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Compulsory School Age in Pennsylvania
(and in the Philadelphia School District)

What age child must report to the school district?

In PA, homeschooled children who are within a certain age range fall under the compulsory school attendance law. While a homeschooled child is of compulsory school age, the parent must file annually with the local school district according to the PA Home Education Law (the most widely-used option), or use one of the Alternatives to the Home Ed. Law. Roughly speaking, students ages 8-16 are of compulsory school age. However, there are complex rules for the lower and upper ends of the age range. Children as young as 6 may need to file in some way, and there may be some benefits to continuing to file beyond the 17th birthday.

So when exactly do you have to file? At the lower end, that depends on your child's birthdate, whether or not they have attended school at kindergarten or above, and whether or not you live in the Philadelphia School District. At the upper end, you generally need to file until at least the 17th birthday, unless the child "holds a certificate of graduation from a regularly accredited senior high school".

See the appropriate sections below for details on your situation.

Child between 9 and 16, not yet graduated:

If your child is age 9 or over, has not yet reached their 17th birthday, and has not graduated "from a regularly accredited senior high school", you must file (or meet the attendance requirement in another way). 

Child who has attended school in kindergarten or above, and is under 8:
-->Note Changes as of March 2013

If your child has attended kindergarten or above, but is not yet 8, it's always been a little complicated. In addition, there has recently been a new complication.

Everyone seems to agree that if your child has ever attended public school in first grade or above (not including kindergarten), your child is of state-wide compulsory school age and you must file an affidavit when you begin home educating (or meet the attendance requirement in another way), even if the child is not yet 8. This has not changed.

What if my child has only attended kindergarten?

It's complicated. Some background:

The law says, in 24 PS 13-1327 Compulsory school attendance: The term "compulsory school age," as hereinafter used, shall mean the period of a child's life from the time the child's parents elect to have the child enter school, which shall be not later than at the age of eight (8) years, until the age of seventeen (17) years.

Elsewhere in the law, in 24 PS 13-1304 Admission of beginners, it refers to "beginners", saying The term "beginners," as used in this section, shall mean any child that should enter the lowest grade of the primary school or the lowest primary class above the kindergarten level.

Taken together, these two sections have, for many years, been interpreted to mean that children who have attended kindergarten, but not first grade or above, and who are under age 8, are NOT considered to be of compulsory school age, and therefore do not have to file under the PA Home Ed law until (roughly - see below) they turn 8.

However, according to a March 2013 email to me from Suzanne Tallman, the PDE Home Education Liaison, "A recent court decision changes the ages-old advice that a student can be withdrawn from kindergarten without violating the compulsory school age. The decision states that, although kindergarten is not compulsory, once a student enrolls in kindergarten they now are of compulsory school age. Our advice previously was that this was true of 1st grade and above only.This decision has far-ranging consequences and we are trying to identify them all. Beginning the new school year (Fall 2013), I will need to state the court decision to any parent or school district who contacts me. Legislation, of course, could change this, as could a higher court decision from an appeal."

(If you like, you can read the court's decision in the Kerstetter case here. It's complicated.)

Thus the PDE now interprets the law to mean that if your child has attended school in kindergarten or above, your child is of state-wide compulsory school age and you must file an affidavit when you begin home educating (or meet the attendance requirement in another way), even if the child is under 8. 

What about private or out-of-state school?

To complicate things further, some home educators have argued that all of this only applies if the child has been enrolled in a Pennsylvania, public school, and that private or out-of-state school does not count. I have been told that, in at least one situation many years ago, someone at the PDE has given a different interpretation - basically that all this applies only to children under age 8 who have attended a public school. The recent Kerstetter decision is also worth reading for those interested in this question.

However, the PDE currently believes that it applies to either public or private school enrollment, in state or out. In the past, Sarah Pearce of the PDE has told me that a student under age 17 who has attended first grade or above at any school, public or private, in-state or elsewhere, falls under the compulsory attendance law.

See also the PDE's age of enrollment and attendance page. If you need further clarification of this point, or if you have unusual circumstances in this area, I suggest you read the relevant law and code, and call the PDE Homeschooling Liaison.)

Child not yet age 6 who lives in the Philadelphia School District: 

If you live in the PSD, and your child will not yet be 6 by September 1, and your child has not attended any school for kindergarten or above, your child is under both the state and the PSD compulsory school ages and you do not need to report to the school district in any way. You don’t have to file an affidavit, keep a log, submit a portfolio, etc., and most parents choose not to. 

Child not yet age 8, who does not live in the Philadelphia School District: 

If your child is not yet 8, and has not attended any school for kindergarten or above, and does not live in the Philadelphia School District, your child is under the compulsory school age and you do not need to report to the school district in any way. You don’t have to file an affidavit, keep a log, submit a portfolio, etc., and most parents choose not to. Eventually, assuming your child does not go to school and you do not move to the Philadelphia School district, your child will have to file as described below.

Child between 6 and 8 who lives in the Philadelphia School District:

If you live in the PSD, and if your child turns 6 on or before September 1, and has not attended any school for kindergarten or above, and has not yet turned 8, a relatively new law applies. HB1067, passed July 8, 2008, allowed the Philadelphia school board, if they desired, to lower the compulsory school age to 6 or 7 (instead of 8). In December 2008, the PSB did just that, by amending Policy 201 to lower the age to 6.

Basically, if your child turned 6 before September 1, and is not yet 8, and has not attended school for kindergarten or above, then the child is under the state-wide compulsory school age but over the Philadelphia compulsory school age. However, you do NOT need to follow the process in the Home Ed law (affidavit, evaluation, portfolio, etc.). Instead, you need to file a notice with the superintendent of the school district of your intention to (eventually) enroll the student in a home education program under section 1327.1.

I have created a simple notice of intent form you can use; here, in .pdf form, and here, in .doc form (so you can modify it yourself if you like). Because several people reported that the district folks they dealt with did not understand that the notice of intent was in lieu of an affidavit, I created a "New and Improved" version: here, in .pdf form, and here, in .doc form (so you can modify it yourself if you like).

PHEA has a sample notice of intent here, and some discussion on their home page here. HSLDA has an page explaining how this law was passed here. The text of the bill is here - the relevant section is on page 45.

Confused? If you need clarification, your best bet is to contact the PDE.

Below is HB1067 [brackets mine]. Note that this applies only to the Philadelphia School District, which is the only "district of the first class" in the state. (See 24 P.S. § 2-202. Classification of School Districts).

Section 2103. Board of public education; additional duties.--The duties of the board of public education in districts of the first class, in addition to the duties prescribed in this act, shall be--
...
(8) Provided, that notwithstanding the provisions of section 1326 [the compulsory school age section], the governing authority of the school district may establish the compulsory school age at no earlier than age six. The provisions of section 1326 shall continue to apply to any student enrolled in a [home education] program under section 1327.1 [the home education program section] or to any student whose parent or guardian files a notice with the superintendent of the school district of the intention to enroll the student in a program under section 1327.1.

Here is PSD Policy 201, amended on December 17, 2008 to lower the compulsory school age to 6. This applies only to students in the Philadelphia School District. Policy 201 says:

Compulsory school age is six years on or before September 1.

...

The compulsory school age of 6 years old does not apply to children who are being home schooled. For those children, the compulsory school age is 8 years old.

If a parent or guardian plans to home school their child, they must file an intent to home school with the District when the child turns 6 years of age. However, they are not required to begin their home schooling program until the child is 8 years old.

Once the child reaches 8 years old, the parent or guardian must submit home schooling plans to the District for approval prior to the school year and also furnish evidence at the end of the school year that the home schooling took place.

Note: As I see it, this policy has some problems. For example, there is no such thing as "home schooling" under PA state law, there are home education programs, homebound instruction, private tutoring, etc. In addition, "the parent or guardian must submit home schooling plans to the District for approval prior to the school year and also furnish evidence at the end of the school year that the home schooling took place" is at best an inaccurate summary of the requirements of the home education law.

Confused? If you need clarification, your best bet is to contact the PDE.

Child turning 8:
-->Note Changes as of July 2011

If your child turns eight before or during the first two weeks of the annual school term, they will be of compulsory school age for that school year, and you will need to either file a home education affidavit or meet the attendance requirement in another way. The affidavit needs to be filed by the child's birth date. This has not changed.

Prior to July 2011, if the child turned 8 after the first two weeks of the annual school term, they did not need to file until the following school year. (Technically speaking, if the school district promoted students semi-annually (which I don't think any of them do anymore), and the child turned 8 by the first two weeks of the second semester, you'd have to file by the child's birth date.)

However, there was a change in the regulations in July 2011. The PDE now advises that students who turn 8 during the school year, and who have not already filed, must file by their 8th birthday. See this memo from Maryalice Newborn of PHEA for some interesting commentary and examples.

Note that if you wish, as the "accounting year" for home education programs runs from July 1 to June 30, you can file your affidavit (and thus begin counting your 180 days or 900/990 hours) as early as July 1 for the school year that starts the following September. If your child turns 8 during the school year, you can wait until their birthday to file if you prefer. If you have questions about when to file, you may wish to contact the PDE.

Special Ed Students:

There is a special situation for special ed. students who are too old for preschool-age services but who are not yet of compulsory school age. Individual public schools may require homeschooled special ed students under age 8 to file home education paperwork in order to be eligible for services. This is a complex area beyond the scope of this site - please contact the PDE if you have questions or concerns.

Young Graduates (under age 17):

A student "who holds a certificate of graduation from a regularly accredited senior high school" (24 PS 13-1326 Definitions) is considered to be above compulsory school age, even if they are under 17. Therefore, they need not file home education paperwork.

Note that the PDE interprets this to mean that a GED is not sufficient, nor is a diploma from a PA home education diploma program. If you are under 17 and have graduated from a home education program or hold a GED, the PDE is of the opinion that you still have to file as if you hadn’t graduated. See 24 PS 13-1326 Definitions. Contact the PDE if you have questions about this.

Child turns 17 mid-year:

If your child turns 17 during the school year, and you do not intend to report the following year, it is the PDE’s opinion that you must still have an evaluation and file the end-of-year paperwork to close out your home education program. Otherwise, you can be deemed out of compliance, and therefore truant, for the days you have home educated. Thus if you age out of the compulsory school requirement by turning 17 during the school year, you are still supposed to get an evaluation and file the end-of-year paperwork.

According to the PDE's old FAQ page (now replaced by a new page), "Home education is a way of fulfilling the requirements for compulsory attendance, and students must attend school until the day of their 17th birthday. Therefore, the supervisor of the home education program must provide a portfolio and evaluator’s report for at least the period of time the student is age 16 up to and including the day before the student’s seventeenth birthday to ensure that there is no question as to whether the student has fulfilled compulsory education requirements." 

Will your district insist on it? This is one of those situations where each of the 501 PA school districts handle things differently. Practically speaking, some families do not bother with the end-of-year paperwork and have no problems. It seems rare for a school district to threaten truancy charges for a student who is already 17. However, some districts do ask for the end-of-year paperwork. If you don't want to burn any bridges, it is probably wise to file at least a minimal version of the end-of-year paperwork. If you choose not to submit a <portfolio + evaluation>, you may want to be prepared to do so if asked.

See 24 PS 13-1327 Compulsory school attendance.

Child 17 or older:

You do not have to file an affidavit for a child who is 17 or older at the start of the school year, though you may if you wish. Assuming your child has not yet graduated, should you continue to file after they turn 17? That depends on your situation. Some homeschoolers do, some don't. Here are some things to consider:

-- If you do not file, your child will no longer legally be considered a home educated student. They will have basically the same legal status as a student who leaves school before graduation. This may or may not be an issue, depending on your situation.

Think it through to see if there is anything your child is doing (think eligibility) or getting (think benefits) that may be affected by not reporting. This isn't a problem for some people, but because everyone's situation is different, it's wise to go through a mental checklist of things that might be affected if the state no longer considers your child a student. Health insurance? Car insurance? Benefits of various kinds? Child support? Custody issues? Extra-curricular program eligibility? Sports eligibility? Trust fund? (Of course, even if student status is required for something-or-other, you may be able to document it another way - but ask first, to avoid nasty expensive/disruptive surprises later.)

-- Some, but not all, PA Diploma Programs require that you register as a home educated student until graduation, regardless of age. Others allow you to stop registering when you turn 17. In addition, some will issue diplomas to students who have been privately tutored, and some will not. The PDE believes that a student must have been on record as a homeschooler of some kind before using a diploma program. This whole thing is a very fuzzy/complex area. (See the PDE's memo of June 2008.) If you are using a diploma program, check their guidelines to avoid problems, and contact the PDE to double-check.

-- If you are planning on applying for PHEAA funding for the freshman year of college, you will probably not be able to get the superintendent's signature as proof that you have completed high school if you are no longer filing. This is one of the major reasons why students continue to file even though they've reached 17. There are other, generally more complex, ways to qualify for PHEAA funding, such as getting a GED or using a PA diploma program (assuming, of course, that the program you choose does not require that you continue to file), but you'll want to plan carefully to avoid last-minute red-tape surprises. (Don't know what I'm talking about? This is an important factor for many people, so read more here.)

--The PDE's new Age of Enrollment and Attendance page says that "If a student turns 17 while homeschooling, they may continue to homeschool until they graduate as long as there is no break in homeschooling. If a student drops out of homeschooling after age 17, they may not return to homeschooling." They do not give any information as to why this may be the case. (By "homeschooling" I assume they mean a home education program, rather than one of the many alternatives.)

-- There may be other considerations - everyone's situation is different.

Where do these crazy rules come from?

In PA, according to the PDE, a child is of compulsory school age from the time the child enters school as a "beginner" (which may be no later than at the age of 8 years), until the age of 17 or graduation from a high school, whichever occurs first. A “beginner” is a child who enters a school district’s lowest elementary school grade that is above kindergarten (in other words, a child who enters first grade). Confused?!

Yes, this is confusing! If you are interested in the complex law behind this, you’ll want to read 24 PS 13-1304 Admission of beginners, 24 PS 13-1326 Definitions, and 24 PS 13-1327 Compulsory school attendance; and the code, 022 Pa. Code § 11.13. Compulsory school age. You could also contact the PDE Homeschooling Liaison for verification & clarification, especially if you have unique circumstances. If you live in the Philadelphia School District there's an extra law to take into account - see here for details and links.