Homeschooling is legal throughout the United States and has been enthusiastically embraced by parents who wish to educate their children at home for religious, personal, or special needs reasons.
But there’s more to it than just setting up a chalkboard and a desk in the spare bedroom. Each state has its own homeschooling requirements for applying, teaching, and reporting, creating an inconsistent patchwork of rules and regulations.
Legal classifications of homeschooling
Different states may allow homeschooling under a homeschool law, a private school law, or both. If a state falls under a private school law, there could be some extra advantages for those looking to homeschool; for instance, children with disabilities may be eligible for funding via the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
On the other hand, in about half of the states, children who are educated under a homeschool law can participate in public school activities (such as sports), while those whose homeschooling falls under a private school statute can’t.
In addition to choosing between the homeschool versus private school designation, there’s a decision to be made about whether to run your own homeschool, or participate in an existing homeschool program. The advantage to using an existing program is that requirements and curriculums are already baked in. Of course, those who are interested in homeschooling often have strong ideas about what they’d like to teach, and the existing programs might not fit the bill.
Meeting educational requirements
You may think there are rudimentary requirements for the teacher in a homeschooling scenario, but most states don’t actually have any hard and fast rules around qualifications, although some may require that the parent doing the instructing has at least a high school diploma or even a college degree. Another state-specific legal aspect: while homeschooling doesn’t have to follow any typical fall-through-spring “schoolyear” pattern, some states require providing notice of intent to homeschool.
Also, some states may mandate a certain number of hours or days of instruction each year and a list of subjects you must cover. And half the states require assessments and state intervention for poor grades, and about half also require standardized tests to assess the student’s progress. There are also a wide range of rules about recordkeeping.
Given all the above, homeschooling isn’t something to take on lightly. If you’re interested, you’ll want to have a close look at the requirements in your area, and consider asking a local education attorney to help jump through all the hoops your state has in place.