J. Michael Smith, Esq.
Michael P. Farris, Esq.
Am I Homeschooling Under the “Home School” Law
or the “Private School” Law?
March 10, 2011
Homeschooling is legal in all 50 states, but because the federal government has no direct authority to regulate education, each state is free to implement its own legal structure for home education. Across the United States, we see a variety of statutes under which parents may educate their children at home.
Some states have specific “home school statutes” that distinguish homeschools from public and private schools by defining “home school,” “home education,” or another similar term. Children educated under such statutes are legally considered to be “homeschool” students. Other states do not have a “"homeschool statute” but rather allow parents to teach their children at home under a private school law. In some cases, a parent may operate her own private school in her own home for the benefit of her children, while in other states, an administrator operates the school with which parents register their children.
Under this option, although parents oversee the education of their children and remain primarily responsible for the instruction, the children are legally considered to be “private school” students. Several states have more than one option so that parents can choose whether to comply with the homeschool statute or the private school statute. (Florida and Colorado are two states with multiple options. See HSLDA’s state laws page for details.)
Parents may have many different reasons for choosing to operate under one option or the other, and some of the most common factors affecting their decision are as follows:
Filing requirements and record-keeping services:
In many cases, parents choose one option over another because they prefer one set of requirements to the other. Additionally, for parents who desire assistance with record-keeping, preparing transcripts, and other administrative responsibilities, private schools can be advantageous.
In some states, private schools provide a way for parents to comply with the law without having to communicate directly with the state.
Eligibility for federal funding for special education and services:
The federal government will not allow money distributed under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to go to students educated under a “home school” statute, but private school students (whether educated in a brick-and-mortar school or at home) may benefit from IDEA funding. For more information, see HSLDA’s state-by-state summary of special education provisions.
Access to public school classes and extracurricular activities, including sports:
Each state has the authority to determine whether it will allow or prohibit homeschooler participation in public school activities; thus, the rules vary from state to state. In some states, homeschoolers are allowed to participate in public school activities while private school students are not, while in others, private (or “nonpublic”) school students have a statutory right to participate. HSLDA’s online summary provides more detailed information.
In most cases, homeschooled students can—and should—identify themselves as “homeschooled,” regardless of the legal structure of their homeschool; however, there may be some contexts in which it is better to use one term over the other. One such situation arises when students are completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)—in this case, it is best to choose the option “homeschooled.” (For more information, see HSLDA’s article, “Colleges Now Required to Determine ‘Validity’ of High School Diplomas.”)
Please contact HSLDA for more information on the differences between home educating under “private school” law or “home school” law.