How Many Vacation Days Are Home-Schooled Kids Allowed To Take?

Answers to your questions about the news.
March 14 2012 4:42 PM

Do Home-Schooled Kids Get Spring Break?

How many vacation days are they allowed to take?

U.S. Senator Rick Santorum stands next to his wife Karen and his daughter Sarah Maria.
Rick Santorum with daughter Sarah Maria and wife Karen

Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images

Rick Santorum won the Alabama and Mississippi primaries on Tuesday. In his victory speech, he thanked his family, including the home-schooled children who have been traveling with him for at least a part of his nine-month campaign for the nomination. How many vacation days is a home-schooled child allowed to take?

The same number as a student at public school, in many states. It’s not clear which state’s home-school laws apply to the Santorum family—they live in Virginia but have at times claimed Pennsylvania as their legal residence. The Home School Legal Defense Association typically counsels parents to follow the laws of the state where they reside most of the time, which means the Santorums would be required to give their children the same number of days of instruction as are given in Virginia public schools—usually 180. Pennsylvania law allows a bit more flexibility: Parents can choose between a minimum number of school days (180, like in Virginia) or a minimum number of teaching hours (900 for younger students and 990 for older ones).

These requirements are nearly impossible to enforce. Pennsylvania law asks parents to submit an annual education plan that documents how they will meet the statutory minimums, but they have no mechanism to ensure that the plan is carried out. (Virginia, like most other states, doesn’t even have this requirement.) The state can’t enter your home unless it already has reason to believe you’ve violated the law, or there’s an emergency inside the house. The laws also don’t define exactly what constitutes a day of instruction, and one can imagine arguments for including a wide range of activities, from museum visits or baseball games to stumping for your dad.

Advertisement

In Virginia, families can sidestep even the modest requirements described above. Any children who are excused from compulsory education based on religious convictions are exempt from the home-school regulatory scheme, which means their parents can design their instructional schedule with complete freedom. There are no statistics on the percentage of Virginia home-schoolers who take advantage of this exception, but it appears to be quite common. (The Santorums haven’t disclosed whether they rely on the religious exemption.)

Virginia and Pennsylvania rely largely on standardized tests to ensure that home-schooled students are keeping up with their peers. In Pennsylvania, there’s no minimum passing score, but an education or psychology professional has to certify—based on the test scores, an interview, and other educational records—that “an appropriate education is occurring.” Virginia waives the professional certification if the student places above the 23rd percentile, and parents who home-school under the religious-convictions exception are exempt from this requirement as well.

Pennsylvania and Virginia have relatively strict home-school regulations. Ten states (Alaska, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, Oklahoma, and Texas) don’t even require parents to inform the state if they decide to keep their kids at home. Some of those states, like Alaska, have virtually no regulations at all (PDF): There is no minimum number of instruction days. Students don’t have to take tests, and their parents aren’t required to keep any kind of records. But whatever the rules, home-schooled kids often end up successful: They outscore public school kids on standardized exams, on average.  

Got a question about today’s news? Ask the Explainer.

Explainer thanks Jeremiah Lorrig of the Home School Legal Defense Association.

Brian Palmer writes about science, medicine, and the environment for Slate and Earthwire. Email him at explainerbrian@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter.

  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Dec. 19 2014 4:15 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? Staff writer Lily Hay Newman shares what stories intrigued her at the magazine this week.