Pauline's Guide to Homeschooling in PA

PHEAA Funding Issues
For Homeschooling Students in Pennsylvania

There’s lots more homeschooling info on my site! 
Check out my
Homeschooling Main Page.


Homeschoolers have a lot of choices available to them.

Please take the information you find useful from these pages and ignore the rest.

Many people, including me, will give opinions on the PA homeschooling law. 
I believe that
everyone should read the law for themselves, read a few opinions about it,
and decide for themselves what approach makes sense for their family.

The Law

I might be wrong! I am not a lawyer!  Please double-check legal information with appropriate sources!

This Web Page by Pauline Harding for Art Nurk, askpauline@comcast.net.
Contents may be copied if credit is given.

PHEAA is the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency.  They award grants to college students.  Homeschooled students may, under certain circumstances, have difficulty qualifying 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.  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 you have been accepted to college without a high school diploma, PHEAA requires proof that you have completed high school in order to qualify for financial aid.  According to PHEAA policy, a “home-brewed” transcript/diploma is not acceptable.  Many PA homeschoolers are not happy about this situation, and feel that it forces them to obtain (and in some cases pay for) documentation that they would not otherwise need. 

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 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.  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:  1) a diploma from a PA diploma program, 2) a GED, 3) the superintendent’s signature certifying that their home education complies with the Home Education law, 4) 30 college credits, or 5) a diploma from a PHEAA-approved high school.  (The first four options are the ones most widely used by homeschoolers – check PHEAA’s web site for details, please!)  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 DO NOT generally have a problem getting PHEAA money:

        Students who use one of the PA diploma programs. 
See my Homeschooling High School 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 that may be the best choice for those who only want to use one to qualify for the PHEAA money. 

·        Students who use a PA public cyber-charter school.
Students who graduate from a PA public cyber-charter school should not have a problem. Students who graduate from a private cyber or correspondence school (which is not a public charter school) may have problems.

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 age is not an issue, this route should not present a problem.

        Students who ask for their superintendent’s signature.
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 some/most of the 501 districts, for some/most families, this is very simple to do, in others it is apparently problematic.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, 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. 

If you are unlikely to qualify for PHEAA money any other way, it is probably worth asking your superintendent for a letter of certification.  If you have trouble going this route, you may wish to talk to Sarah Pearce at 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 a diploma program in addition to the correspondence school.

·        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 “home-brewed” transcript/diploma.  In this case you may want to look at the above options to find the best way for you to qualify for PHEAA funding.  If the student has been enrolled in a PA home education program, the superintendent’s signature is probably the best place to start; if not, there are other options such as the GED.

        Out of state homeschool graduates who move to the state after graduation from high school and before their freshman year of college (so they can't get a superintendent's signature) 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.