While some families homeschool “autonomously,” choosing and implementing their own curriculum and carefully meeting the requirements of their state’s homeschool law, other families prefer the additional support offered by homeschool umbrella schools.
In homeschool umbrella schools:
Please note that umbrella schools differ from public or charter school programs that enroll homeschooled students. Umbrella schools exist primarily as a way to satisfy a state’s compulsory attendance law; in contrast, programs operated by public or charter schools exist primarily to provide families with publicly funded services such as a virtual curriculum or reimbursements for educational expenses. For more on these programs, see our page on public and charter school partnerships.
Many homeschool umbrella schools are formed by homeschooling families, and do not have a physical campus. These programs may function similarly to homeschooling groups, and may offer co-ops and enrichments, or may only provide a recordkeeping function. In other cases, however, established private schools with in-person instructional programs may offer a homeschool umbrella school program that enrolls students who are educated at home, with varying degrees of oversight.
Not every state has homeschool umbrella schools! You can learn whether umbrella schools are an option in your state by checking your state information page, or by using an internet search engine. If you live in a state with umbrella schools and are considering this option, you should be able to find lists of umbrella schools in your state using an internet search engine, or by asking on local homeschool social media pages.
Homeschool umbrella schools may be a good fit for families that want access to a ready-made community and help with paperwork and recordkeeping. Most homeschool umbrella schools expect parents to choose and implement their own curriculum at home, while offering amenities such as weekly co-op classes or field-trip groups. Most umbrella schools do not provide curriculum or instruction. Umbrella schools typically require parents to submit documentation such as student grades, but many do not conduct assessments of student progress or otherwise oversee the quality of education being provided. Enrollment in a homeschool umbrella school typically satisfies the state’s compulsory attendance law, which means that the family does not need to submit a homeschool form to their school district.
Parents should be aware that umbrella schools are not a substitute for the effort involved in homeschooling, and will not actually do the homeschooling for them. Most umbrella schools also do not provide academic oversight or accountability. If you choose to enroll in an umbrella school, CRHE recommends that you also follow the minimum educational requirements of your state’s homeschool law, and that you have your child assessed annually by a neutral third party. For more, see CRHE’s guides on curriculum and learning standards, and assessment and record keeping.
Before enrolling in a homeschool umbrella school, you should ask questions about the program’s requirements and find out what enrichments or services it provides. In many cases, you may be able to attend a meeting or field trip outing with the group before signing up. Because umbrella schools can function similarly to a typical homeschooling group—offering similar community and support—you should read our page on finding a homeschooling group if you are considering enrolling in an umbrella school.
Not every state has umbrella schools! In some states, such as Florida, a substantial proportion of homeschooling families use umbrella schools; in other states, such as Texas, umbrella schools are rare or even nonexistent. To understand the reasons for this variation, as well as the purpose and function of umbrella schools today, it is useful to examine the history of these programs.
When homeschooling began to grow in popularity in the 1980s, it was not always legal to educate children at home rather than in a school. To solve this problem, some homeschooling families joined together to found unaccredited private schools; each individual home, they argued, functioned as a “satellite” of this private school. Umbrella schools did not exist in every state, however. In states where homeschooling was already legal, umbrella schools were unnecessary; in states with strict private school accreditation laws, umbrella schools were not possible.
As states legalized homeschooling, umbrella schools became unnecessary. Why, then, do these schools still exist? Partly, the answer is inertia. Umbrella schools tend to exist in states that have a history of them, and not in other states. Today, home educators usually enroll in these programs for one of two reasons: first, some parents prefer to interact with an umbrella school rather than provide homeschooling forms directly to their school district; second, umbrella schools often offer access to a community and resources, including co-ops, enrichments, or parent support groups.
Umbrella schools offer parents a way to meet their state’s compulsory attendance law and may offer enrichments, but they are generally not full-time schools and do not offer full-time instruction or accredited diplomas. Umbrella schools typically operate under state statutes that govern private schools that do not seek state accreditation.
There are exceptions to this, however. Maryland, Tennessee, and Washington state’s homeschool statutes allow parents to educate their children at home under the oversight of a private school that is accredited by the state. In each case, this option exists due to historical reasons specific to the state. In these states, private schools with physical campuses and in-person students may run side programs for students who are homeschooled. As with other umbrella schools, home educators may choose this option to access amenities, or in place of providing homeschool forms directly to their school district. These programs are also considered “umbrella” schools, but because the primary focus of the school providing oversight is running an in-person school, there may be some differences. Even in this case, however, parents should verify whether their child will receive an accredited diploma, as this may not be guaranteed.
Remember, homeschool umbrella schools do not exist to provide instruction; they exist to provide legal cover for homeschooling. Umbrella schools do not typically provide parents with curriculum or funding for curriculum, and usually charge only a few hundred dollars for tuition at most. If a program is charging thousands of dollars a semester or advertising an accredited diploma, you should be skeptical and should do more research. In some cases, scams may prey on parents’ desire for an accredited diploma. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is!
Don’t forget to read the other articles in this section!
— Homeschool Resources & Support
— Public and Charter School Partnerships
— Access to School District Resources
— Joining a Homeschooling Group
— Homeschool Umbrella Schools
— Drawing on Local Resources
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