In most states with homeschool statutes, families homeschool under the oversight of the state department of education or local school district, or, in some states, under no oversight at all. In many states with homeschool statutes, oversight is limited to providing one-time or annual notice of homeschooling to either the state department of education or the local school district. In other states, parents must also submit assessments to this same agency.
Five states have clauses that exempt students from school attendance if they are receiving alternative instruction elsewhere. These clauses were typically in existence before the advent of modern homeschooling. While they granted legitimacy to early homeschooling families in these states, what constituted adequate alternative instruction and whether the school district was allowed to supervise this instruction were sometimes points of contention.
Ten states either require or allow homeschools to operate as individual private schools. Parents who operate their homeschools as individual private schools must follow the requirements of their state’s private school law. These requirements tend to center on registration paperwork. None of these states where homeschools function as individual private schools mandate assessments, and several do not require the submission of any paperwork at all.
Parents in eight states may homeschool under the supervision of a private or church school. This arrangement is often referred to as a private “umbrella” school. While requirements vary from state to state and from school to school, many of these schools require little more than enrollment and the submission of attendance records. Parents who choose to homeschool through an umbrella school typically do so either to avoid the requirements of the state’s homeschool statute or to access the co-ops, enrichment activities, and sense of community provided by some umbrella schools.
Seven states include private tutor provisions, which allow a child to be taught at home by an individual with a teaching certificate. Originally intended to allow parents to hire a private tutor, some homeschool parents with teaching certificates use the law to avoid the homeschool statute’s assessment requirements.
A growing number of states offer online public school programs or independent study programs that offer parents perks such as money for education supplies or a certified teacher to provide assistance. While not technically considered homeschool students, an increasing number of students in states like Alaska and California are being taught at home through these programs.
In the current landscape of homeschooling policy, some states treat homeschooling as a unique legal category while other states treat homeschools as private schools. Still other states allow homeschools to operate as extensions of private schools that operate as “umbrella” schools. Finally, some states allow students to be educated at home in extension programs operated by public or charter schools. Many states offer some combination of these options. We believe that all of these legal options for homeschooling are compatible with effective oversight of homeschooling and that each can coexist with effective protections for homeschooled students. Enacting legal oversight need not require changing a state’s legal categorization of homeschooling.
Many states have dedicated homeschool statutes. Depending on the state, the local school district or the state department of education may have authority over homeschooling. With proper accountability measures, either state or local authority may be compatible with fair and effective oversight of homeschooling. Oversight at the local school district level currently exists in states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania while oversight at the state level exists in states such as Louisiana and North Carolina.
Some states allow homeschools to function as individual private schools. This legal structure may be compatible with supporting children’s interest in an education if the state creates oversight specific to the category of private schools composed of a single family in an individual home. North Carolina’s homeschool law, for example, consists of its private school law with a few amendments.
Some states allow parents to enroll their children in existing private or church schools and educate them at home. These are often referred to as “umbrella” schools and, with appropriate oversight and requirements, may function in homeschooled students’ best interests and offer an attractive option for homeschool parents. Maryland and Washington currently have oversight in place for “umbrella” schools.
Some states allow students to be enrolled in cyber charters or public-school-at-home programs. Some cyber charters or public-school-at-home options may allow students to be educated at home for part of the week and attend a brick-and-mortar school for the rest of the week. With appropriate accountability and responsible management of public funds, these options can offer students a diverse and enriching educational option. Public schools in Alaska and California, among other states, allow students to enroll in public school correspondence or independent study programs while being educated at home.