DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION POSITION
The California Department of Education has had an evolving policy with regards to homeschooling. Years ago, they actively opposed parents' efforts to homeschool under private school affidavits (PSAs). In 2008, they agreed, in appellate court proceedings involving a homeschooling family, that parents could form their own private schools legally and teach their own children. Their website begrudgingly provides information about homeschooling under PSAs, while maintaining a distinct bias for schooling under the auspices of the public school sector. For a detailed analysis of the state law and federal constitutional law issues relating to homeschooling, including some of the history of how the Department of Education has viewed homeschooling, please see this essay by Stephen Greenberg, an appellate attorney whose children were homeschooled.
The California Department of Education maintains a web page entitled, Private Schools Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ). It also has added a phone number (916-319-0878) with pre-recorded information about homeschooling. Information given at this phone number is not substantially different from the information on the CDE's web page, but some content has been giving homeschoolers' concern.
First, the recording states that there are three options for homeschooling: independent study through a public school, independent study through a charter school, and withdrawing a student from the public school and schooling the student privately under a private school affidavit. This is not entirely correct; some students attend private satellite programs (PSPs, or programs offered by third party private schools) and a small portion of homeschoolers use the tutoring option provided under Education Code 48224.
The CDE phone recording also states that parents who choose to withdraw their children from the public system and educate them privately are [selecting] an option for schooling at home that does not provide special education for students with IEPs. This statement suggests that children who have special needs, are in special education classes, or have an individual education plan (IEP) cannot be educated at home. Nothing could be further from the truth. Many homeschooling parents find that their special education students respond well to one-on-one teaching in a familiar (home) environment. Parents can be successful in teaching special education students at home and there are many resources to assist them in this endeavor. However, the CDE is correct to the extent that the state is not required to pay for special education and related services for a child with a disability at a private school if there is a free appropriate public education available to the child and the parents elected to place the child in the private school. In some limited circumstances, some special education services may be available for private school students. For more information about special education resources and legal issues, see the HSC's Homeschooling with Special Challenges.
Finally, the CDE phone message states that students in homeschools under private school affidavits do not have access to California state-adopted textbooks and materials, to the state's testing system, or to a recognized high school diploma. Most homeschoolers are already aware that they must purchase their own curriculum, and that they are excluded from the state's testing regimen; indeed, these are among the reasons that many people choose to homeschool. Families can, of course, purchase whichever textbooks they desire, and there are many alternative testing services available to homeschoolers who want to use them. We are concerned, however, about the strong language regarding a recognized high school diploma. Just because a diploma of a private school, including a home-based private school, may not be "recognized" does not mean it is not valid. Any private school, large or small, may confer high school diplomas on to those students who have successfully completed that school's prescribed course of study. However, some institutions distinguish between diplomas issued by small private schools and diplomas issued by others, even though there is no basis for this distinction in the law. Therefore, homeschooling parents are strongly encouraged to carefully review the entry requirements for their graduating students' choice of occupation (e.g. military) or college. In many cases, including ever greater numbers of public and private colleges and universities, their private school diplomas and work product portfolios will satisfy the requirements, while in others it may be prudent for homeschool students to obtain a recognized alternative to a high school diploma in addition to receiving a diploma from their school. Two alternatives to a high school diploma that colleges and workplaces are required to acknowledge as equivalent to a high school diploma exist in California: the California High School Proficiency Exam (CHSPE) and the General Education Development test (GED). Information about these exams is available at HSC's testing article and at the CDE website
It is understandable that the public agency in charge of education should promote public schools. But their preference for public schools should not be misconstrued as casting doubt on the ability of parents to teach their children legally themselves.