Home School provisions in the state law allow a parent to exercise direct control over their child’s education in lieu of sending them to public or private school. Exercise of this option requires parents to communicate their intentions to the local school division. Currently, more than 33,000 students are homeschooled in the Commonwealth (~ 2% of school age population). Since 1995, the number of home school students in Virginia has quadrupled. If home schoolers were a public school district, it would be the 8th largest in the state, just behind Chesapeake and well ahead of the public school enrollments of Norfolk, Newport News, Arlington, and Richmond.
Home school options include.
- Home Instruction
- Education Under an Approved Tutor
- Religious Exemption
Home Instruction and use of an Approved Tutor are forms of compliance with the Compulsory Attendance Code, §22.1-254, while Religious Exemption is a legally granted exemption to Compulsory Attendance.
Home Instruction Statute
Most homeschooling families choose to educate their children under Virginia’s Home Instruction statute (§22.1-254.1). To use this option, parents must: meet one of the requirements for qualification (see below); submit annually a notice of intent to homeschool; submit a curriculum description; and show evidence of academic progress (by August 1 at the end of the school year).
A parent or legal guardian may homeschool under the Home Instruction statute if they meet one of the four qualifying options:
- Hold a high school or higher level diploma
- Is a teacher of qualifications prescribed by the Board of Education
- Provides a program of study or curriculum
- Provides evidence that parent is able to provide an adequate education for the child
Parents who choose to homeschool under the Home Instruction statute must file a Curriculum Description annually, no matter which of the four qualifying options they use. The Virginia Department of Education states that “[a] description of the curriculum is a broad overview of what the parent plans to teach the child in each course during the coming school year. Parents may use a narrative or an outline format in providing this information. However, the parents do not have to provide daily, weekly, or monthly lesson plans to meet this requirement.” VDOE also states that “…the superintendent is not required to evaluate or judge the curriculum except to the extent that he ensures the parent has submitted a description of a curriculum as specified above. Submission of these materials is for information purposes.”
Parents who choose to homeschool under the Home Instruction statute must file evidence of their children’s academic progress annually by August 1 (only for children 6 or older as of September 30). This evidence may take the following forms:
- A composite score in or above the fourth stanine on any nationally-normed standardized test
- An evaluation or other assessment which the superintendent determines to indicate that the child is achieving an adequate level of educational growth and progress.
The Home Instruction statute specifies that allowable documentation under option ii includes, but is not limited to:
- an evaluation letter from a person licensed to teach in any state;
- an evaluation letter from a person with a master’s degree or higher in any academic discipline;
- a report card or transcript from a community college, college or university, distance learning program or home-education correspondence school.
The superintendent must consider all of these forms of documentation to determine if they indicate, in his or her judgment, evidence of adequate academic growth and progress. The superintendent may accept any other form of documentation, such as a portfolio of the student’s work.
Approved Tutor Provision
Parents who choose to use the Approved Tutor provision of the Compulsory Attendance statute may consider themselves to be “homeschooling,” but the requirements for this option vary significantly from those of the Home Instruction statute. Under the Approved Tutor provision, parents must provide the division superintendent with documentation of the tutor’s valid Virginia teaching license and must update that documentation when the teaching license expires. The tutor may be a parent or may be someone selected by the parent. Under this provision, there is no requirement to file an annual notice of intent, a curriculum description, or evidence of progress.
Parents who have sincere religious convictions against sending their children to school may choose to file a claim of Religious Exemption (RE) to compulsory schooling under §22.1-254 B 1 of the Code of Virginia. Under this option, parents submit documentation of their religious objections to school attendance to their local school board. This is not a power granted in law to the school superintendent or central office administration, and school division administrators may not make this decision and may not prevent a school board from considering a religious exemption claim. Upon review of documentation, the local school board may recognize or decline to recognize a claim of religious exemption from the compulsory school attendance requirements. Once approved, RE families do not have to file an annual notice of intent, submit an annual description of their curriculum, or submit annual evidence of progress to their local school division when educating their children at home. However, the public school division may in subsequent years inquire if the religious exemption is still applicable, and parents should file with the school board a new RE claim for each child as he or she reaches the age to become subject to the compulsory attendance statute.
Of all instructional options, Home Schooling provides the greatest flexibility with respect to the parents control over what the student learns and how he or she learns it. Education mode can be parent-directed using a variety of curricula, virtual (computer-based learning), tutored, or a combination of all of these.
In a survey of Virginia voters, 10% of respondents said they would prefer to homeschool their child, even though less than 2% currently do. A principal reason for this difference is that this mode requires direct parent involvement, which precludes one or both of the parents from holding a full-time job and adds regulatory reporting requirements. That said, homeschooling in Virginia is doubling every ten years and is a viable choice for many parents.
Expansion of homeschooling in Virginia can be incentivized by making the option more economically viable to a wider-range of parents. While not currently law, Parental Choice Education Savings Account (PCESA) legislation has been introduced in the legislature. In 2016 and 2017, the legislation passed both chambers of the legislature, but was vetoed by the governor. If passed, PCESAs would provide a homeschooling student’s family – who chooses to use the Home Instruction or Approved Tutor Provision – with 90 percent of the state’s share of the Local School District’s Standards of Quality (SOQ) per pupil expenditure (in which the student resides) to offset homeschool cost. While the scholarship amount is slightly less than the EISTC, PCESA funding could be used for home school costs and a portion of it saved by the parent to cover future college costs.