Updated: Sep 9
Welcome to homeschooling in the Sunshine State! Florida is home to a thriving and robust population of families who've already chosen home education. By making the decision to homeschool your children, you join with 150,000 other Floridians* already living and learning outside the framework of traditional schools.
Homeschooling is a broad term that is used differently in different parts of the country. In Florida, the official legal term for 'homeschooling' is 'home education'. So, when we talk about homeschooling in Florida, we are really talking about "establishing a home education program" for our children.
But, the terminology isn't what's important, because these phrases are used interchangeably all the time. What's important is knowing what makes Florida homeschooling so exceptional, and that's exactly what this article is all about. In it, you'll learn some of the INs and OUTs of Florida homeschooling, and we'll set the stage for what the homeschool climate is like here. We've also included a list of the important legal requirements, which are the ones every homeschool family must follow. Finally, at the end, we've included links to some of the important resources and websites you might need along the way.
We love Florida homeschooling, and we think you will, too. By the end of this article, we think you'll see why homeschooling is a successful and popular option for Florida families.
HOMESCHOOLING IS LEGAL
There are multiple ways to satisfy the compulsory attendance laws in Florida, which, translated, means there are several ways for children to "go to school" here. Children may attend a public school, as most commonly do; or they might be enrolled in a private or parochial, or a charter or a non-profit school, at their parent's discretion. In addition to the more traditional options, Florida students may also be enrolled in a structured, private tutoring program that is developed and overseen by a professional who is certified to do so. Last but not least, Florida children can receive a home education (i.e., homeschooling) that is directed by the parent. Home education ("homeschooling") is available for all of grades K-12 up until a student finishes the home education, then graduates.
You need to know that homeschooling is legal is all 50 states, and has been legal in Florida since 1984. Our laws were thoughtfully crafted with the help of the very early pioneers in our State, most notably the people who founded what we now know as the Florida Home Education Foundation (www.flhef.org), including our lobbyist at the State Capitol, Brenda Dickinson, and several others.
For almost 40 years, homeschooling has been another schooling option for Florida families, and continues to grow here like in other parts of the country. Based on different estimates, national homeschooling trends point to growth from about 5-11% each year -- and this includes the State of Florida, too. During the covid epidemic of 2020, homeschooling experienced unprecedented growth, some of which is expected to continue as new families discover homeschooling for the first time, too.
You can rest assured that the laws of Florida permit parents and guardians who reside here to establish a home education program and direct the education themselves. Parents don't need any special training to homeschool their children and they don't need to have a college degree. As long as parents file the initial paperwork and keep up with the annual requirements, Florida homeschooling is available to anyone ready to make the commitment and take on the important responsibility of their child's K-12 education.
AN INDIVIDUALIZED EDUCATION
Florida laws are seen as some of the best homeschooling laws in the country. They allow families complete freedom in choosing how to set up their home education programs, while requiring a modest and fair amount of reporting at the end of every homeschool year. Florida parents choose exactly how they want to instruct their students (books, e-learning, hands-on experiences, or something else); when to instruct their students (using daily or weekly schedules, or none at all); where to conduct lessons (at home or other places, like a museum, a library, or a zoo); plus, parents get to pick exactly which educational materials they prefer, too (the style, grade level, preferred publisher, and so on).
Homeschool programming can be completely customized for every unique student, depending upon needs, preferences, goals after graduation, a family's lifestyle, and of course, budget. Parents can choose the courses they teach (like Ancient History or Creative Writing) and the topics they and their students decide to focus on within each course. Some homeschool parents like to select materials (in print or online) that include ready-made lesson plans, then act as a tutor, helper or supervisor as students as complete the assignments. Others families prefer workbooks; online games; video lessons; online classes taught by experts; forming co-ops with other homeschool families; taking classes in the community; or some a combination of all of those methods, and more.
Although families tend to cover all the basic school subjects, many go beyond those skills, extending them in different directions, too. Florida laws don't require that homeschoolers follow a specific set of courses for every grade level, so homeschoolers can further individualize the program by varying course selection and materials from year to year to meet specific learning goals. Homeschooler success in Florida is measured in "progress", therefore students may advance to the next level (or even skip grades) if they need to, or can return to earlier material to review it if necessary, too. And, though many Florida homeschoolers graduate with a traditional or semi-traditional high school transcript (very much like the ones issued in public schools), many homeschoolers graduate with a very unique set of skills, having completed a series of non-traditional experiences which also demonstrate progress and completion, and are equally worthy of graduation.
As you can see, receiving an individualized education is the trademark of Florida homeschooling. Let's look now at the specific legal requirements for becoming a homeschooler in the State of Florida.
THE FOUR LEGAL REQUIREMENTS
There are four legal requirements when homeschooling in the State of Florida that every parent must follow. These are written into the Florida laws, thus are non-negotiable when it comes to compliance as a homeschool family. We will review the four requirements here briefly, but readers should always defer to the written language of the Florida Statutes, and should note this article is not a substitute for professional, legal advice.
In a nutshell, here is how homeschooling works in Florida:
Parents submit a letter of intent and begin homeschooling. During the homeschool year, a portfolio is maintained. On the one year anniversary of homeschooling, an evaluation is due. Parents then continue homeschooling for another year and repeat the same process again. A letter of termination is submitted each time a student graduates.
These steps are now explained in more detail:
(1) Notice of Intent to Homeschool
Within 30 days of starting to homeschool, parents should file a notice of intent to homeschool (also called the "Letter of Intent"). The letter of intent will list the names, addresses and birth dates of the students who will be included in the homeschool program, and will be signed by the parent. The letter should be in writing and should be delivered to the district school superintendent's office in the district in which the family resides. Any child who reaches the age of 6 by February 1st of a given school year, and who will included in the home education program, should be listed on the letter of intent. The letter of intent is only submitted once, and does not need to be resubmitted every year. However, younger children may be added to the home education program later on, if there are younger children who have not yet reached the age of 6.
Note well: The date on the letter of intent is the date on which the annual evaluation will be due the following year, and every year thereafter. It is advised to keep a copy of the original letter of intent, and to mark the anniversary date on a calendar for the following year, as a reminder of annual evaluation due date. The annual evaluation will be discussed shortly.
(2) Portfolio of Records and Materials
While school districts and private schools need to maintain records for students, so must homeschoolers maintain student records, too. Florida home education records are not to be feared, but they are an important part of the processes that should not be ignored.
The portfolio of records and materials ("the portfolio") is a parent-created grouping of items which represent what was accomplished by each student during the year. It serves as a record, and can also be used to demonstrate progress, as mastery should be clearly evident by viewing the contents of portfolio from the beginning of the school year to the end. Portfolios can take on many forms, depending on the specific style of learning and the types of educational materials that were used each particular year. No two portfolios are ever alike because the homeschool experience is different for every student. But, to be compliant, the portfolio must always contain two kinds of things.
The 2 parts of a homeschool portfolio are: (a) samples of student work; and (b) an educational log of activities and reading materials. The work samples (a) are simply a representative grouping of examples of what the student did over the course of the year (for instance, writings, worksheets, creative projects, assessments, and the like). The educational log (b) is merely a list of educational activities (for instance, classes and field trips) plus a list of any reading materials that were used or accessed by the student that year (such as, curriculum products, library books, early readers, plays and novels). The format and design of the portfolio is solely at the discretion of the parent preparing it, so the portfolio can be in print or in digital form, saved in a very casual way (like in a box or in a large envelope), or in a more sophisticated way (like on a website, in visual presentation or as a photo collage).
Parents don't turn in homeschool portfolio in to anyone, but keep the homeschool portfolio in a safe place for a minimum of two years (two years is required by law). Parents may elect to show the portfolio to a Florida certified teacher for purposes of performing a homeschool evaluation for the child (see item 3, below). The portfolio must also be made available to the district school superintendent, who may electively ask to inspect it by making a written request to the parent, giving 15 days notice.
(3) Annual Evaluation
Homeschool parents are required to submit to the school superintendent's office an evaluation of every student in the homeschool program, every year. This evaluation is different from the portfolio requirement described, above, and in addition to maintaining the portfolio. Whereas the portfolio (see item 2) is a collection of work that is retained by the parent, the annual evaluation is progress report that is turned in to the school superintendent once a year. And, yes, if there are multiple children being homeschooled, multiple evaluations will be turned in per year, one per child.
The due date of the annual evaluation will vary in families. It becomes due each year on or before the anniversary date of when homeschooling first began. That is, if one goes back to the date listed on the original letter of item (see item 1) that date is the anniversary date on which annual evaluations are due every year.
Annual evaluations are to be submitted every year until a student finishes homeschooling either by graduating or by discontinuing homeschool for some other reason.
There are five different ways to complete the annual evaluation for a Florida homeschooled student, and parents may choose any of the methods listed below:
1. A Florida-certified teacher chosen by the parent will evaluation the student's educational progress after reviewing the portfolio and having a discussion with the student
2. The student may take a nationally normed standardized test that is administered by a certified teacher
3. The student may take a state assessment test given at a local school at a time when other schools in the district are also being tested
4. The student may be evaluated by licensed psychologist or a school psychologist
5. Another valid measurement that both parent and school district mutually agree upon
Option 1 is the most popular homeschool evaluation method used by Florida families. It entails a sit-down meeting or a virtual meeting with a Florida certified teacher, and its purpose is to review the student's portfolio to insure that progress has been made at a level which is appropriate for the student's level of ability. A brief discussion with the student also occurs, and in the context of both reviewing the portfolio and chatting with the student/parent, the teacher is asked to certify that educational progress "commensurate with ability" has been made. This process generally takes 20 minutes to an hour (once a year) and usually comes with a cost of about $25-$50 per student. Homeschool parents who themselves are certified teachers often provide this service to families who require it.
Options 2 and 5 are perhaps the second most popular evaluation options in Florida.
In option 2, parents engage the services of a certified teacher and have the student tested. Test results are sometimes helpful for determining areas of mastery or gaps to fill in the following year, and results can be used to satisfy the annual evaluation requirement. In option 5, a student with an accredited transcript (such as from a college or a virtual school) may be allowed to submit a course transcript or grade report to satisfy the annual evaluation requirement.
Students don't need to be evaluated the same way every year, and multiple students in the family do not all have to be evaluated the same way, either. In this way, parents can select the method that is the right fit for each student, and which provides the most valuable information about the home education program each time.
(4) Notice of Termination
Within 30 days of completing the homeschool program parents should file a notice of termination (also called the "Letter of Termination") for a student who has finished (i.e. graduated) homeschooling. The letter of intent will list the name, address and birth date of the student who completed the homeschool program, and will be signed by the parent. The letter should be in writing and should be delivered to the district school superintendent's office in the district in which the family resides. Any child who completes a home education program requires this letter. Any child who leaves home education for any other reason (enrolling in a private school or going to public school) also requires this letter.
Every letter of termination must be accompanied by an annual evaluation (see item 3). The annual evaluation should be completed, then submitted together with the letter of termination, both within the same 30 day time frame.
LEGAL REQUIREMENTS AT-A-GLANCE
(1) Letter of Intent (turn in once)
(2) Maintain a portfolio (every year) and preserve them for two years
(3) Submit an annual evaluation per student, per year
(4) Letter of Termination (within 30 days of homeschool completion)
In summary of the above, we present the four legal requirements at-a-glance.
Following the simple steps shown above, it's easy to see how homeschooling operates in the State of Florida: Parents first submit a letter of intent and begin homeschooling. During the homeschool year, a portfolio is maintained. On the one year anniversary of homeschooling, an evaluation is due. Parents then continue homeschooling for another year and repeat the same process again. A letter of termination is submitted each time a student graduates, along with a final annual evaluation.
A FEW OF THE OPPORTUNITIES OPEN TO HOMESCHOOLERS
The unique combination of freedom in education and the ability to take advantage of that which Florida has to offer (history, nature, attractions, wildlife, and more) is what makes Florida an outstanding place for home education. In addition to learning and activities that families devise on their own, Florida homeschoolers also have access to these programs and activities, too:
(1) Extracurricular Activities: Under the "Craig Dickinson Act" (Florida Statute 1006.15) homeschooled students are eligible "to participate in any school-authorized or education-related activity occurring during or outside the regular instructional school day" at their zoned public school. These activities vary by county/district, but are accessible to homeschooled students who are interested and who are eligible for the given activity. Examples of the kinds of programs that are considered extracurricular include clubs, musical ensembles, and high school sports.
(2) Part-time enrollment; Access to career and technical courses, and certifications: While availability and choices vary by county/district, homeschooled students may have access to courses on a school campus during the regular school day. A limit on the type and number of these courses may be imposed, and transportation to and from these courses must be provided by the parent. Families are advised to contact their district to learn if this opportunity is available.
(3) Florida Virtual School "Flex" Program: The state accredited, virtual instructional program is free to homeschooled students who desire to take online classes using Florida Virtual School. By selecting the "flex" option, homeschoolers can take courses and schedules to match their goals, interests and abilities, and final grades/credits may be applied to the homeschool grade report or high school transcript as having been completed via Florida Virtual School.
(4) College Dual Enrollment: A program in which eligible homeschoolers may take either in-person, virtual or hybrid courses at a local college campus, earning college credit towards an Associate Degree simultaneously while completing high school. A tuition waiver and book reimbursement is provided to homeschoolers who successfully pass a placement test and enter courses for which they are eligible. A final transcript is available upon completion, which may be applied to both the high school transcript and subsequent college admission later on.
(5) Entrance to Florida Colleges and Universities / Entrance to All Colleges and Universities: Eligible Florida homeschooled graduates may enter colleges and universities within the State of Florida and elsewhere around the country. Homeschooled graduates enter in a way similar to like other high school graduates, and may also (depending where courses are taken) be eligible for pathway programs providing immediate, guaranteed transfer from an approved dual enrollment program in which the student earned an Associate degree directly to a four-year institution. Homeschoolers are eligible for college scholarships; financial aid; matriculation into schools, programs and majors; and enjoy all the benefits of college and university life as do other high school graduates.
(6) The Florida Bright Futures Scholarship Program: Homeschooled graduates may apply to receive the Florida Bright Futures Scholarship, a merit scholarship awarded to homeschoolers who have met the minimum college entrance testing requirements, and who have completed a minimum number of community service/volunteer hours as outlined in the Bright Futures Handbook, per award level.
(7) Gardiner Scholarship Program: Home education parents of children with unique abilities may receive scholarship awards to use to pay for educational programming or to hire approved providers offering services the students need. Scholarship applications and information can be found on Step Up For Students, in the RESOURCES section, below.
THE PRIVATE SCHOOL OPTION
While homeschooling is an independent endeavor under the law, as you may recall from an earlier section, students may also enroll in Florida private schools to meet the attendance requirements, too. And, because some private schools permit their students to work from home, these private schools (sometimes called, "umbrella" schools) are a viable choice for families seeking the oversight of a school combined with the convenience of a home education.
Should a student enroll in a Florida private school, the parent must first terminate the home education program for that student (see "letter of termination") and submit an annual evaluation. Then, instead of complying with the legal requirements for homeschooling as outlined above, parents will instead file the paperwork needed, meet the requirements of, and perform the type of reporting that is required by the private school instead.
The choice of whether to homeschool independently, as described throughout this article, or to enroll in a private school, is an individual one. Only families can know which decision is best for them, and for their students long term. Because different private schools offer different levels of academic guidance, support and services, we cannot generalize about the experience, only counsel parents to interview prospective private schools, with the aim of understanding exactly what the experience will be like. We do advise, however, that when moving from independent home education to a private school, or back again, the student could gain or lose specific programs, privileges or services that were offered in the previous realm. Therefore, we suggest the decision be made thoughtfully, as well as timed strategically, so as not to potentially disadvantage the student, especially during the high school years where continuous enrollment and continuity may be important for some students.
FLORIDA HOMESCHOOLING MYTHS
For the new homeschooler, reading he Florida laws or chatting with other parents can sometimes leave doubt as to what is and isn't required as a homeschooler. That's why we've created a list of claims we hear in the community, and address them, so these myths will no longer proliferate.
Because the laws only outline 4 specific requirements for homeschoolers, all the myths you see below, are FALSE.
MYTH: Homeschooled students have to be tested every year.
FALSE BECAUSE: Testing homeschoolers is not required. Optional testing may be used to gain information, or to satisfy the annual evaluation requirement, but this would be at the discretion of the parent.
MYTH: Parents need to submit lesson plans and take attendance.
FALSE BECAUSE: While the portfolio requires a log and work samples, nothing in the law requires detailed lesson plans nor attendance records. In fact, homeschoolers are exempt from the requirements of a traditional public school day.
MYTH: Homeschoolers stay home all day. (Alternatively, Homeschoolers have to school from at home, Homeschoolers need a classroom)
FALSE BECAUSE: Florida laws grant the freedom for home educators to choose the settings and schedules they use for their homeschool programs. Florida homeschoolers are exempt from the requirements of a traditional public school day.
MYTH: Private "umbrella" schools are accredited / award a high school diploma.
FALSE [PARTIALLY] BECAUSE: Some Florida private schools meet this definition, but some do not, therefore we cannot make this generalized statement. We urge families to interview private schools to learn more about them prior to enrollment.
MYTH: Homeschoolers can't get into college (Alternatively, Homeschoolers can't get into good colleges)
FALSE BECAUSE: Homeschoolers can, and routinely do, go to colleges and universities of all kinds. In fact, homeschooled applicants are appreciated, even shown to surpass their public school counterparts in certain testing measures, and to succeed at high rates in college using measures including graduating on time. There is no statistical evidence to support this claim.
MYTH: Homeschoolers lack socialization (Alternatively, Homeschoolers cannot function properly in society)
FALSE BECAUSE: Evidence does not exist to support this claim. In fact, large studies have found homeschooled graduates to be happy and thriving, easily able to adapt to new environments, and to have high levels of civic engagement, too. To learn more about this topic, links to research organizations can be found in the RESOURCES list, below.
* 150,000 is a good estimate, though the number of homeschoolers changes rapidly; further, estimates like these do not include those who homeschool under private schools