of art and music

Another regulation in Washington is that you must use a curriculum, and you must meed certain criteria if you homeschool your children. Specifically,

  • the parent is supervised by a certificated person who helps plan the year together, has a minimum number of 4 hours in contact each month, and this person evaluates the child's progress.

  • the parent has either forty-five college quarter credits or the equivalent

  • the parent has completed a course in home-based education

  • the parent is "deemed sufficiently qualified to provide home-based instruction by the superintendent of the local school district."

Also, compared to Texas and Utah that require no assessment, Washington requires standardized testing. This testing needs to be done annually, and in a prescribed manner. The test results must be filed and kept for a certain amount of years.

Under the "private school" option, the children are schooled at home by parents using a prescribed curriculum from a private school.

Pennsylvania homeschool families have five legal options, some of them a little odd perhaps. Contrasting Pennsylvania with Texas, for example, shows what a huge gap exists from state to state.

Under the homeschool statute, families file an affidavit each year. They first must file this affidavit when they begin homeschooling, and then each year by August 1. The affidavit must include the following information:

  • Name of the parent, name and age of the child, address and telephone number

  • Assurance that subjects are taught in English

  • outline of proposed educational objectives by subject area

  • Assurance of Immunization

  • Assurance that the child has received required health and medical services

  • Evidence that the program will comply with the Homeschool Statute

  • Assurance that the parents, all adults living in the home, and supervisors have not been convicted of certain criminal offences in the last five years.

Contrasted again with Texas and Utah, by the end of the school year, parents must submit a portfolio of their children's work, and in certain grades, they must also include the results of standardized testing. There are rather strict rules about what should be included in the portfolio, as well as who is allowed to provide an evaluation of your child.

Last, if your child has been identified as needing special education services, his education plan needs to be approved by a special education teacher 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, then you may teach your children at home in Pennsylvania. Oddly, the law states that the tutor (mom or dad) must be paid or otherwise compensated for services.

Pennsylvania homeschool families may teach their children in their home as a satellite campus of a day or church school. This option works if you already belong to or are willing to join a church based homeschool group. There is a list of these groups available.

The curriculum for homeschooling in Pennsylvania must contain:

  • English

  • Arithmetic

  • Science

  • Geography

  • Civics

  • History of the United States and Pennsylvania

  • Safety Education (I am not making this up) Including regular and continuous instruction on the danger of an prevention of fires

  • Health and Physiology

  • Physical Education

  • Music

  • Art

Honestly? Requirements for high school are almost the same, including the fire prevention stuff. Students in high school also need a foreign language, but can skip P.E., music, and art.

There is also an accredited boarding school or day school option. You may teach your children at home if you are approved under this option.

As I sifted through all the information on each state and province's homeschool regulation, reading through statutes, blogs from parents in the different states, information on each state's department of education, and information put out by the Homeschool Legal Defence Association, I became more and more amazed at the huge difference between each area. We live in British Columbia, which, after reading and writing on this subject for the past 8 months, I am convinced is the best place to homeschool in North America. I would love to know if there is any correlation between the states with the highest regulation and student results.

Another interesting thing I noticed is that some states seem to have an adversarial relationship with homeschoolers, and some seem to actually encourage it. This despite the level of regulation. In fact, I noticed that certain states and provinces seem to have lax regulation coupled with strict penalties for not following them. In this case, the ambiguity could prove to be quite stressful. How can you be sure you have provided adequate instruction if there is no clearly laid out definition of what that means? At least in Pennsylvania, you know what you're up against.

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