Homeschool Legally in California

There are 5 options for homeschooling legally in the state of California:

I’ve listed these options very loosely in order of popularity, from my experience and opinion…although the charter option is likely the most popular option in some areas nowadays, with homeschool charters now all over CA…

  1. File a private school affidavit
  2. Enroll in a homeschool charter school
  3. Enroll in a private school satellite program (PSP or PSSP)
  4. Enroll in a public school independent study program (ISP)
  5. Hire a credentialed teacher to tutor your child (or you, the parent are the credentialed tutor)


Read on to learn more!

You may also want to listen to the Savvy Homeschool Moms podcast episode that we made that covers all this info in detail here. This topic starts right about the 1-hour mark. The player is at the bottom of that web page.


Option 1: File a private school affidavit

This option declares your home a private school, with you the teacher and your children your students.

Click here for my step-by-step tutorial on how to file the private school affidavit.

NOTE:  Private school teachers (even those working at brick and mortar schools) are not legally required to hold teaching credentials. Teachers simply need to be “capable of teaching”, which is not strictly defined by law.
Therefore, you DO NOT NEED A TEACHING CREDENTIAL TO HOMESCHOOL YOUR CHILDREN. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

What this involves:

  1. Gathering the necessary paperwork (nothing complicated, don’t worry) and filing the online affidavit annually. I have a very thorough step-by-step tutorial to walk you through this entire process from paperwork to filing. After the initial filing, it takes less than 10 minutes annually to file.
  2. Teaching your child the way you see fit throughout the year.
  3. Doing everything yourself. This includes but is not limited to researching what your child needs, tracking your child’s progress and making sure to include all activities and resources necessary for a thorough and enriching education for your child entirely on your own time and budget.

    NOTE: This does NOT mean that you are literally doing this entirely ALONE. No homeschooler should ever homeschool ALONE.
    When you become a homeschooler, you join a community, whether you know it or not. We have homeschool communities (both online and in real life) to help us with support and guidance and social aspects of our lives, and often with things like co-op groups and shared teaching and tutoring.

    When I say “on your own” here, I mean the responsibility and resources of your child’s education are entirely in your hands as a private affidavit homeschooler. No one is checking up on you (outside of criminal charges) or providing you with anything if you don’t seek it out yourself. And that is a very big responsibility that none of us take lightly.



Freedom!

Pros:

  • Complete freedom to teach your child the way you feel is right.
  • You may use any method and any materials. The only requirements are that it is done in English and that you offer the “course of study” that the public schools follow. This is a general guideline, not a curriculum or set of standards. And the law says you must OFFER, not that your child must TAKE all the courses. Think of it like all the offerings in any given school. None of the children attending ever actually take ALL the courses offered in a school. But they have to have the option provided.
  • No requirements for the number of days in a school year or hours on a school day. You read that right. Most homeschoolers still follow, at least roughly, a regular school year. Many also just school all year long so they can take vacations and longer breaks whenever they want. But there are no requirements on hours or days for private schools. So no days or hours for you to stress over fulfilling.
    As I said, though, most homeschoolers still choose to either follow a typical school year or school all year long. None of us take this job lightly. And there is SO MUCH we want to share with our kids, that we tend to always be learning together!
  • You do not have to follow standards. You can if you want to, the standards can be found online… but you are not required to do so. As long as you are still hitting the main “course of study” (a very broad list), you can tailor your child’s education to YOUR CHILD. You can choose to cover subjects in different grades than the public schools, add in content that is not typically covered or not covered well (how about an education heavy in the arts?) You can also skip things that perhaps are not well suited to the direction your child is going towards in their possible future career (example: higher maths like calculus and trigonometry were not something we felt necessary for my very art directed daughter that is not college bound) and instead focus on subjects that will give them a head start towards their future! (In our case that was business classes and digital art studies and such.) And don’t worry…if you miss something they end up needing later, they can always take it when they need it. The world will not fall apart for them if you miss some things. And you WILL miss some things. It’s simply not possible to cover everything and even public school educated kids have gaps in their education. Read this article I wrote about educational gaps for more info.
  • No one will critique or monitor or check up on you. Unless you are abusing or neglecting your children (which I sincerely hope you are not!! And if you are, you absolutely SHOULD be checked on by authorities!) you should be safe from any authorities ever bothering you. Most instances of this happening occur during a situation that arises between people due to other circumstances that are not related to homeschooling and are extremely rare. They also are most often dismissed.
  • For religious families: you can teach religious content without issue. Think of all the parochial schools. You are essentially a private school just like the parochial schools, so religious content is acceptable. This is why many religious families choose this option. But I would like to note that homeschooling is NO LONGER for just the religious! There are MANY secular homeschoolers now, and that number is growing exponentially every year as secular homeschoolers appear to be the fastest growing subgroup of the homeschooling population. But the religious community still does remain in high numbers in the homeschool community at large, generally, for the religious freedom it affords them.



It can feel like a long lonely road without guidance.

Cons:

  • There is no official guidance. You are on your own to figure things out. The freedom that is a pro can also be a con. The government does not provide anyone or any organization to help homeschoolers figure out how to homeschool. Which is what many of us want. We don’t want them to tell us how to do things, so we are glad they are not involved…but it does mean that we are on our own.  HOWEVER, this is why co-ops and support groups and communities (both online and in real life) are always formed around homeschoolers. We build what we need and help each other out.
  • There is no money or resources to help us. We must fund everything out of our own pockets. The government money that pays for our child to attend public school is lost to us once we choose this option. Not even any tax write-offs in California for homeschooling. Which means we must get creative. 
    EXCEPT FOR SPECIAL EDUCATION NEEDS (which is a whole ‘nother ball game, and I won’t go into here…but just know that legally homeschooled children are entitled to services but from what I’ve heard, it’s even harder for homeschooled families to get the services that they need. And I hear it’s already hard for public school special ed students to get the required services…so that’s saying a lot. It sounds like special ed parents have to fight tooth and nail for their kids in all situations.
  • It can be overwhelming. Not having the guidance and funding can be very scary, especially to newbie homeschoolers. There is so much to learn, and so many options out there for curriculum and resources that first-time homeschoolers can feel like they just don’t know where to start. And most start out very unsure of themselves. This is why many homeschoolers choose to get their feet wet with homeschooling under one of the other options…

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Option 2: Enroll in a homeschool charter school

This option has gotten more and more popular in recent years. It is a nice way to get started homeschooling if you are overwhelmed by the idea of being completely on your own with the private affidavit option.

This option means that technically your child is enrolled in public school, but the school they are enrolled in allows you, the parent, to direct their teaching at home.

What this involves:

Enroll your child in the homeschool charter of your choice, just as you would any public school. The requirements are usually the same as most public schools, with just a few exceptions, such as: vaccinations are not required for homeschool charters unless the charter decides to require it. Legally, they do not have to require them (homeschool charters are exempt under the law), but they may choose to require them anyway.

Each charter has it’s own “flavor”, ranging from school-at-home where they tell you exactly what to do, when to do it, and will give you the materials to use….to schools that allow you to entirely choose what resources and methods you would like to use with your child’s education.

Homeschool charters provide either the materials to educate your child at home (we used to be a part of one that had an amazing lending library of educational resources!) or they provide the funds to purchase the materials you need to educate your child at home. If they provide funds, you have to go through a process and the school purchases your materials and pays for your child’s classes for you, so everything has to be approved ahead of time…but it allows you to choose from a seemingly endless variety of options, so long as it is secular (non-religious) and deemed “educational.”

Most schools that provide funds offer each student a couple thousand dollars per school year…the exact amount varies from school to school.

All homeschool charters also provide a credentialed teacher to give you guidance on your homeschool journey.

Some homeschool charters also provide whole school activities like field trips, enrichment classes, and themed educational days and events. These are a great way to get your child involved in activities that involve groups of other homeschooled children and develop meaningful relationships and have a chance to be taught or led in activities by adults other than you (and give you a break from time to time!)  It really just depends on the charter as to what they provide.

Pros:

  • You have guidance to hold your hand and help you every step of the way. Particularly helpful and comforting to newbie homeschoolers.
  • You receive funding (either in products and services or in actual funds to purchase products and services) for a vast array of things to enhance your child’s homeschool experience.
  • You have an instant community of other local homeschoolers to plug into, connect with and help you on your journey. Many charters also provide community activities an events regularly to encourage the development of community.
  • Some charters may also provide programs of weekly enrichment classes for your child to attend with other children. This is a great opportunity for not only socializing (for both you AND your child!) but also for your child to experience learning from someone other than you and for you to get a much-needed break!


Cons:

  • You are part of the public school system, and as such your kids are subject to testing. By law you may opt out, but many schools will drop your child from enrollment if you do. Or they may just pester you about it endlessly, which is not a pleasant situation for anyone.
  • For the charters that provide funding, it can take time to receive the items your order. Sometimes weeks or even months. This can make planning for the year difficult. 
  • You are required to meet with your assigned credentialed teacher periodically (usually about once a month) and turn in work samples to show your child’s progress. The specifics of this varies from school to school. Many people don’t have a problem with this, but for some this can be a burden.
  • Some charter schools are just school at home and stick strictly to public school standards, requiring parents to follow state mandated curriculum or at least show proof they are following the state standards. If this is ok with you, this may not be considered a con. But for many of us who homeschool partly to avoid standards, this is a huge con and we avoid these charters like the plague.

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Someone else handling your paperwork is a big reason families like this option.

Option 3: Enroll in a Private School Satellite Program (PSSP)

AKA: “Private School Independent Study Program”, “Cover School”, “Umbrella Program”, and sometimes one of the S’s is dropped: “PSP”

These are programs, that file the private school affidavit and list you, parents, as their teachers. Unless you have joined a co-op program, you will only be responsible to teach your own children. The PSSP will file the legal paperwork and will require you to turn in required records to them. They may also have additional requirements.

What the PSSP specifically offers also varies from program to program. This will range from simple record keeping only all the way through full programs and guidance with curriculum and resources such as lending libraries, field trips, classes, and co-ops.

PSSPs usually charge an annual fee to be a part of their program.

What this involves:

You must sign your child up via the PSSP through their enrollment process, which will vary depending on the program. The PSSP files the affidavit which covers you and all the families on it and handles all record keeping, which keeps your family’s personal info out of public records.

Pros:

  • The responsibility of legal paperwork is taken off your shoulders.
  • Your family’s info is kept private, vs when you declare your home a private school and your home address and info becomes public record as a legal private school. (Homes with 6 or more students are published in the online Private School Directory.)
  • IF THEY PROVIDE IT: Some PSSPs have communities of families that connect regularly for activities and events.
  • IF THEY PROVIDE IT: Some PSSPs provide resources such as lending libraries with curriculum and other educational materials that members share.
  • IF THEY PROVIDE IT: You may receive guidance from the staff of your PSSP on your homeschool journey.


Cons:

  • Usually, PSSPs cost an annual membership fee. This varies program to program.
  • You don’t receive any funds for your child’s education.

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Option 4: Enroll in a public school Independent Study Program (ISP)

These programs are often called “home study” programs and are provided by many school districts in direct connection to a local public school. They are typically programs provided for children that would normally attend that public school but for some reason or other (often illness or misbehavior) are temporarily unable to. 

This option tends to be more of a school-at-home option, not so much a homeschool lifestyle one.

What this involves:

Calling your local school district to see if they have any available independent study programs. If your district does not, your county’s office of education can tell you if any nearby districts have ISPs that you might be able to access.

To enroll your child in a local school district’s ISP, you will need to contact the ISP directly to learn the process. For another district’s ISP, you would need to submit an interdistrict transfer form, which you would get from your local district.

Pros:

  • As with the homeschool charter and PSP options, you will have direct guidance.
  • Because this option is also enrollment in public school, similar to the charter option, your materials will be provided for you.
  • Some ISPs also have on-site classes for students to attend a couple days a week, as possible. 
  • Often an online curriculum is used for ISPs, which is something that works well for many students that use this option.


Cons:

  • Usually, ISPs give you the parent little to no options. The school determines everything that your child must accomplish, and when things must be accomplished.
  • The curriculum is essentially the same as the public school, which is usually a big reason that families choose to homeschool: to get away from this method of education.
  • Because your child is enrolled in public school, there will be testing.

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Option 5: Hire a Credentialed Teacher to tutor your child (or you, the parent are the credentialed tutor)

This option is not usually chosen by typical California homeschool families…It seems to be most often chosen by families with children that are actors or in some other field that does not allow them the time to spend in a traditional classroom. Families with a parent that is a credentialed teacher rarely choose this option because of the strict rules listed below under “cons.”

What this involves:

Parents either hire a credentialed teacher to tutor their child or the parent themselves is a credentialed teacher that educates their own child at home. Home tutors must follow the requirements of §48224.

Pros:

  • Your child is educated at home
  • You child is educated using a method that you choose.
  • If you hire someone instead of doing it yourself, you do not have the work of homeschooling yourself.


Cons:

There are very specific, strict rules that must be followed under this option…

  • Students must be “instructed in study and recitation.” This is not defined, but doubtful that unschooling would be an acceptable method under this option.
  • Instruction must be between the hours of 8am and 4pm (vs any time of day that works for you…some families find that evening homeschooling works best for them.)
  • Instruction must be for at least 3 hours a day.
  • Instruction must be for at least 175 days per calendar year.
  • Instruction must be in English.
  • Instruction must be “in the several branches of study required to be taught in the public schools of this state.”
  • If you are not doing the teaching yourself, this will cost you money, and tutoring is expensive.

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