The Laws Governing Homeschooling

The Easiest - and Most Difficult - States for Homeschooling

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Homeschooling has been legal in all 50 U.S. states since 1993. According to the Homeschool Legal Defense Association, home education was illegal in most states as recently as the early 1980’s. By 1989, only three states, Michigan, North Dakota, and Iowa, still considered homeschooling a crime.

Interestingly, of those three states, two of them, Michigan and Iowa, are today listed among the states with the least restrictive homeschooling laws.

Although homeschooling is now legal across the United States, each state is responsible for drafting its own homeschool laws, which means that what must be done to legally homeschool varies depending on where a family lives.

Some states are highly regulated, while others place few restrictions on homeschooling families. Homeschool Legal Defense Association maintains an up-to-date database on the homeschooling laws in all fifty states.

Terms to Know When Considering Homeschool Laws

To those who are new to homeschooling, the terminology used in homeschool laws may be unfamiliar. Some of the basic terms you need to know include:

Compulsory attendance: This refers to the ages children are required to be in some type of school setting. In most states that define a compulsory attendance age for homeschoolers, the minimum is usually between the ages of 5 and 7. The maximum is generally between the ages of 16 and 18.

Declaration (or Notice) of Intent: Many states require that homeschooling families submit an annual notice of intent to homeschool to either the state or county school superintendent. The content of this notice can vary by state, but usually includes the names and ages of the homeschooled children, the home address, and the parent’s signature.

Hours of instruction: Most states specify the number of hours and/or days per year during which children should be receiving instruction. Some, like Ohio, state 900 hours of instruction per year. Others, such as Georgia, specify four and one-half hours per day for 180 days each school year.

Portfolio: Some states offer a portfolio option in place of standardized testing or professional evaluation. A portfolio is a collection of documents outlining your student’s progress each school year. It may include records such as attendance, grades, courses completed, work samples, photos of projects, and test scores.

Scope and sequence: A scope and sequence is a list of topics and concepts that a student will learn throughout the school year. These concepts are usually broken down by subject and grade level.

Standardized test: Many states require that homeschool students take nationally standardized tests at regular intervals. The tests that meet each state’s requirements may vary.

Umbrella schools/cover schools: Some states give the option for homeschooled students to enroll in an umbrella or cover school. This may be an actual private school or simply an organization established to help homeschooling families comply with the laws in their state.

Students are taught at home by their parents, but the cover school maintains records for their enrolled students. The records required by cover schools vary based on the laws of the state in which they are located. These documents are submitted by parents and may include attendance, test scores, and grades.

Some umbrella schools help parents choose curriculum and offer transcripts, diplomas, and graduation ceremonies.

States with the Most Restrictive Homeschool Laws

States that are generally considered to be highly regulated for homeschooling families include:

  • Massachusetts
  • New York
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont

Often regarded as one of the most regulated states, New York’s homeschooling laws require that parents turn in an annual instruction plan for each student. This plan must include information such as the name, age, and grade level of the student; the curriculum or textbooks you intend to use; and the name of the teaching parent.

 

The state requires annual standardized testing in which students should be at or above the 33rd percentile or show a full grade level improvement from the previous year. New York also lists specific subjects that parents must teach their children at various grade levels.

Pennsylvania, another highly-regulated state, offers three options for homeschooling. Under the homeschool statute, all parents must submit a notarized affidavit to homeschool. This form includes information about immunizations and medical records, along with criminal background checks.

Homeschooling parent Malena H., who lives in Pennsylvania, says that although the state is “…considered one of the states with the highest regulations…it really isn't that bad. It sounds overwhelming when you hear about all the requirements, but once you have done it once it is pretty easy.”

She says, “In third, fifth and eighth grades the student has to take a standardized test. There is a variety to choose from, and they can even do some of them at home or online. You must keep a portfolio for each child that has a few samples for each subject taught and the results of the standardized test if the child is in one of the testing years. At the end of the year, you find an evaluator to review the portfolio and sign off on it. You then send the evaluator’s report to the school district.”

States with Moderately Restrictive Homeschool Laws

While most states require that the teaching parent have at least a high school diploma or GED, some, such as North Dakota, require that the teaching parent have a teaching degree or be monitored for at least two years by a certified teacher.

That fact puts North Dakota on the list of those considered to be moderately restrictive with regards to their homeschool laws. Those states include:

  • Colorado
  • Florida
  • Hawaii
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Minnesota
  • New Hampshire
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oregon
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • West Virginia

North Carolina is often considered a difficult state in which to homeschool. It requires maintaining attendance and immunization records for each child. North Carolina also requires that children complete nationally standardized tests each year.

Other moderately regulated states that require yearly standardized testing include Maine, Florida, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Ohio, South Carolina, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia. (Some of these states do offer alternative homeschooling options that may not require annual testing.)

Many states offer more than one option to legally homeschool. Tennessee, for example, currently has five options, including three umbrella schools options and one for distance learning (online classes).

Heather S., a homeschooling parent from Ohio, says that Ohio homeschoolers must submit an annual letter of intent and a summary of their intended curriculum, and agree to complete 900 hours of education each year. Then, at the end of each year, families “….can do state-approved testing or have a portfolio reviewed and submit the results..."

Children must test above the 25th percentile on standardized tests or show progression in their portfolio.

Virginia homeschooling mom, Joesette, considers her state homeschooling laws reasonably easy to follow. She says parents must “…file a Notice of Intent each year by August 15, then supply something to show progress at the end of the year (by August 1). This can be a standardized test, scoring at least in the 4th stanine, a [student] portfolio….or an evaluation letter by an approved evaluator.”

Alternately, Virginia parents can file a Religious Exemption.

States with Minimally Restrictive Homeschool Laws

Sixteen U.S. states are considered minimally restrictive. These include: 

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Delaware
  • Georgia
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Mississippi
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • New Mexico
  • Utah
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

Georgia requires an annual Declaration of Intent to be filed by September 1, annually, or within 30 days of the date you initially begin homeschooling. Children must take a nationally standardized test every three years starting in 3rd grade. Parents are required to write an annual progress report for each student. Both the test scores and progress reports are to be kept on file but are not required to be submitted to anyone.

Although Nevada is on the minimally restrictive list, Magdalena A., who homeschools her children in the state says that it is, “…homeschooling paradise. The law states only one regulation: when a child turns seven...a notice of intent to homeschool should be filed. That is it, for the rest of that child's life. No portfolios. No check-ups. No testing.”

California homeschooling mom, Amelia H. outlines her state’s homeschooling options. “(1) Home study option through the school district. Material is provided and weekly or monthly check-ins are required. Some districts provide classes for home study kids and/or allow kids to take some classes on campus.

(2) Charter schools. Each one is set up differently but they all cater to homeschoolers and provide funding for secular curriculum and extracurricular activities through vendor programs…Some require that kids meet state standards; others simply ask for signs of ‘value-added growth.' Most require state testing but a handful will allow parents to generate a portfolio as a year-end assessment.

(3) File as an independent school. [Parents must] state the curriculum goals at the start of the school year…Getting a high school diploma through this route is tricky and many parents choose to pay someone to help with the paperwork."

States with the Least Restrictive Homeschool Laws

Finally, eleven states are considered very homeschool-friendly with few restrictions on homeschooling families. These states are:

  • Alaska
  • Connecticut
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Michigan
  • Missouri
  • New Jersey
  • Oklahoma
  • Texas

Texas is notoriously homeschool-friendly with a strong homeschool voice at the legislative level. Iowa homeschooling parent, Nichole D. says that her home state is just as easy. “[In Iowa], we have no regulations. No state testing, no lesson plans submitted, no attendance records, nothing. We don't even have to inform the district that we're homeschooling.”

Parent Bethany W. says, “Missouri is very homeschool-friendly. No notifying districts or anyone unless your child has previously been public schooled, no testing or evaluations ever. Parents keep a log of hours (1,000 hours, 180 days), a written report of progress, and a few samples of [their students’] work.”

With a few exceptions, the difficulty or ease of complying with each state’s homeschooling laws is subjective. Even in states that are considered highly regulated, homeschooling parents often state that compliance isn’t as difficult as it may appear on paper.

Whether you consider your state’s homeschooling laws restrictive or lenient, it is essential to make sure you understand what is required of you to remain compliant. This article should be considered a guideline only. For specific, detailed laws for your state, please check your statewide homeschool support group’s website or Homeschool Legal Defense Association.