When Jeffrey and Tabatha Ludwig’s oldest daughter graduated from their homeschool program in 2019, she applied to a cosmetology school in their home state of New York. She probably would have been refused admittance had she not presented a letter of substantial equivalency.
New York is the only state that offers a letter of substantial equivalency to homeschool graduates. The document simply affirms that students have homeschooled in compliance with state law. Obtaining the letter is not required by the homeschool regulations, but the letter is often required by New York trade schools, state colleges, and universities.
The letter is issued by the local public school superintendent, whose office receives and processes homeschool paperwork. Though the letter can be helpful to homeschool graduates, superintendents have the option of refusing to provide one.
The Ludwigs’ daughter eventually completed her studies at the cosmetology school and now works as a professional barber. Because a letter of substantial equivalency benefited her oldest daughter, Tabatha decided to obtain letters for her other children.
She obtained an equivalency letter for her son, who included it along with his homeschool diploma and transcripts when he applied to the college he now attends.
Tabatha also contacted her local public school superintendent’s office this summer to ensure she would have the proper records when the time came to apply for the letter on behalf of her youngest daughter, who is due to graduate in 2024. The response she received conflicted with Tabatha’s understanding of homeschool law.
“They said that in order to grant us that letter we had to follow the public school requirements,” recalled Tabatha. In other words, her daughter’s coursework had to mimic what was being taught in the local public high school. One specific requirement was that Tabatha’s daughter take an additional foreign language class.
“Most homeschoolers teach our kids a foreign language,” Tabatha said. But as far as state homeschool law is concerned, she added, “It’s not a requirement.”
Tabatha asked Home School Legal Defense Association for help. So HSLDA Senior Counsel Tj Schmidt contacted the school district, explaining to officials that they have no authority to insist Tabatha and her daughter’s homeschool mimic the public school’s academic program.
The bigger issue for Schmidt, however, is the injustice inherent in the fact that public school superintendents are allowed to refuse to issue a document that New York homeschoolers need to pursue certain interests.
Some states agree with HSLDA’s position that parent-issued diplomas are just as valid as high school diplomas issued by other schools—and some officially spell it out in law. A homeschool diploma should be good enough to qualify homeschool graduates for any endeavor they wish to pursue, from employment, to college, vocational training, and service in the military.
Homeschool parents in New York are not required to obtain a letter of substantial equivalency. But the fact remains that homeschool graduates sometimes face discrimination and other obstacles. For example, New York’s Bureau of Proprietary School Supervision, which regulates cosmetology and other trade schools, still refuses to admit graduates on the strength of their homeschool diplomas alone.
Schmidt said one incident involving a homeschool graduate in New York helped expose the unfairness and absurdity of this policy. About five years ago, a homeschool graduate was denied admittance to a New York cosmetology school, despite presenting a letter of substantial equivalency.
The letter eventually helped her get into a cosmetology school in North Carolina. She completed her training there and was awarded a license. Reciprocity laws then allowed her to apply for and receive a cosmetology license in New York. However, as a homeschool graduate, she still faced obstacles if she wished to further formally study cosmetology in her home state.
The case helped HSLDA press for a change to this policy, which resulted in New York cosmetology schools agreeing to admit homeschool graduates who present a letter of substantial equivalency.
Schmidt added that obtaining a letter of substantial equivalency also smooths the process for homeschool graduates applying to and seeking to receive degrees from the state’s colleges and universities. State institutions are required to accept it as verification of the diploma. (New York homeschool graduates can still qualify for state colleges and earn degrees without an equivalency letter—through five different but more complex and time-consuming processes.)
Even when the equivalency letter is not used to comply with specific higher education regulations or trade school policies, some New York homeschool parents like to have it because they feel it adds gravitas to their graduates’ credentials. The letter provides official affirmation that a student was educated in accordance with New York homeschool law—arguably the most restrictive in the United States.
“We don’t balk at all the paperwork and requirements,” said Tabatha. “But it is really challenging to homeschool in New York.”
Every year, homeschool parents must file a notice of intent, individual home instruction plans, and quarterly reports, as well as standardized test scores or a written evaluation for each student.
Tabatha added that she feels it is unfair that with all these requirements for parents, the state brushes aside homeschool transcripts and diplomas as proof of completion of high school, yet public school superintendents are not required to issue the letter of equivalency.
“It’s a travesty for us parents who are working hard to educate our children,” she said.
"HSLDA will always fight for homeschool graduates and the validity of their diploma and transcripts," Schmidt said. "We also work with homeschool leaders in each state to find additional strategies for helping homeschool graduates illustrate their merit."
Meredith George, who homeschools in a different New York school district than the Ludwigs, said she agrees that officials should issue letters of substantial equivalency as a matter of course. She obtained equivalency letters for her three oldest daughters, and she believes the document helped them as they pursued post-high school interests.
Meredith’s first daughter, now 23, worked with her father as a teen to get started in real estate investment. She now owns a duplex and a multi-unit rental property. Meredith’s 21-year-old daughter trained in emergency services while still in high school. She earned a degree in firefighting and is studying criminal justice for a possible career in law enforcement.
In the interest of fairness, Schmidt continues to work with Homeschool New York–LEAH (a statewide homeschool group) to convince both the legislature and the New York State Education Department to require school districts to provide letters of substantial equivalency to homeschoolers upon request. And in the meantime, HSLDA continues to work case-by-case to persuade reluctant school officials to provide these letters for homeschool graduates.
HSLDA also helps parents prepare winsome requests for an equivalency letter. HSLDA members can ask for our packet, which includes a sample request to a school superintendent, a checklist of documents to submit along with the request, and copies of equivalency letters that were issued to homeschool graduates in the past.
As for Tabatha’s youngest daughter, there’s no way to know if her case has been resolved until the family actually requests an equivalency letter when their teen graduates. If the public school superintendent refuses to provide such a letter, HSLDA stands ready to help the family apply kind but firm pressure in hopes officials will do the right thing.
HSLDA pledges to continue the fight until all homeschoolers are treated with fairness and respect.