Pauline's Guide to Homeschooling in PA

PHEAA Funding Issues
For Homeschooling Students in Pennsylvania

PHEAA is the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency.  They award grants to college students.  Homeschooled students may, under certain circumstances, need to plan carefully to qualify for this money.  On this page, I’ve tried to share as much as I can find out about this issue.  I have not gone through this process myself, so please understand that I am still learning.  To try to understand the issue better, I have spent several frustrating afternoons on the phone with someone from PHEAA, who was unbelievably unhelpful.  Frankly, I’m still not sure I’ve got it right.  In addition, the home education law underwent significant changes in October of 2014. Before making a decision about the path that is right for you, please double-check the info on this page with appropriate sources.  If you have feedback or input for this page, please don’t hesitate to contact me at askpauline@comcast.net.

When planning for the high school years, homeschoolers in PA have many options available.  See my Homeschooling High School page for lots of information and links.

Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) financial aid

Before you decide on what, if any, kind of diploma your child will get, you will probably want to consider the issue of PHEAA funding for college.  Even if a student has been accepted to college without a high school diploma, PHEAA requires proof that they have completed high school in order to qualify for financial aid.  There are several ways you can meet this requirement.

I have attempted to provide information below to help you to determine which method of meeting this requirement will work best for your family.  This is a complex issue, and my summary here is just that – a summary of my current understanding of the issue.  You’ll want to consult the PHEAA web site -– start at PHEAA FAQ’S -- to see how your situation fits in with their regulations.  This is especially true if your student is not getting a supervisor-awarded/evaluator-signed diploma, not using a PA diploma program, and not getting a GED, or if you know your student will be going to an out-of-state college (not all of which are eligible for PHEAA funding anyway). 

Note that all of this is generally an issue only for the freshman year.  Students who have completed one year (30 semester hours) of college work, and who are age 18 or older, can get a Commonwealth Secondary School Diploma (equivalent to a GED) from the state, without taking the GED test, which will qualify them for PHEAA funding for subsequent college classes.  Note also that grants are based on financial need – if you are unlikely to be awarded a grant based on your financial situation, you may not need to be concerned about the PHEAA guidelines.  And note that this issue is about student grants, not student loans.

Ways to meet the diploma requirement:

Briefly, in order to qualify for financial aid from PHEAA for their freshman year of college, students need one of the following: 

  • A high school diploma, awarded by the supervisor of the student's home education program, signed by the student's twelfth grade evaluator in confirmation of the student's suitability for graduation. (This is a new option, created by the October 2014 change to the home education law.)
  • A high school diploma awarded by an approved diploma-granting organization (the PA diploma programs). The PDE maintains a list of approved diploma-granting organizations, posted on their web site.
  • A GED.
  • The school district superintendent’s signature certifying that the student's home education program complies with the Home Education law. (Note - This option was available before the October 2014 change to the home education law. I am not sure if it will continue to be an option under the updated law.)
  • A Commonwealth Secondary School Diploma (equivalent to a GED), which can be obtained from the state by a student who has earned thirty college credits.
  • A diploma from a PHEAA-approved high school. 

Again, check with PHEAA for details and to be sure you have the most up-to-date information! You may encounter problems with some of these – read on!  I do not have any data on the number of students who are affected by these problems.

In practice, the following folks SHOULD NOT generally have a problem getting PHEAA money:

        Homeschooled students who have a supervisor-awarded, evaluator-signed diploma.   Because of the October 2014 changes to the home education law, PHEAA should accept a high school diploma awarded by the supervisor of the student's home education program, assuming it meets the following requirements: 1) The diploma must be signed by the student's twelfth grade evaluator in confirmation of the student's suitability for graduation. 2) The student must have completed all the graduation requirements in the home education law, while enrolled in a home education program that is in compliance with the home ed law. 3) The diploma must be awarded to the student on a standardized form, available on the PDE's website. Because this is a new option, there may be glitches along the way. If you encounter problems with this option, contact the PDE, who should be able to help you straighten them out.

        Students who use one of the PA diploma programs. 
See my PA Diploma Programs page for lots of information about diploma programs and links to many of them.  There are, of course, pros and cons to diploma programs in general.  If you are only familiar with one or two of them, you may wish to look at some of the others.  They vary from programs with rigorous standards, to more “bare bones” programs. 

·        Students who use a PA public cyber-charter school.
Students who graduate from a PA public cyber-charter school should not have a problem. Note that students who graduate from a private cyber or correspondence school (these are not the same as public cyber-charter schools) may have problems if the school is not on PHEAA's approved list.

In practice, the following folks MAY have a problem getting PHEAA money:

        Students who get a GED. 
Generally speaking, the GED should be a straightforward route.  However, in some cases there may be complications to going this route due to age issues.  Generally speaking, you must be 18 to take the GED (though there are exceptions), so there may be problems getting the GED in time. If age is not an issue, the GED should not present a problem.  Find general test information at http://www.gedtest.org/.  PA-specific GED information is at http://www.able.state.pa.us/able/cwp/view.asp?a=5&Q=39791

        Students who have completed a year of college. 
Students who have completed one year (30 semester hours) of college work can get a Commonwealth Secondary School Diploma (equivalent to a GED) from the state, without taking the GED test.  Some community colleges (and some other colleges) allow high school students to take classes, so this can be a great option for homeschoolers. 
Note, however, that you must be 18 to get this diploma.  If you qualify for it at a younger age, you can ask your superintendent to sign a form allowing you to get the diploma earlier than 18.  Your superintendent may or may not agree to sign; if there is a problem, contact the PDE for advice.  If age is not an issue, this route should not present a problem.

        Students who ask for their superintendent’s signature.
Note: Due to the October 2014 change in the home education law, many people who previously would have used this option are now likely to opt for a high school diploma, awarded by the supervisor of the student's home education program, signed by the student's twelfth grade evaluator in confirmation of the student's suitability for graduation. It is probably easier to get the student's twelfth grade evaluator to sign the diploma than to have the school district superintendent sign the PHEAA form. However, I offer the following information in case it may continue to be a useful option under some circumstances; please check with PHEAA to be sure they are still allowing this route.

According to the PDE's FAQ page, "Although not a high school diploma, for PHEAA grant and loan purposes, a student may request the Superintendent of his or her school district of residence to sign a PHEAA form or a letter on school district letterhead indicating the student has completed the requirements in the home education law for graduation per 24 P.S. Sec. 13-1327.1(d)."  It is unclear to me whether this is supposed to include the graduation requirements in the home education law - the FAQs say that it does, the form itself is less clear.

The form for the superintendent’s signature is sent by PHEAA when you apply.  A few years back, I spent a frustrating afternoon on the phone with a woman at PHEAA, who said she could not tell me what was on the form, she could not send a copy of the form, and she could not refer me to her superior.  In April '09, Sarah Pearce at the PDE kindly sent this copy of the PHEAA form. The form says the following: 

"Applicants must be high school graduates to qualify for Pennsylvania State Grant aid.  Students in home education programs accredited by an agency approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) or students must [sic*] submit certification from the appropriate local Pennsylvania school official that their education is in compliance with the provisions of 24 P. S. 13-1327.1 are considered graduates of an approved high school for Pennsylvania State Grant purposes.

I certify that the home education program of the above-referenced student is in compliance with the provisions in 24 P.S. 13-1327.1

Signature of Superintendent (or designee)

[This said "who" instead of "must" in a previous version.]

In most of the 501 districts, for most families, this is very simple to do, in others it may be a hassle. The advantage to this approach is that it is free, and it doesn’t require participation in a diploma program.  In a conversation in April of '09, Sarah Pearce at the PDE reported that many superintendents will sign, and that she can sometimes, but not always, persuade reluctant ones to do so. However, she said that the superintendent is NOT required to sign the form if they do not want to. I don’t have a good sense of how often it goes smoothly and how often it doesn’t.  Here are several points to consider:

        It’s a good idea to try to find out in advance if your super will sign.  However, be aware that a new superintendent may be hired at any time.  This can, without notice, change the likelihood of a home educated student getting a signature.

        The superintendent may, if he so chooses, refuse to sign just because he doesn’t want to.  In this case, there are various ways to pressure him to sign, including contacting your school board, the PDE, HSLDA, your state representative, or state representative Elinor Z. Taylor (who is Chairman of the Board of PHEAA). 

        Note that the superintendent is probably unlikely to sign if you have stopped registering with the district at age 17, before graduation, since you are no longer legally a home educated student.  You could try to argue that you complied with 24 P. S. 13-1327.1 when you were required to do so.

        In general, in going this route the homeschooler is relying on someone who may know very little about homeschooling, and who may or may not have respect for it, to give them a stamp of approval.

        It is unclear to me whether certification of compliance with the home education law implies certification of compliance with the graduation requirements in 24 P. S. 13-1327.1.  If it does, or if the superintendent thinks it does, the issue becomes more complex.  For example, the superintendent may or may not agree with the homeschool supervisor’s standards as to what constitutes, say, a “year of English”, and therefore the superintendent may choose not to accept some of the homeschooler’s credits. 

Again, since the October 2014 change to the home education law, in most cases it may be a better choice to use a high school diploma, awarded by the supervisor of the student's home education program, signed by the student's twelfth grade evaluator in confirmation of the student's suitability for graduation. If you have trouble going this route, you may wish to talk to the PDE (see my PDE page), or one of the people mentioned above. 

        PA homeschool graduates who have a diploma from a secondary school not on PHEAA’s list.
There are many correspondence schools that offer diplomas to homeschoolers.  It has been very difficult for me to get information from PHEAA about which, if any, of these schools are on PHEAA’s list of acceptable schools, and how a school is added to the list.  The lady at PHEAA actually told me that there was no way to find this out in advance!
If you are planning on using a correspondence school diploma, you may wish to talk to PHEAA about adding your school to their list.  You may or may not be successful.  If you do this early in the high school years, you can then make an informed decision about other options if necessary.  You could also use 1) a high school diploma, awarded by the supervisor of the student's home education program, signed by the student's twelfth grade evaluator in confirmation of the student's suitability for graduation, or 2) a high school diploma awarded by an approved diploma-granting organization (the PA diploma programs), in addition to the correspondence school diploma.

·        Homeschoolers who are using the PA private tutor law, who are homeschooling underground, or who are using another alternative to the PA home ed law.  
Some, but not all, PA diploma programs are open to homeschooled students who are not under the PA home ed law - double-check beforehand if you plan to go this route. The superintendent cannot certify that the student's home education program is in compliance, as the student is not in a home education program. I don't know if PHEAA would accept a similar statement for students in who are under the private tutor law or using another legal approach to homescholing.

Obviously, the superintendent is unlikely to sign for a student who has been homeschooling underground (which is illegal). A GED or 30 college credits are other options to explore.

        Folks in districts that refuse to accept portfolios from homeschoolers over 17.   
Compulsory attendance ends on a student’s 17th birthday.  Very rarely, an uninformed school district official will refuse to accept a portfolio/affidavit from a student who is 17 or over.  In some cases, this could cause complications of various kinds. However, this problem is generally easily solvable with a phone call to the PDE.  (See my PDE page.) 

The following folks ARE LIKELY TO have a problem getting PHEAA money:

         Homeschooled students who have ONLY a parent-created transcript/diploma (not a superisor-issued, evaluator-signed diploma).  Parents have always had the option of creating their own "home brewed", parent-created diploma for their students, though PHEAA did not accept these as high school diplomas for the purpose of eligibility for PHEAA college funding. Now, because of the October 2014 changes to the home education law, PHEAA will accept a high school diploma awarded by the supervisor of the student's home education program, assuming it meets the following requirements: 1) The diploma must be signed by the student's twelfth grade evaluator in confirmation of the student's suitability for graduation. 2) The student must have completed all the graduation requirements in the home education law, while enrolled in a home education program that is in compliance with the home ed law. 3) The diploma must be awarded to the student on a standardized form, available on the PDE's website. If the parent-created diploma does not meet these requirements, there may be a problem qualifying for PHEAA funding.

        Out of state homeschool graduates who move to the state after graduation from high school and before their freshman year of college (so they may be ineligible to get an evaluator-signed diploma, a diploma from a PA diploma program, or a superintendent's signature, because they have not been enrolled in a PA home education program) and who don’t have a GED or a diploma from a secondary school on PHEAA’s list.  (They may also have trouble with the residency requirement.) 

        Homeschoolers who do not comply with Pennsylvania’s laws regarding home education, perhaps due to philosophical/religious objections.  Such students may minimize problems by using one of the routes to eligibility discussed above (such as the GED), though not all of these routes will be open to them.

Questions & Answers

Q:  I am attempting to fill out the PHEAA form sent to my son who will be attending college next year. Question 6 and 7 ask for the name of the high school and date graduating. The directions go on to further state if you are home educated to leave that blank but it was my understanding that by graduating with a PA Homeschoolers diploma [one of the PA diploma programs] my son would be eligible for PHEAA assistance.  My question is do I leave it blank as a home educator or do I fill in something else since he will have a PA Homeschoolers diploma?

A:
  (from Howard Richman)  PHEAA wants Pennsylvania Homeschoolers Accreditation Agency families to check that the student is graduating from a high school. So check that and list the school as Pennsylvania Homeschoolers Accreditation Agency.