Note: This article is also appeared on The Federalist website.
Every state has options for how parents can fulfill their duty and right to educate their child—some states more than others. Home School Legal Defense Association favors parents having lots of options, because every family—and indeed, every child—is different.
HSLDA believes in freedom for homeschooling, whether your state sees that as a private school, an in-home tutor, or “equivalent instruction elsewhere than at school.”
One of the questions HSLDA gets a lot is, “Can someone else teach my child and still call it homeschooling?” That’s such a simple question, but it brings up a lot of other issues. Let’s talk about some of them.
States like Washington, Alaska, and Michigan define “homeschooling” as parents teaching their own children. With HSLDA’s stance on freedom in homeschooling, we certainly don’t see those laws as a bar to being involved in one-day-a-week homeschool co-ops or taking piano lessons from a nonparent.
However, it does mean that in such states, if you want another person to teach your child full time, you might have to find another legal option to comply with the compulsory school attendance law. For example, Michigan explicitly affirms that children can be homeschooled either under a nonpublic school, a homeschool, or both.
Some Non-Parent Options
Other states are less restrictive in their regulation of who can teach. For example, New York requires the parent to file all the homeschool paperwork, and the parent is ultimately responsible for the child’s education, but someone else can teach the child.
However, the state education department has taken a very firm position that if that person is teaching children from more than one family full time, that isn’t homeschooling. It’s a private school, subject to the voluminous laws regulating private schools in New York. This interpretation has not yet been tested in court.
In North Carolina, two families can homeschool together legally, which means that if you want someone else to homeschool your child, or to add your neighbor’s child to your homeschool program, that’s fine. However, the law does say that once you add a third family, that’s not homeschooling anymore—it’s a private school.
In some states, like Alabama and Pennsylvania, parents have the option of engaging a private tutor. There are certain qualifications. Both of these states, for instance, require the tutor to be state certified. Pennsylvania requires the tutor to receive a “fee or other consideration,” and Alabama says the tutoring is supposed to be between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.
The Private School Option
Several states—Colorado, as one example—allow groups of homeschoolers to band together as private or church schools. The rules for running a private school are different from homeschooling in these states. In Colorado, for instance, the independent school must be comprised of at least two homeschool families. Virginia requires that private schools provide the same number of days and hours of instruction as the public schools—a requirement that does not apply to homeschooling under (for example) the notice of intent option.
What about those states where homeschooling is only done as a private school, such as Kentucky and Texas? In both of those states, there is little to no distinction in the compulsory attendance law between one family homeschooling and 100 families sending their students to a brick-and-mortar private school five days a week. So having someone else teach your child, even full time, could be fine—as far as the education law is concerned.
Did you catch that last phrase, though? That’s important. Any time homeschoolers start getting together to share instruction, other parts of the law might apply. The following is a partial list:
- Zoning—If you are having children from several families meeting at a building several times a week, is that considered a “school” under your city’s zoning code? Some churches have gotten official notices to close their buildings because the zoning laws do not permit “schools” meeting in the church.
- Homeowners association—If you are charging a fee for teaching another person’s child, is that a business according to your HOA’s rules?
- Child care—In some states, homeschool co-ops have been shut down because the parents dropped their children off for a class and left the premises without the co-op either being licensed or filing for exemption from the child care licensing laws.
- Fire safety—One homeschool group in Tennessee ran into trouble a couple years ago when the fire alarm in the church kitchen went off due to a baking class disaster. When the fire department showed up, it found 550 students on premises who were all homeschoolers. The fire marshal mandated regular fire drills if the group was going to keep meeting. Some groups of homeschoolers operating as private schools in Ohio ran afoul of fire codes that defined an educational building as a building where 5 or more students met regularly for educational purposes. That might not have been a big deal, except the fire code mandated full sprinkler systems for all educational buildings!
- Compensation—As mentioned above, some states’ homeschool laws allow hiring tutors, while others don’t. And if you are a group of homeschoolers paying a person to teach your children, whether once a week or full time, is that person your employee or an independent contractor? There are major tax law implications based on the answer to that question!
- Teacher qualifications—All states allow parents to teach their own children, but some require homeschool parents to have certain education credentials, such as a high school diploma or a GED. But if someone else is going to teach your child, that instructor may be required to hold additional diplomas or certificates. In Ohio, as one example, some homeschoolers use an option called a “non-chartered, non-tax-supported school.” All instructors in those schools, which may be as small as one family, must have a bachelor’s degree.
- Business issues—If you are charging money to teach someone else’s child, are you a business as defined by your state or county? Do you have to get a license? Several homeschool co-ops in Kentucky last year were told to either get a license or cease operating. As far as I could tell, the county was losing money and looking for more places to get it from! If you’re a for-profit business, can you legally operate out of a nonprofit building?
- Insurance—If you are sending your child to someone else’s house to be homeschooled, whose insurance pays for injuries incurred there?
- Immunization—New York and California have recently changed their laws to require all children who attend public or private school to be immunized without the option of a religious exemption. However, California’s law does not apply to a “home-based private school.”
- Background checks—Pennsylvania requires that tutors submit information about a criminal background check to the local school district. California requires school personnel to be fingerprinted unless they are parents working exclusively with their own children.
From just this non-exhaustive list, it is obvious that the answer to “Can someone else teach my child and still call it homeschooling?” is a very clear and concise “It depends!” We encourage you to contact your state’s legal
team at HSLDA to discuss the options in your state and figure out the best option for your family.