How to Start Homeschooling in California
You know you want to teach your kids at home, but you just don’t know how to set up a homeschool and meet the legal requirements. Heck, you’re just having a hard time finding out what is required. So you’re uncertain and hesitate to take the first steps to teach your kids at home.
That was me too before I started. I poured hours over months of my time into researching how to homeschool. The legal requirements were confusing. Did I have to report information to the state? What about testing, grading and transcripts?
That’s why so many mothers were amazed and told me, “I don’t know how you do it” From the outside it looks very complicated and risky. I said the same things too, but then I found out it’s actually simple and straight forward to get started.
The First Steps to Start Homeschooling
I’m a mother, not an attorney. I am not offering legal advise. I share my personal experiences to help you understand what homeschooling is like on a practical level. If you need legal advise, consult with an attorney.
Every state has their own set of education requirements. You need to make sure you understand your options for setting up your homeschool and the requirements for recordkeeping and reporting. The states vary between low to high regulation. A few require no notice.
Overview of the Homeschool Setup Process
- Find the homeschool legal requirements for your state
- Decide what kind of homeschool is best for your family
- File private school affidavit (some families)
- Keep records
The most important thing is knowing your options and what is required of you. Homeschool support organizations are very helpful for homeschooling parents. Nobody wants to miss something and get into a problem. I’ll point you to some very imporant sources for reliable information.
1. Where to Find Homeschooling Legal Requirements
The first thing you need to do is find your state homeschooling legal requirements. The best place to get this information is online from HSLDA, the Home School Legal Defense Association. They are a national organization that defends and promotes homeschooling rights in the United States.
To find your states homeschooling requirements, go to the HSLDA’s legal page and click on your state to see the summary. From the summary, you can click on the button for the complete details for your state.
California Homeschooling Requirements
Below is a map from the HSLDA showing a summary of California homeschool law. California has low regulation of homeschools. We are required to give notice every year, cover specific academic subjects and keep certain records. I’ll show you what this looked like in our homeschool.
They do a really good job stating the law in plain language and keeping it simple. Click on the button to view complete details for California homeschools. This button takes you to a ten-part series that answers the basic questions about homeschooling in California.
The first three articles are:
How to Comply with Californias Homeschool Law
How to Withdrawl Your Child From School in California
The rest of the articles give more information about public school access, special education, record keeping, work permits, jury duty and a legal analysis of our state. Some articles are only available to HSLDA members.
From the beginning I got a membership every year and I recommend you join too. They advocate for homeschooling in courtrooms and schools across the nation. Also, they provide legal counsel and defense for members if any issues arise with state authorities about homeschooling. Members can call anytime to get accurate legal information.
California Homeschool Organizations
There are more support groups within California. They all exist to help homeschools succeed. So they are a great source of information on how to homeschool. Here are a few:
- Christian Home Educators Association
- California Homeschool Network Support Groups
- Homeschool Association of California
- Great Homeschool Conventions, yearly convention with speakers and homeschool resources
These organizations can help you find more local homeschooling groups. Many have yearly events and memberships too. HSLDA was enough for me.
Who oversees education in California?
Every state has their own set of education requirements. The California Department of Education oversees the public and private schools in California. A couple helpful pages for homeschooling information on their website are:
The majority of the state’s education website covers topics about the teaching profession, public schools and common core standards. Frankly, a lot of their homeschool information is hard to understand and to navigate in their website. Other organizations make it a lot easier to understand.
2. Decide What Kind of Private Homeschool You’ll Have
Homeschoolers have options.
HSLDA lists three ways to home educate in California. Again, I’m a mother, not an attorney. I am not offering legal advise. I share my personal experiences to help you understand what homeschooling is like on a practical level. If you need legal advise, consult with an attorney.
This information has been reviewed by attorneys and also is not legal advise:
Each option has a drop down tab with an explanation and details. When I started, I couldn’t afford a tutor, so option three was out. And I didn’t have a PSP (or know what that was). That left me one option, the home-based private school.
Which type is a good fit for your family?
- Do you have a PSP? (If you don’t know what this is, you don’t have one. No worries)
- Do you have a tutor? (this sounds expensive)
- Or are you doing this on your own? (yikes! how did I get myself into this?)
These options all look the same when you see a homeschool in action. They are all doing the same thing, educating your children. Homeschool communities are full of each of these kinds of home-based schools.
Let’s see what they look like in real life, starting with mine, the home-based school.
Our Home-Based Private School
After digging through the internet for hours, my best and only option was the home-based private school. I wasn’t even quite sure what that meant at the time. Now, I can tell you exactly what this meant for my family’s homeschool.
- we had our own private school at home just for my children
- we chose our school schedule
- we chose our curriculum
- we kept our private school records
- we filed our own private school affidavit every year
- no strings attached to an outside organization
- no funds from outside sources
Of course, since we’re in California, we were required to give notification, study certain subjects, keep attendance and other records. It was up to me, the parent to meet these requirements. This meant, I had to file an affidavit every fall and keep a notebook with our school records.
HSLDA lists the state requirements for a home-based private school:
Every home-based school that files the private school affidavit must meet those basic requirements. I made a homeschool binder to keep a copy of the affidavit, attendance register, immunizations or waivers, course of study for each student, and list of instructors (more about that later)
3. Filing the Private School Affidavit
Families setting up a home-based school (not with a PSP or a credentialed tutor), must file a private school affidavit (PSA) every school year online. It has 97 questions with basic information about the school (your home), staff (you) and students (your kids).
Here’s what the affidavit looks like:
The first time I filed I wasn’t sure how to answer the questions correctly. I wanted to make sure I did it right, so I used the step-by-step instructions on how to fill-out the form by the HSLDA. They provide this for their members only. The state also offers form instructions and more information about filing the affidavit on their website.
Next years are easier. You just need to update the information for the new school year.
Where and When to File the Affidavit
This private school affidavit is due every October 1-15. When that date rolled around, I clicked this link to file the affidavit online. I usually started my school year the first week of August. So, the filing date fell on our fourth week of instruction. I was so busy homeschooling. I was always nervous that I would miss the date. I set a reminder on my calendar.
It only took me about 30 minutes to an hour to fill-out the affidavit online. Every time, I printed a copy and put it in my homeschool binder right away.
4. Keep a Homeschool Binder
Since I filed a private school affidavit, I had the responsibility to keep records on my own. I made a simple binder with dividers to hold all my school records. This was my proof that I was meeting all the legal requirements for schooling at home.
I included the following documents in my homeschool binder:
- Immunization records and or waivers
- Course of study for each student (language arts, math, science, social studies, health, driver training)
- List of instructors (me)
The HSLDA gives recommendations for best homeschool recordkeeping practices.
The Importance of Recordkeeping in California
Based on these recommendations, I took these steps and kept records in my homeschool binder:
- Filled-out and printed the affidavit every October 1-15.
- Printed perpetual calendar each year and marked the school attendance dates.
- Got the immunization waivers and filled them out.
- Made a course of study sheet to plan each student’s school work for the year (planning tool).
- Made a document with instructors information listed.
That’s what my homeschool looked like. I fulfilled my state’s requirements by filing an affidavit, keeping records, and doing the schoolwork, of course. Some of my friend’s did their homeschooling a little different though.
Private School Satelite Program (PSP)
Some of my homeschooling friends joined a private school satelite program. They are have different purposes or common interests – curriculum, philosophy, enrichment, beliefs, activities. And some offer services. Here’s how the HSLDA expains it:
There were two large homeschooling groups that met weekly at my church. They both looked similar – groups of kids in classes, parents taught the classes, parent leadership, their own curriculum and schedule. However, one was a private school satelite program and the other was a cooperative group of affidavit filers.
This particular PSP was created for the children to have enrichment classes. Another friend of mine did a PSP program through a private school to join the sports league. They still continued to do the rest of their studies at home.
- students paid a tuiton
- the PSP set the school year schedule
- parents are teachers
- there was mandatory academic and physical fitness testing (not always)
- the PSP filed the private school affidavit
- the PSP kept all the records for the student
- there was administrative staff (volunteer or paid)
- have cooperative learning classes for students (not always)
- group support for families
These families did not have their own home-based private school. Instead they paid to belong to a private school program. The PSP handled all the homeschool notifications and records. Usually, these groups share a common interest or curriculum.
California Homeschool Network gives a description of what a private school satelite program is and has links to some groups in California.
Private Tutor Option
I can’t speak personally about this option. It sounds like a dream though. I got a private tutor for my son’s math. But this is different. Here is the description by the HSLDA:
Looks like those are the end of the three options. However, there’s one more way to homeschool. This kind of homeschool is really a public school.
Charter Schools Option
This one’s not listed with HSLDA because it’s a technically a public school, not a homeschool, even though it is. Confusing, huh? About a third of my friends paid for their homeschool curriculum, supplies and extra-curricular activities with charter school funds.
- students get money to pay for materials, supplies and programs
- some have a learning center with classes and sports
- monthly meetings with an educational advisor (they are called by many different names)
- the charter school gives you a school year calendar
- required academic and physical fitness testing
- may deny the use of certain types of materials (example: Christian Heroes)
- submit student’s work regularly
Some charter schools come with a lot of strings attached. Some of my friend’s are burdened by the extra hoops to jump through. Yet, others are really satisfied with the benefits. Know that each charter school has different requirements. Some are more flexible, while others are more rigid.
There are many resources available for families interested in teaching their children at home. As you can see, you’ve got options for how you set up your homeschool. No matter which way you choose, many organizations are here to help you and your children succeed in home-based learning.