One year into the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s clear that education in America has changed dramatically. In a matter of days, tens of millions of families were forced to pivot to both working and teaching their children at home as schools across the nation closed in 2020. Although this new homeschool reality was a shock for many families, it was business as usual for the 2 million Americans who were already educating their kids at home.
And while schools slowly reopen this year as vaccinations increase and new coronavirus cases plummet, a seismic shift is rocking the landscape of American education. Instead of sending their children back to school, many parents are choosing to permanently join the ranks of their homeschooling peers across the nation. Along the way, they want to know how their state compares when it comes to homeschooling regulations.
A snapshot of homeschooling in America
While homeschooling is legal in all 50 states, each state has its own laws, guidelines, and regulations. This means that some states are more homeschool-friendly than others.
For example, some states are very hands-on and require homeschool parents to file paperwork, teach required subjects for a specific number of hours, agree to in-home evaluations, and participate in state testing requirements.
In other states, once parents file the initial paperwork they have a great deal of autonomy to guide their child’s education as they see fit—with very few requirements from their state government. This means they can develop their own curricula, enroll in online homeschool programs, and join cooperatives with other parents to teach subjects like foreign languages, art, and music.
Not surprisingly, for many parents the less record-keeping, reporting, and testing required by the state the better. For them, more autonomy makes for a better homeschooling environment for their children than in those states with more invasive government intervention.
The best states for homeschooling
According to the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), the best states for homeschooling are those with the least-restrictive legal environments. Here are some of the top states based on this criterion:
Alaska: Perhaps the least-restrictive state in America, Alaska simply requires children between the ages of 7 and 16 to either attend a school or comply with the state’s homeschool law. This means parents who choose to homeschool are not required to notify the state, get approval, give tests, be a certified teacher, or maintain contact with the government.
Idaho: No notice to the school district is required, nor do homeschool parents have to possess specific qualifications, obtain district approvals, do testing, or provide information about their homeschool program, if asked. But they must select an instructor for their children, which can be anybody, including themselves. They are also required to teach language arts, math, science, and social studies.
Illinois: Homeschools here are treated as private schools. They do not have to give notice to the school district, nor do they have to register with—or be recognized by—the state. However, homeschool parents must teach required subjects including language arts, math, science, social studies, fine arts, and physical development and health, and they must specify that instruction takes place in English.
Indiana: As one of the least-restrictive states, home schools here are essentially considered to be private schools and must comply with the state’s private school statute. Parents must teach in English and provide instruction equivalent to public schools—though the state board of education is not allowed to define what this means, nor can it approve homeschool programs. Parents must also operate their homeschool the same number of days as public schools—usually 180 days—and keep attendance records.
Michigan: While no notice to the school district is required, parents have the option to homeschool under the state’s homeschooling law, or as a nonpublic school—or both. Regardless of the option chosen, parents must teach specific subjects, though the regulations do not prescribe grade levels or how often courses are taught.
Missouri: Although no notice to the school district is required, parents must teach specific subjects and keep records for all children under age 16. They must also provide at least 1,000 hours of instruction during each school term—with 600 of these hours in core subjects.
New Jersey: Under state law, the only requirement is that parents provide their children with an equivalent education to one they would receive in public school. So while no notice to the school district is required, parents must be sure to teach the same subjects offered by their local public school.
Oklahoma: With no requirement to test, report, or give the school district notice, parents here have great freedom to run their homeschools as they see fit—so long as they operate for at least 180 days each school year.
Texas: Homeschools here are considered private schools and must teach math, reading, spelling and grammar, and a course in good citizenship. And while no notice to the school district is required, homeschool parents must use a written curriculum, which can be satisfied by an online program.
States with low regulation
Moving down the continuum, the HSLDA also looks at the amount of regulation imposed in the homeschooling arena. These states have fewer regulations and are thus considered to be relatively more homeschool-friendly:
- New Mexico
States with moderate regulation
According to HSLDA, these states regulate homeschooling more, but do not fall to the bottom of the rankings:
- New Hampshire
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- Washington, DC
- West Virginia
The worst states for homeschooling
Standing in contrast, these five states combine high regulations with more restrictions and rank among the worst state for homeschooling in the United States:
- New York
- Rhode Island
And in a surprising twist, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania have no statewide system of regulation. This means that homeschool families are at the mercy of regulations imposed by local school districts. In practical terms, homeschooling conditions in these two states are inconsistent—with some districts treating homeschool families well while others overburden them with regulations.
Homeschooling—the ultimate choice in education
Not surprisingly, opinions vary widely on the degree to which more or less regulation in homeschooling is preferable. Some parents appreciate greater regulation because—other than reporting and recordkeeping—the curricula are planned out for them. Others find that excessive regulations infringe on the freedom promised by homeschooling and see onerous guidelines as stifling.
In the end, the option to homeschool in the least-restrictive environment possible represents the ultimate choice in education. And as Ian Slatter with the HSLDA notes, “Homeschool performance doesn’t change between students in the easy states and those in the difficult ones. There’s a lot of regulation and work placed on parents in the difficult states with no benefit.”