Homeschooling in California: Guidance for Getting Started
Across all 50 states of America, homeschooling is legal. But when it comes to the details of this educational choice—how easy or hard it is, how to get started, what paperwork to file, the requirements, the costs, etc.—the details vary greatly from state to state.
This guide was written to help you scope out those key details for homeschooling in California, a state where homeschooling is both easy and popular!
Equipped with this California homeschooling information, you’ll be able to decide if homeschooling is doable for your family, what type of CA homeschooler you’d like to be, and identify the action steps to get started today.
DISCLAIMER: This article is not written as legal advice. Check with your local school board and official California state laws before making decisions about educating your children.
Is it easy to homeschool in California?
According to these two Sonlight moms, yes, it’s easy to homeschool in the Golden State!
Brittney W., a Sonlighter in Los Angeles, CA says,
It is extremely easy to homeschool in California. There are several options but most people either choose to file a PSA (private school affidavit) in October and then the only real requirement is to keep an attendance log. The other main option people choose is to homeschool through a charter school (which is what we do) this way you get funds ($2200-$3000) that can be used for curriculum or extracurricular activities. There is the accountability to the state of marking attendance and turning in work samples monthly. This is probably the biggest benefit of homeschooling in California. Since we purchased our own curriculum we used funds for extra science kits, break dancing classes, and an outdoor enrichment school."
Carrie W., a Sonlighter in San Jose, CA echoes Brittney’s opinion,
Homeschooling in CA is so easy. You register as a private school or under an umbrella school (who does the registration for you and sometimes offers other support) if you want to homeschool privately or through a public charter program which provides funding and guidance. Registering as your own private school is the easiest and gives you the most freedom, though.
I've lived in VA and looked at homeschooling in SC and AZ, and CA is by far the easiest and least restrictive in which to homeschool. I'm thankful to those who paved the way and continue to fight for homeschooling rights in CA.”
Homeschooling is regulated in California, but as per Homeschool Legal Defense Association, California is a low regulation state. For most families, low regulation means greater ease in homeschooling.
Is homeschooling popular in California?
Absolutely! Homeschooling stats bear out its popularity in California. This state has one of the highest percentages of homeschooled children at 8.6%. To put that into context, the National Center for Education Statistics reported (in 2016) that 3.3% of American children were homeschooled. So California is over double the national average!
Requirements for homeschooling in California
There are multiple ways to homeschool legally under California homeschooling statues:
- using a credentialed tutor (either the parent him/herself or a non-family member)
- establishing a home-based private school by filing an affidavit
- operating under an umbrella school (Private School Satellite Program, PSP)
- enrolling in a charter school
Each method has its own requirements. Here is insight from two Southern California moms about the different paths:
We left our PSP after 8th grade and now homeschool on our own by filing a PSA (Private School Affidavit). We chose to homeschool privately and not through a public charter because we like the freedom to choose how we homeschool and not be under the government with our schooling.” —Kelly P.
I customize my kids’ education every bit as much as a family who does not join a charter school. ... If I ever felt dissatisfied with the charter school, I have the freedom and choice to file independently again." —The Contemporary Homeschooler
Requirements for Homeschooling Through a Home-based Private School
California homeschooling laws require a parent to file a Private School Affidavit each school year (Oct. 1-15) in order to homeschool as a home-based private school. This is the form of homeschooling where a parent has the greatest freedom and least oversight, but no state monies are provided for curriculum or enrichment. Many homeschoolers in California call this an “independent homeschooler.”
Rules for homeschooling in California require that instruction be delivered in English and must cover the general academic areas also taught in public schools:
in grades 1-6: English, math, social sciences, science, fine arts, health, and P.E.
in grades 7-12: In addition to the above, foreign language, applied arts, vocational education, and driver’s education
A home-based private school is required to keep a small set of simple records, but oddly those records are not required to be submitted to the state. You simply need to keep the records! The affidavit process outlines those documents:
- Attendance Records
- Course of Study
- Faculty Qualifications
- Immunization Records or Waivers
- Health Exam Form or Waiver for Children Entering 1st Grade
The Sonlight planner is a great way to organize these required documents along with your day-to-day homeschool lists and calendar pages.
How many days are required for homeschool in California?
California homeschool hour requirements are applicable to families using a tutor or charter school.
Families operating as a home-based private school do not have to adhere to specific days/hours of work, but they are required to keep records of attendance. They can determine their school year and the length of the school day.
Do you have to be certified to homeschool in California?
The law states that private school instructors be “capable of teaching” and that their educational background and work experiences (or qualifications) be recorded. But parents do not need to be certified to homeschool through a charter school or as a home-based private school.
Nor is there any fingerprinting or criminal background check required for parents who are seeking to homeschool their own children.
Do parents need qualifications to homeschool? California guidelines
Any parent who is capable of teaching in English can file a Private School Affidavit and then enroll their children in their newly formed private school. There is no requirement to have a college degree, teaching experience, or teacher certification.
Who is eligible for homeschooling in California?
Any parent in California who is capable of teaching can opt to homeschool their child ages 6-18, provided they follow the law.
October 1-15 is the period when a parent can file a private school affidavit to establish a home-based private school. Part of this filing includes basic records about your private school: the instructors, the students, grades taught, the name of the school, etc. Although you will be required to list one Administrator, one Director and one Custodian of Records, all three roles can be fulfilled by a single person—you!
If you miss the October filing date and choose to homeschool later, you can still file the affidavit.
If not filing as a home-based private school (independent homeschooler), then you’ll want to enroll your child in a charter school or a Private School Satellite Program (PSP), AKA umbrella school.
Is unschooling legal in California?
Yes, unschooling is a legitimate homeschooling approach that is legal in California. Unschooling doesn’t mean that kids play video games all day and do no learning. On the contrary, unschooling means that learning is student-driven and doesn’t follow the typical textbook/workbook/test pattern of public schools.
Most unschoolers actually do purchase curriculum; they simply use it in a looser or student-led way than the publisher wrote it.
Can I homeschool someone else's child in California?
Yes, in California, a parent can hire a state-credentialed teacher to tutor their children at home. This tutor must teach a minimum of 3 hours daily, 175 days per school year and follow a typical Monday through Friday school schedule.
What do I need to homeschool my child in California?
To homeschool in California, you’ll first want to decide what type of homeschooler you want to be since there are 4 main options for homeschooling in California:
- using a credentialed tutor
- establishing a home-based private school
- operating under a PSP
- enrolling in a charter school
Then you’ll want to make your choice official by enrolling or filing an affidavit.
If you’re going the PSP or charter school route, those groups will guide you in everything you’ll need from records to attendance.
But if you’re establishing a home-based private school as an independent homeschool, you’ll be responsible for nearly everything related to your homeschool: all decisions and all resources. Here’s a basic list of needs any California homeschooler needs:
- a solid curriculum that your kids love and is easy for you to teach
- basic school and office supplies
- time set aside regularly to learn together
- a place to store supplies and do schoolwork
- a sense of vision to give you motivation
- avenues for socialization and extracurriculars
Fortunately in California the options for extras are abundant! Brittney W., a Sonlighter in Los Angeles, is excited about what her area offers:
Since there is such generous homeschool funding, there are tons of enrichment options. There is waterfront education, the local YMCA even takes funds, and there are several enrichment centers.”
What are the homeschool requirements in California?
Don’t let the legalese intimidate you. California is a very homeschool-friendly state, and the requirements are quite doable.
If you want to educate your child outside of a public school, you have several choices. Most homeschool families opt for either enrolling in a public charter school (which provides funds for resources and some oversight) or operate an at-home private school by filing an affidavit online with the state. This second choice—at-home private school—is often called an “independent homeschooling” in contrast to the charter school homeschoolers who have to fulfill the expectations of their chosen charter.
Your choice depends on your comfort level with outside input. For some parents, the feedback and structure of a charter school is a welcome form of support. For other parents, a charter school’s input feels like an intrusion.
Of course, the funds that come along with a charter school enrollment are very attractive for many families and help them accept any whatever concessions they have to make to the charter school.
California homeschooling requirements are not stringent. Although there is some recordkeeping to do and an affidavit to fill out (as a home-based private school), there are no reporting mechanisms and virtually no oversight.
If you enroll under a charter school, your particular school will outline exactly what they expect from you.
Do you have to have a curriculum when homeschooling?
The California Dept. of Education says, “There are no written state or local school district curriculum requirements or guidelines because California's grade level standards and adopted materials do not apply to students schooled at home under the Affidavit.”
Yay! This means you can do what you want in terms of curriculum. With this freedom though, comes an infinite scope of choices!
Two places to start when determining your California homeschooling program:
Start with state content standards
Although you’re not held to them, the state content standards offer reasonable benchmarks for planning your own program or choosing one to purchase.
Then look at popular homeschool curriculum packages
While you can piecemeal subjects from different vendors and publishers, an all-on-one curriculum streamlines your process and erases much of the decision fatigue.
If you go the home-based private school route, you will be asked to keep a Course of Study in your records. This can be a simple outline of what you plan to cover for the school year. If you purchase a comprehensive program like a Sonlight All-Subjects Package, you can use the scope and sequence as your Course of Study.
As a home-based private school, you are expected to cover the same subjects covered in public school: English, math, social sciences, science, fine arts, health, and P.E. And in grades 7-12 also foreign language, applied arts, vocational education, and driver’s education.
As you evaluate homeschooling programs in California, you may consider online homeschooling. While digital resources provide value, there’s no substitute for real books. Learn the incredible advantages of Sonlight’s literature-based approach here.
If you go the charter school route, there will be teachers on hand to help you choose your homeschooling program and direct you to the vendor area of their website for ordering.
Do homeschoolers have to take standardized tests in California?
Standardized testing requirements in California vary based on what type of homeschooler you are. Families operating under a charter school will need to take these tests.
But homeschoolers do not have to take standardized tests if they are
- using a private, credentialed tutor
- schooling under an umbrella school (Private School Satellite Program or PSP)
- operating as a home-based private school
Getting Starting & Timing
The benefits of homeschooling in California are many. You get greater control over what, when, and how your children learn (or full control, depending on what type of homeschooling you choose). Your child can receive a completely customized education, perfectly tailored to their specific weaknesses, strengths, and interests.
Homeschooled kids are more likely to enjoy learning because their parents can allow for enjoyable rabbit trails and hands-on projects. Imagine letting your child choose the science topic for the semester or taking time to explore a museum for hours without a nagging reminder that it’s time to get on the bus.
There is truly no comparison between the attention a loving parent can provide a child and that of a harried classroom teacher trying to meet the varied needs of 30 students.
Read our getting started guide for a general trajectory, and then head to the California Dept. of Education for the official and most up-to-date laws.
To enroll with a charter school, contact the school directly. To operate as an independent homeschooler (home-based private school), file a Private School Affidavit.
If your child is currently enrolled in a public school, notify the school that you are withdrawing your child. This should be done in writing (keep a copy). Your child’s school may have its own official form for you to use.
Private School Affidavit is filed digitally online at the California Department of Education website here.
You can read detailed directions for this process here.
Children between ages 6 and 18 are bound to a compulsory full-time public education in California. However, if a family files a Private School Affidavit, they can receive an exemption from this requirement as long as the children are being privately educated.
Can you skip kindergarten in California?
Since kindergarten typically happens at age 5 and compulsory school doesn’t start until age 6 in California, you can skip kindergarten in this state and begin formal schooling at age 6 with first grade.
However, many families love having the structure of a pre-planned kindergarten curriculum to guide their five-year-old’s day. For example, Sonlight History / Bible / Literature K for ages 5-7 is a delightful program that centers on American history. It’s gentle, engaging, and age-appropriate. So while you can skip kindergarten, why not enjoy this school year by reading great books with your five-year-old?
If you opt to homeschool kindergarten at home, there is no need to file an affidavit or join with a charter school.
How long can you homeschool a child?
You can try homeschooling for just one school year, see how it goes, and then decide if you’ll continue at the end of that school year. Homeschooling is not an all-or-nothing venture. You can do it for one year, multiple years, or for an entire academic career from birth to high school graduation. The choice is yours!
Choosing to homeschool does not negate your child’s right to attend public school, either. You may enroll your child in public school at any time.
California Field Trips for Homeschoolers
Field trips are so much more than a Plan B for a day when no one wants to do book work (although this is a perk, too!). Homeschool field trips provide invaluable real-world applications of what kids are learning about in their lessons. These excursions extend the learning and provide a facet of sensory immersion that books—as amazing as they are—can’t achieve.
California has the most state parks and national parks of any other state! So your options for nature-based exploration are plentiful. We asked Sonlight moms to tell us about field trips in California.
Kelly P. in Southern California raves about,
Ample field trip opportunities to the beaches, mountains, museums, aquariums, zoos, theater, etc. We also loved having Disneyland annual passes during the elementary years when our school days were shorter. Special memories! I’m so grateful to have the freedom to homeschool.”
Chrissy J. is a huge fan of her city’s field trips options:
San Diego is an amazing place for field trips…the zoo and Safari Park, Legoland, Sea World, and many historic locations. The weather also allows us to spend lots of time outside, which is so good for our brains!”
Brittney W. who resides in Los Angeles is an avid field tripper, too:
Another benefit is the amount of field trip opportunities we have. We have annual passes to Knott’s Berry Farm which is themed-based on the American West. We have a group we meet up with monthly at the amusement park. They have authentic Native American performances, replicas of one-room school houses and Independence Hall, they also have a gold mining area as well as the standard amusement park things like games and rides. We have access to beaches and museums and aquariums, hiking, music, art and theater. Our charter [school] also does field trips. They recently had a whale watching field trip. They have also gone to the San Diego Zoo and the Gentle Barn … where [my son] got to feed horses, hug cows, pet an emu, and hold a turkey. Obviously homeschooling also means you can take advantage of the numerous tourist attractions while most kids are in school, but things like the La Brea Tar Pits and the California Science Center, art museums and beaches when they aren’t too crowded.”
Financial Considerations for Homeschooling in California
Any large venture prompts the question of cost. And it’s essential to weigh the expenses before you set out so you are prepared for the homeschool lifestyle.
Among the states, California ranks 50th for cost of living and 49th for housing affordability. Ouch! If you live there, you already know what an expensive state it is. So anything is going to be more costly there.
How much does it cost to homeschool in California?
To learn more about the cost of homeschooling in California, read our extensive guide How Much Does Homeschooling Cost? There you’ll see that the annual expense to homeschool one child per school year ranges from $500 to $2500.
The largest single purchase for most homeschool families is curriculum, so do your best to find a program that meshes with your goals and is totally worth the money for you.
When evaluating a program, take into consideration if it can be used with multiple children, if there is a money-back guarantee, and if there is a payment plan.
Does California pay for homeschooling?
There is state funding for homeschooling in California if you opt to homeschool by way of a public charter school. This is not a school voucher program or a grant but a way to funnel funds to a family for approved curriculum and enrichment. A charter school also provides accountability and support.
How can I homeschool in California for free?
You can homeschool for free in California by using the funds provided through a public charter school. There are limits on how the money can be spent, and not all curriculum is approved.
If you use the private school affidavit avenue of homeschooling, no funds are provided, but you could rely on free resources such as your public library, local venues (museums, parks, etc.), and free online resources to patch together a program. The problem with homeschooling for free is that your mishmash plan may leave gaps or omit key academic areas. At younger ages and grades, this is less of a problem, but the older kids get, the more they truly need a well-planned, academically sound educational plan. Your children’s education is worth investing in! And your time spent hunting resources is also valuable.
Can I get money from the state of California for homeschooling?
Yes, in California, if you opt to homeschool through a public charter school, you get funds (ranging from $2200-$3200 depending on the charter school and grade) that can be spent on curriculum or extracurricular activities. If you opt to homeschool through other means, such as a private school affidavit, you don’t get money from the state.
Karen, The Mom Trotter, reports in a 2019 blog post that
Charter schools Do Not [sic] hand out funds in cash to families. Funds are available on an online portal system and can be used for educational material and field trips for children as needed.”
While the money is incredibly attractive, the funds do come with certain oversight and requirements. Check with each individual charter school to find out what obligations they place on participating families. Some possibilities are:
- standardized testing
- record keeping
- portfolio and work samples
- required topics of study
- required days/hours of school
While many families consider the requirements worth the hefty sum, other families prefer total independence or are ethically opposed to having government interference in their children’s education.
Is homeschooling a tax write-off in California?
No, homeschooling is not a tax-deductible expense on the California state income tax return. Nor is it a federally deductible expense.
Do I have to pay school taxes if I homeschool?
Yes, just like any other property owner of California, homeschoolers are still required to pay state property tax. Property taxes are one of the main ways that local schools are funded, and homeschoolers are not exempt from paying these taxes.
Partnering with Schools in California
As per the US Dept. of Education’s facts on California, “There is no statute at this time permitting students schooled at home access to public school classes and activities. Parents or guardians requesting permission for homeschooled students to participate in public school curricular, athletic, or extracurricular activities should contact the student's school district of residence.”
However, if you enroll with a charter school, you may have the option for something akin to part-time homeschooling in California. Many charters are offering a hybrid approach with at-home learning 2-3 days a week and in-person learning at the charter 2-3 days a week.
Brittney W. a Sonlighter in Los Angeles is one mom who uses this mix of charter + at-home learning:
Next year my son will most likely be in a district homeschool charter where he attends two days a week to work on different projects and the rest of the time homeschooled with the curriculum of our choosing.”
California Homeschooling for a Bilingual Education
California state homeschooling laws say that instruction must be provided in English. However, there is an exception to this rule that allows private schools to choose when and under what circumstances instruction can be provided in a bilingual fashion:
It is the policy of the state to ensure the mastery of English by all pupils in the schools; provided that bilingual instruction may be offered in those situations when such instruction is educationally advantageous to the pupils. Bilingual instruction is authorized to the extent that it does not interfere with the systematic, sequential, and regular instruction of all pupils in the English language.”
So as long as your child is learning English, then you can also add on the instruction of subjects in another language and of course instruction of the language itself. The most commonly spoken languages in California after English are Spanish, Chinese, Tagalog, Vietnamese, Korean, Persian, and Japanese. Bilingual homeschooling is an excellent way to pass on another mother tongue to your children!
Christian Homeschooling in California
If you homeschool through a charter school, you won’t be able to use state funds to purchase faith-based curriculum, but there are no restrictions against including your religion in your homeschool.
Two great ways to infuse your Christian faith into your homeschool experience are to add Bible study and missionary biographies to your lesson plans.
Sonlight makes Christian homeschooling easy since it integrates the Bible into every History / Bible / Literature level— it’s fully planned out for you. And the teaching notes and discussion questions in the Instructor's Guide reflect a Christian worldview.
Sonlight is the original Christian literature-based curriculum. Learn more about what makes Sonlight unique among Christian curriculum here.
Finding Homeschool Community in California
Getting plugged into homeschooling groups in California will give you a sounding board for your ideas and a fountain of practical advice. Although The State of California doesn’t provide networking support for homeschoolers, your support is not hard to find.
Kelly P. is a Sonlighter in Southern California. She says,
The homeschool community is strong in our area. … homeschooling is incredibly easy here!”
Start googling local homeschooling co-op [your city, neighborhood, or county] to find your homeschool community! A word of advice: Try out a group, and if it’s not a fit, try another! There are plenty of groups out there, and there’s one that’s perfect for you and your children. If not, why not start your own?
Get involved with state-wide homeschooling organizations in California like
- California Homeschool Network
- Homeschool Association of California
- Christian Home Educators of California (CHEA)
Many of these entities hold in-person or online events where you can connect with other parents, listen to great speakers, browse curriculum, and get advice.
For more possibilities, head to the Sonlight Connections page to
- look for (or start) a CA in-person homeschooling group
- install the Sonlight app
- join the Sonlight email list
- request to join the Sonlight Connections Facebook group
For free one-on-one homeschool consulting, make an appointment with a Sonlight Advisor.
Homeschooling High School in California
Yes, you can homeschool high school! It’s one of the most enjoyable seasons of homeschooling since your teen can take an active role in choosing topics of study, designing one-of-a-kind projects, and participating in meaningful extracurricular activities.
Homeschooling High School Diploma in California
If your teen is enrolled in a Private School Satellite Program (PSP, also called umbrella school) or a charter school, those entities will lay out the required credits/courses, issue your teen’s high school transcript, and award a high school diploma.
If you are homeschooling as an at-home private school, the responsibility lies on you to create a 4-year plan, to award a high school diploma, and to create a transcript. And while that may sound scary, it’s actually quite easy. Sonlight's College and Career Planning Kit takes you through this entire process.
While not required, by passing the California High School Proficiency Exam (CHSPE), homeschoolers who are at least 16 years old or in grade 10 can earn the legal equivalent of a public school diploma.
Calculating High School Credits for Homeschooling in California
California state law requires a mere 13 credits for high school graduation, but most school systems have a much higher bar. Your PSP or charter school will have its own requirements and ways to calculate those credits.
As an independent homeschooler (at-home private school), you aren’t required to follow the same credit requirements as public schools. In fact, you don’t have to issue credits at all!
While this freedom may sound delicious, you’ll want to evaluate your teen’s post-high school possibilities before you throw out the 4-year plan. If college is in the future, make sure your high school experience provides the required courses and credits for college admissions. For example, here are the University of CA admissions requirements. Look up a few possible colleges where your child may apply, and make your high school experience match what seems to be the baseline admissions requirements.
Dual Enrollment while Homeschooling in California
As a homeschooler you can enjoy the benefits of dual enrollment—taking a course at a community or 4-year college to earn both high school credits and college credits. Each college has its own fees, policies, and requirements. So check with your closest campus to get the specifics.
Driver Education for California Homeschoolers
California requires teens under 18 to complete driver education and 6 hours of behind-the-wheel driver training before getting a permit. As at at-home private school, you can provide this education and training yourself! Here’s a great tutorial that lays out how it works and what forms you’ll need to submit.