When parents first consider homeschooling, they often start by wondering if teaching their own children is actually legal. The answer is yes. Homeschooling is legal in every state of the United States. (It is, however, outlawed in two dozen foreign countries.) That said, however, it is important to realize that homeschooling is governed by the individual states, rather than the country as a whole. The legalities of homeschooling differ widely from one state to the next. Some states are incredibly lenient and some are quite strict.
Notice of Intent
Commonly the first law that is referenced with homeschooling is whether or not parents have to contact the local school district to let them know they are planning to homeschool. Some states do not require this notice, while others require a simple parental notification—and that is it. Some parents elect to simply turn in a letter of intent with their names, addresses, and child’s name to the state and to the school district in which they live. Others may choose to include additional details about what subjects they will be covering.
States that do not require notification of intent to homeschool:
- New Jersey
States that require only notification of intent to homeschool:
- New Mexico
Beyond the Basic Notification
Many states go beyond requiring notification. In addition to a notice of intent, they want to see student test scores and expect a professional evaluation of each student’s progress at the end of the year. The level at which these tests are administered depends on the state. Some states expect homeschooled students to be tested once at the elementary school level and once at high school. Others expect it as often as grades 4, 6, 8, and 10.
Moderately strict states:
- South Dakota
- South Carolina
- North Carolina
- West Virginia
- New Hampshire
The strictest homeschooling states in the country are found on the east coast. These states require parental notification, in addition to professional evaluation (by an objective third party), and often curriculum approval from the state, parental teaching certification (minimum high school diploma or GED), and even, in extremely monitored states, home visits from state officials.
Most restrictive states:
- New York
- Rhode Island
As an example, New York homeschoolers are required to submit a very detailed home instruction plan that lists the curriculum materials, textbooks, and other resources that will be used. In addition, parents must keep detailed attendance records to indicate that each student has been instructed at the legal equivalent of 180 days per year. (This breaks down to 900 hours for grades 1 through 6 and 990 for grades 7 through 12.) New Yorkers are also expected to submit annual homeschooling plans, plus quarterly reports with grades in all subjects. Here, standardized tests are administered in grades 4, 6, and 8, as well as every year of high school.
It is important to note that state homeschooling laws are not written in stone. They can—and often do—change with enough parental and organizational involvement. In recent years, Utah, Iowa, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota have significantly reduced their requirements for homeschoolers.
Finding Additional Resources
Knowing what rules each state has in place to govern homeschooling is essential for all new homeschoolers, as well as for teachers whose students are leaving the system to be homeschooled. There are many online sites with this information, such as The Homeschooling Legal Defense Association, A to Z Home’s Cool and the Coalition for Responsible Home Education.
In addition to researching online, parents should connect with local and state homeschooling support groups and associations. Attend conferences. Go to the library and ask about homeschooling resources. All of these places can help parents and teachers better understand the laws in place and what they do and do not entail.
Deborah Stevenson, Executive Director of National Home Education Legal Defense (NHELD) stated in an interview with Home Education Magazine, “If citizens are not informed about the law and the facts affecting their rights under the law, they cannot effectively retain their freedom.” Stevenson encourages parents to not only read their state laws regarding homeschooling, but also read the U.S. and state Constitutions, and all state Department of Education and local Board of Education policies that focus on the right to homeschool. The key is being informed, so that if any family is questioned, they know their rights.
Larry and Susan Kaseman, authors and columnists for Home Education Magazine, write about how parents can maintain their homeschooling freedoms. In one column, they advocated having copies of state homeschooling statutes and regulations, but to rely heavily on speaking with experienced homeschoolers as well. “The best source of information is knowledgeable, experienced homeschoolers who live in the state you’re interested in,” they wrote.
The right to homeschool is one that is upheld in every state of this country. What parents need to do to keep and fulfill this right varies, however, so taking the time to do “home-school homework” is essential.
To learn more about homeschooling, check out Homeschooling 101: Most Important Questions to Ask Before Deciding to Homeschool and Sports and Other Extracurricular Activities.
Tamra Orr is the author of six books on the topic of homeschooling, including Homeschooling FAQs: 101 Questions Every Parent Should Ask, The Parent’s Guide to Homeschooling, and After Homeschool: Fifteen Homeschoolers Out in the Real World. In addition, she homeschooled her four children from Kindergarten through high school graduation.