Back to NYHEN home page

Current New York State Government Issues



Check out our email lists
New York State Homeschooling Regulations
Local homeschooling groups in New York State
How to contact state government officials
This page was last updated on January 11, 2008.

A number of issues which affect home education are regularly discussed in New York State government. In the discussion below, we provide links to the New York State Assembly Legislative Information System which you can use to check on the current status and wording of various legislative bills. You can also use the New York State Legislative Session Information System to get the same information, as well as legislative calendar information such as committee agendas.

NYHEN runs a discussion list, NY-alert@YahooGroups.com, where we talk about issues involving state government. You are welcome to join the list from the page at the previous link, or by sending a blank message to NY-alert-subscribe@YahooGroups.com.


IMPORTANT: State Education Department is prohibiting district-provided special education services for homeschoolers

On January 3, 2008, the State Education Department (SED) issued a memo stating that it will soon notify New York's school districts that they are no longer allowed to provide special education services to home-educated children.

For parents whose children are currently receiving district services, the memo says that the SED will tell districts to have those parents revise their IHIPs to address their children's special ed needs on their own; those IHIPs will then be re-evaluated by the district. (See the "Recommendation" section near the end of the memo.)

The department's argument for this change rests on two claims:
  • The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was amended in 2004, and corresponding federal regulations were issued, clarifying that states are not required to provide special ed services to homeschoolers unless a state treats homeschooling families as private schools. New York does not treat us as private schools. Therefore, the State Education Department concludes, federal IDEA money may not be spent on services for home-educated children.
  • New York State law does not authorize districts to spend state money on special ed services for home-educated children.
The SED's action grew out of a decision by its State Review Office (SRO) in a dispute between a family and their district:
SRO Appeal No. 07-043 (PDF format)
SRO Appeal No. 07-043 (HTML format)
The relevant discussion begins near the bottom of page 16.

This case is not over yet. The family who lost this decision has filed a federal lawsuit against their school district.

The State Review Office's decision cites these resources:
IDEA Section 300.133
Page 56 of a very large (307-page) PDF file, which may take a very long time to download

We will continue to follow this issue and post further information as necessary.


Effort to replace the homeschooling regulations

In response to efforts by some members of the home education community, former state senator John R. "Randy" Kuhl and his successor, Senator George Winner, sponsored a bill for several years that would have changed the way New York's home educators are regulated.

The bill was very controversial in New York's home education community, with strong supporters and strong opponents. Then, in 2005, Senator Winner amended the bill to prevent parents from writing their own children's annual assessments. This caused the bill's supporters to join the opposition. With no support from anyone for the amended bill, Senator Winner has abandoned it.

Although the bill no longer exists, we continue to provide the following materials so that you can learn about the controversy it created:

Access to college degrees

New York State regulations prohibit colleges within the state from granting a degree to a student unless that student has a state-recognized high school diploma or has met a substitute requirement. The approved substitutes include obtaining a GED diploma (either via a test or via a 24-credit-hour college program) or obtaining a letter from the student's school district superintendent stating that the student has received the substantial equivalent of a high school education. Because New York homeschoolers do not receive state-recognized high school diplomas, they must meet one of the substitute requirements.

In response to homeschoolers' concerns about this restriction on access to college degrees, the New York State Board of Regents changed its rules in September 2004 (read the changes they approved).

Under the new rules, the 24-credit-hour college program's subject distribution requirements have been relaxed. Also, because some homeschoolers believe there is an unacceptable stigma associated with a GED diploma, the 24-credit-hour option is no longer associated with the GED. Students also have the option of passing the five Regents exams that are required of public school students.

Additionally, the state's homeschooling regulation was changed to address the issue of compulsory school age students who want to go to college full-time. Such students' IHIPs now need to include a list of the courses to be taken.

Another response to homeschoolers' concerns about college degree access is A4590/S2976 (read the bill / check A4590 status / check S2976 status). This bill would prohibit the State Education Department from requiring homeschoolers to have a recognized diploma or GED in most cases. Because of the changes made by the Regents in 2004, this bill is largely unnecessary. It also contains dangerous provisions. For example, it would require homeschoolers to submit a notarized transcript "which demonstrates completion of a high school education", meaning that homeschoolers could not skip ahead to college before finishing a high school program.


Compulsory school attendance age

Currently, children in New York State are required to attend instruction, be it in a school or at home, from age 6 until age 16. This is the age range within which home educators must submit paperwork and assessments to their school districts. Also, state law allows school districts to raise the upper age limit from 16 to 17 for the students in their district. Only the New York City, Buffalo, and Brockport districts are known to have raised their age to 17.

For years, state legislators have attempted to expand this age range. A number of bills have been introduced in recent years which would raise the upper limit from 16 to either 17 or 18 years, as well as decrease the lower limit from 6 to 5 years. Any expansion of the compulsory attendance age range would require home educators to file paperwork with their district for more years. It could also make it more difficult or impossible for 16- and 17-year-olds to get access to the GED exam in order to show high school equivalency.

Adding fuel to the compulsory attendance fire is the fact that the New York State Board of Regents in January 2006 approved a new policy on early childhood education. The policy urges the legislature to decrease the lower age limit from 6 to 5 years. However, the Regents did soften their proposal a bit in response to public opposition. They revised the policy to call for lowering the age by 9 months rather than a full year, and they recommended that waivers be available for parents who don't want their 5-year-olds to attend school.

Senate Bill S3549 (read the bill / check current status) would extend the compulsory attendance age on both ends: from 16 to 18, and from 6 to 5.

Another bill, A8123/S4686 (read the bill / check A8123 status / check S4686 status), would raise the upper age limit from 16 to 18. It would also give local school boards the power to exclude people in the 16-18 range from attendance if they have passed a high school equivalency exam. However, the exam-based exclusion would be impossible to achieve by taking the GED exam under New York State's current GED eligibility rules, because students who are still of compulsory attendance age aren't allowed to take the exam. So, it's a Catch-22: you can get out of compulsory attendance if you pass the exam, but you can't take the exam if you're of compulsory attendance age.

Assembly Bill A8688 (read the bill / check current status) has been re-introduced. It would decrease the lower age limit from 6 to 5, and it would also require full-day kindergarten. It provides an "opt-out" mechanism for parents of kids who would be caught by the age reduction: if they don't want their child to be forced to attend, they could submit a notice to the district by April 1 that their child would not be attending the following fall. Districts would be required to notify parents of this option, but April 1 is an unreasonably early deadline, and it would be important for all of us to spread the word about it so that all parents understand their rights.

Assembly Bill A90 (read the bill / check current status) has also been re-introduced. It is aimed at decreasing the lower age limit from 6 to 5. However, its actual effect is uncertain:
  • It would give districts the option to lower their local age by a full year, from 6 to 5. This would probably have little or no effect. The New York State Council of School Superintendents has expressed opposition to the idea of decreasing the lower age limit to 5. It's unlikely that many districts would exercise this option.
  • It appears that the bill also has a statewide effect in addition to giving districts a local option, but because of the bill's poor wording, it's somewhat unclear whether there really is a statewide effect. If there is, it appears to lower the age by 7 months -- children would be required to attend in September if they turned 5 by June 30 rather than by the previous December 1.
  • Again because of poor wording, it's unclear what the effect on home educators would be. The bill includes an exemption for students who are "enrolled in non-public schools or in home instruction." This seems nonsensical: students would be exempt from required attendance if they attended. However, it's possible that home educators could prove so-called "enrollment" by simply submitting a letter to the district, similar to a letter of intent. If so, then the child would be exempt from compulsory attendance for that year, and the parents would not need to file the usual homeschooling paperwork.
Still on the age issue, another bill, A102/S190 (read the bill / check A102 status / check S190 status), has been re-introduced. It would require people under 18 to "maintain good school attendance" in order to be eligible for a driver's license or learner's permit. The bill states that such people must either have a high school diploma (or equivalent), or be enrolled in an educational program leading to such a diploma and have a certificate of good attendance (for which the school could charge up to $20). This appears to imply that homeschoolers under 18 would not be legally eligible for a driver's license or learner's permit. Perhaps a parent-issued "certificate of good attendance" would be considered acceptable, but this bill represents a potential threat to homeschoolers' freedom.


Compulsory attendance: It's not just for kids anymore

Some legislators are attempting to force not only children, but also their parents, to go to school. Assembly Bill A1628 (read the bill / check current status) would require all parents to attend four parenting classes before their child reaches 7th grade. If the parents did not complete the classes, the bill would penalize the child by prohibiting advancement to 7th grade. The bill's wording covers all families in New York, with no exceptions for children who are not in public or private schools.


Tax exemptions for educational expenses

S3257 (read the bill / check current status) would create an exemption from school property taxes (that is, a tax credit) for individuals and organizations that pay for all or part of a child's school tuition, textbooks, or other instructional materials or equipment. The bill specifically lists home educators as being eligible for the exemption for textbooks, materials, and equipment. However, it does not appear to allow home educators to get the exemption for tutoring or other class expenses (unless a child is physically unable to attend a school).

Meanwhile, S2624 (read the bill / check current status) would create an income tax credit for parents who pay for all or part of a child's school tuition, textbooks, or other instructional materials or equipment. The bill specifically lists home educators as being eligible for the credit. The tuition portion of the credit applies only to children who reach school age during or after the 2006-2007 school year, not to older children.

Some home educators support this kind of legislation because it makes home education more financially viable. Other home educators oppose this kind of legislation, saying that it could lead to increased regulation of home education because the government would view us as recipients of a tax break and would thus want to exercise tighter control over us in the name of accountability.


Participation in sports and other extracurricular activities

Currently, New York State does not allow homeschoolers to play on public school interscholastic sports teams. As for other extracurricular activities such as intramural sports and musical groups, the state allows local school boards to decide whether to allow homeschoolers to participate. Some districts allow such participation, and others don't.

A1495/S531 (read the bill / check A1495 status / check S531 status) would direct school boards to make sports and other extracurricular activities available to homeschoolers. However, it's somewhat unclear whether this bill would require districts to allow homeschoolers to participate, or whether it would simply require districts to consider a homeschooler's request. The Sponsor's Memo accompanying the bill says that the bill's purpose is "To allow home instructed pupils to participate in inter-school, intramural and extramural athletics, and other extra curricular activities with the consent of the board of education." This suggests that the school board could deny a homeschooler's request for participation. (The bill itself does not contain this language about the board's consent.)

New York home educators are divided on this issue. Supporters of these kinds of bills say that they would increase opportunities for homeschoolers. Opponents say that this approach could easily lead to increased regulation of homeschoolers, because it would explicitly identify us as eligible recipients of government school services. The opponents believe that the government would want to exercise tighter control over us as recipients of government services, in the name of accountability.