Updated July 10, 2013
State Regulation of Private and Home Schools Map
Accreditation, Registration, Licensing, and Approval
- Accreditation is optional.
- Private academic schools may choose to become accredited rather than licensed. Schools accredited by accrediting associations approved by the state board of education do not need to be licensed. 24 P.S. §6705.
- Only an accrediting organization approved by the Pennsylvania State Board of Education will be approved to grant accreditation to private academic schools. Approved accrediting organizations report annually to the Department with a summary of their accreditation activity, including a listing of schools that have been accredited, the fees collected, visitation schedule, and other information as the Department deems appropriate. Accrediting organizations make an immediate, one-time report to the Department regarding any educational institution that has gained or lost its accreditation.
- Registration is mandatory.
- Registration only applies to religious schools.
- Pennsylvania's compulsory school attendance law requires K–12 schools that are owned or operated by, or under the authority of, bona fide religious institutions to register with the Department of Education by filing a principal's notarized certification or affidavit. The notarized document states that subjects prescribed by the PA Public School code will be taught or offered in the English language for the amount of time specified, that the governing religious body is a nonprofit organization, and that the school is otherwise in compliance with the provisions of the PA Public School Code. 24 P.S. §13-1327(b).
- There is no accreditation or licensing requirement for religious schools; for these schools accreditation or licensing is optional. Non-religious, private schools (K–12) must be either licensed or accredited.
- Licensing is mandatory (depending on ownership—see below).
- Pennsylvania mandates licensing for K—12 private academic schools, except schools owned or operated by or under the authority of bona fide religious institutions, schools that are owned by colleges or universities, schools for the blind or deaf receiving Commonwealth appropriations, or schools accredited by accrediting associations approved by the state board of education.
- All exempted private schools may voluntarily choose to be licensed.
- The licensing requirements, enforced by the state board of private academic schools, govern health and safety, teaching and administrative staff, courses of study and instructional equipment, student attendance, records, fees, transportation, advertising, conditions of the premises, procedures for school closings, and financial responsibility. 24 P.S. §6701 et seq; 22 Pa. Code Chapter 51.
- Private schools are prohibited from discriminating in enrollment based on race or color. 24 Pa. Cons. Stat. §15-1521.
- Approval has no requirements.
- Only teachers holding a valid Pennsylvania professional certificate issued under Chapter 49 (relating to certification of professional personnel) of the State Board of Education Regulation, a private academic teaching certificate or a private academic temporary approval certificate may teach in a licensed private academic school. The Commonwealth is not empowered to approve the faculty or staff of any registered, nonlicensed religious school. 22 Pa. Code §51.34.; 24 P.S. §13-1327(b).
Length of School Year and Days
- Instructional time for a child enrolled in a day school operated by a religious body must be a minimum of 180 days or 900 hours at the elementary level, or 990 hours at the secondary level. 24 P.S. §13-1327(b).
- Licensed K–12 private academic schools must be in session a minimum of 180 days of instruction or the equivalent clock hour requirement with prior approval of the state board of private academic schools. Upon request, the Board may approve a school year containing a minimum of 990 secondary or 900 elementary and 450 kindergarten hours of instruction as the equivalent of 180 days, when a meritorious educational program warrants. 22 Pa. Code §51.61.
- Courses at an elementary day school operated by a religious body must be taught in: English, including spelling, reading, and writing; arithmetic; science; geography; history of the United States and Pennsylvania; civics; safety education, including regular and continuous instruction in the dangers and prevention of fires; health and physiology; physical education; music; and art. A principal's notarized affidavit filed with the state department of education stating these subjects are offered in the English language, by a nonprofit school, and in compliance with the law, is sufficient evidence of compliance with this provision. Nothing in this provision empowers the Commonwealth and its officers to approve the course content, faculty, staff or disciplinary requirements of any nonpublic religious school without its consent. 24 P.S. §13-1327(b).
- Courses at a secondary day school operated by a religious body must be offered in: English, including language, literature, speech and composition; science, including biology and chemistry; geography; social studies, including civics, economics, world history, history of the United States and Pennsylvania; a foreign language; mathematics, including general mathematics and statistics, algebra and geometry; art; music; physical education; health and physiology; and safety education, including regular and continuous instruction in the dangers and prevention of fires. A principal's notarized affidavit filed with the state department of education stating these subjects are offered in the English language, by a nonprofit school, and in compliance with the law, is sufficient evidence of compliance with this provision. Nothing in this provision empowers the Commonwealth and its officers to approve the course content, faculty, staff or disciplinary requirements of any nonpublic religious school without its consent. 24 P.S. §13-1327(b).
- Private elementary schools are required to teach the following subjects: English, including spelling, reading and writing; arithmetic; geography; the history of the United States and of Pennsylvania; science; civics, including loyalty to the State and National Government; safety education, and the humane treatment of birds and animals; health, including physical education and physiology; music and art. 24 P.S. §15-1511.
- Private high schools must provide during grades 7–12 four semesters in the history and government of the United States and Pennsylvania to develop an appreciation for the American republican representative form of government, the benefits of the American way of life, and the individual's duty to exercise the right to vote. 24 .P.S. §16-1605.
- A child enrolled in a day or boarding school accredited by an accrediting association approved by the state board of education is considered to have met the compulsory attendance requirement. 24 P.S. §13-1327(c).
- K—12 nonpublic and private school students have a right to refuse to dissect, vivisect, incubate, capture or otherwise harm or destroy animals. School administrators have a duty to notify parents and pupils of their rights three weeks prior to a scheduled exercise. Students who choose to opt out of the exercise must be offered an alternative education project. 24 P.S. §15-1523.
- Instruction in the private schools must be in English and from English texts unless a foreign language is permitted by the Secretary of Education as a part of a foreign language study or bilingual education program. 24 P.S. §15-1511.
- Nonpublic schools may access educational materials on the nature and effects of drugs, alcohol, tobacco and dangerous controlled substances through the intermediate units. Nonpublic school employees may also attend the in-service training programs made available by the state department of education on these topics and provided by the intermediate units. 24 P.S. §15-1547.
- The Pennsylvania legislature intended that nonpublic school students benefit from drug and alcohol abuse programs piloted by the state. 24 P.S. §5311 et seq.
- Private schools must display the United States flag, not less than three feet in length, in all school buildings during each day that school is in session. In addition, the schools must provide instruction to develop allegiance to the flag and to promote a clear understanding of the American way of life. 24 P.S. §7-771.
- Private schools may join the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association for athletic competition. 24 P.S. §5-511(b.1).
- Private and parochial school organizations that promote extracurricular activities may sponsor small games of chance for the purpose of raising funds for public interest purposes. The organizations must be recognized by the governing body of the private or parochial school. The games are strictly regulated by the state. 10 P.S. §312 et seq.
- Parochial, private, and nonpublic schools have the option of providing armed forces recruiters a list of prospective graduating seniors for recruitment purposes. Costs incurred by a nonpublic school are reimbursed by the armed forces recruiters. 51 P.S. §20221 et seq.
Recordkeeping and Reports
- Private schools have an obligation to furnish district superintendents a list of the names and residences of all resident children between six and 18 enrolled in the school, to report the name and date of any pupil withdrawing, and the name of any child absent three days or the equivalent without lawful excuse. 24 P.S. §13-1332.
- School administrators failing to comply with the reporting requirements may be fined. 24 P.S. §13-1355.
- Student health records maintained by private schools are confidential and may be released only when necessary for the health of the child or at the request of the parent/guardian. Records must be transferred upon request when a student relocates to another school. Private schools must not destroy a student's health record for two years after the child's withdrawal, but may give them to the child's parent or guardian if the child does not re-enroll in another Pennsylvania school. 24 P.S. §14-1409.
- Private school guidance counselors, nurses, psychologists or clerical workers working for a guidance counselor, will not be compelled to disclose information during any legal proceeding or investigation that was obtained from a student without the student's consent if over 18 or without the parent's consent if the student is under 18. However, no such person shall be excused or prevented from complying with the Child Protective Services Law. 42 P.S. §5945.
Health and Safety Requirements
- As directed by the secretary of health, private and parochial school administrators have a duty to ensure that every student, prior to admission to school, is immunized against diseases or parents have filed a request for exemption for religious or medical reasons. Certificates of immunization or exemption must be issued in accordance with regulations promulgated by the secretary of health. 24 Pa. Cons. Stat. §13-1303a.
- The state advisory health board regulates the prevention and control of disease in private schools. 35 P.S. §521.2.
- Local county and city health officers are charged with notifying public, parochial, and other school teachers and administrators of the need to exclude children who are suffering from, or residing with persons suffering from communicable diseases and to make sanitary inspections. 16 Pa. Cons. Stat. 2190; 53 Pa. Cons. Stat. 37306.
- Nonpublic school employees acting in good faith in the scope of their official duty are immune from civil liability for negligent statements, acts or omissions made relating to student drug or alcohol abuse. 42 P.S. §8337.
- Administrators of private schools have a duty to provide instruction and training in the proper procedures to exit school buildings in an emergency without confusion or panic. Drills must be conducted at least once a month when the schools are in session. All schools are required to provide some regular instruction in the dangers of fire and the prevention of fire waste during the school year. 24 P.S. §15-1518.
- Private school administrators must require applicants for positions with direct contact with children to produce with their applications a criminal history report from the Pennsylvania State Police and a clearance statement resulting from a background check for employment conducted by the department of public welfare within the immediately preceding year. Persons not receiving a clearance statement are ineligible for employment. 23 Pa. Cons. Stat. §6355.
- Persons convicted within five years of certain crimes specified by statute are ineligible for employment with some exceptions. 24 P.S. §1-111.
- A school employee who has reasonable cause to suspect, on the basis of professional or other training and experience, that a student coming before the employee in the employee's professional or official capacity is a victim of serious bodily injury or sexual abuse or sexual exploitation by a school employee shall make a report to law enforcement officials and the district attorney. 23 P.S. §6352.
- School administrators may use the resources of the Office for Safe Schools established by the state department of education through legislation designed to combat school violence. 24 P.S. §1302A.
- School administrators shall maintain updated records of all incidents of violence, incidents involving possession of a weapon and convictions or adjudications of delinquency for acts committed on school property by students enrolled therein. A statistical summary of these records shall be made accessible to the public for examination by the public during regular business hours. 24 P.S. §1307A.
- Upon adjudication, a delinquent child's building principal and teacher is notified of specific circumstances for the limited purposes of protecting school personnel and students from danger from the child and of arranging appropriate counseling and education for the child. Information provided to and maintained by the principal is maintained separately from the official school record. 42 P.S. §6341.
- It is a misdemeanor to carry a weapon, i.e., an instrument capable of inflicting serious bodily injury, e.g., a knife, cutting instrument, cutting tool, nun chuck stick, firearm, shotgun, or rifle, on the grounds or in transport to a licensed elementary or secondary private school or parochial school. 18 P.S. §912.
- An attempt to intentionally cause bodily injury to a teaching staff member, school board member, employee or student of any licensed elementary or secondary private school or parochial school while the person is acting within the scope of her employment is an aggravated assault and a felony of the second degree. 18 P.S. §2702.
- The sale of a controlled substance to a minor within 1000 feet of a private or parochial school brings an additional minimum sentence of at least two years confinement. 18 P.S. §6314.
- Fire extinguishers containing carbon tetrachloride are illegal when used in private or parochial school buildings or buses used to transport school children. School administrators permitting their use are guilty of a summary offense. 18 P.S. §7304.
- Industrial quality eye protective devices are required for teachers, students, and visitors at private schools when engaged in dangerous activities, e.g., the use of hot liquids, solids or gases; milling, sawing, turning, or grinding of solid materials; and repairing or servicing vehicles. 24 P.S. §5301.
- Permits for new municipal waste landfills, commercial residual waste treatment facilities or resource recovery facilities will not be issued for property located within 300 yards of a building owned by a parochial school and used for instructional purposes. 53 P.S. §4000.511.
- No street may be laid out and opened through any grounds occupied by a building used as a parochial school or educational institution unless the owner consents. 53 P.S. §57006.
- No property used for a parochial school or educational institution can be taken by a township for the purpose of extending the system of water distribution or to erect public buildings. 53 P.S. §§57703; 57803.
- Local school boards that provide transportation for public school students to school must provide identical transportation services for nonpublic school students enrolled in nonprofit schools within the district boundaries or outside the district boundaries at a distance not exceeding 10 miles by the nearest public highway. Transportation must be provided when the nonpublic school is in session as determined by the directors of the nonpublic school. Local school districts transporting nonpublic students receive per capita subsidy from the Commonwealth. 24 P.S. §§13-1361, 21-2114, 25-2509.3.
- School vehicles owned by or under contract with a parochial or private school that are used for the transportation of students must conform to Department of Transportation standards governing design, construction, equipment and operation. 75 P.S. §4551.
- School bus drivers must complete basic and refresher training courses with the costs borne by the school district or private or parochial school for which the drivers operate. 75 P.S. §1509(C).
- Private schools must ensure that every student is familiar with school bus emergency procedures and equipment and safe loading and unloading operations. The school must conduct a minimum of two emergency evacuation drills each year. 75 P.S. §4552.
- Motor vehicles bearing school bus or school vehicle registration plates must be used exclusively for the transportation of children and their chaperons to the private, parochial, Sunday school, or related activity. The school adopts regulations governing the number of chaperons necessary. When the school bus is being used for other purposes, the words "school bus" on the front and rear should be concealed and the red and amber visual signals not operated. 75 P.S. §1343.
- Under Pennsylvania law, the Secretary of Education has a duty to loan textbooks and instructional materials at no cost to children enrolled in K–12 nonpublic schools. The Secretary is not required to spend an amount in excess of $20 for textbooks and $10 for instructional materials per student. 24 P.S. §9-973.
- There is no state policy in Pennsylvania that requires or provides testing for nonpublic schools students. Nonpublic and private school may elect to participate in the use of the state testing used in public schools.
- Pennsylvania enrolls exceptional children in approved private schools when there is no public school special education program that meets the student's needs. An exceptional child is defined as "blind or deaf, or has cerebral palsy and/or neurological impairment and/or muscular dystrophy and/or is mentally retarded and/or has a serious emotional disturbance and/or has autism/pervasive developmental disorder." Costs are shared between the local school district and the state department of education. 24 P.S. §13-1376. When requested, these schools must provide for administrative purposes, the names, ages, and residences of all pupils enrolled, specifying the school districts liable for part of the tuition and maintenance and the per capita cost of and maintenance of pupils to the state department of education. 24 P.S. §13-1377.
- All Pennsylvania private and nonpublic schools may offer special education programs. Such programs do not come under federal or state special education due process procedures.
Nursing and Health
- Private school students are entitled to auxiliary services through the intermediate unit on an equal basis with public school students of the school district within which the nonpublic school is located. Auxiliary services include but are not limited to: guidance counseling and testing services, psychological services, visual services, services for exceptional children, remedial services, speech and hearing services, and services for the improvement of the educationally disadvantaged. 24 P.S. §9-972.1.
- The Pennsylvania General Assembly has determined that speech and hearing correctional services are health services. The Secretary of Education has a duty to furnish these services free to nonpublic school students on the grounds of the school, provided that the services are also afforded to public school students of the school district wherein the private school is located. 24 P.S. §9-971A.
- The General Assembly has determined diagnostic and evaluative psychological services and visual services are health services that must be afforded to nonpublic school students on the premises of the nonpublic school, provided that the services are also afforded to public school students of the school district wherein the private school is located. 24 P.S. §9-973.1, 2.
- Legislation authorizes the state department of education, through the intermediate units, to purchase technology items including computer hardware, software, connectivity and related materials to loan to Pennsylvania nonpublic students enrolled in grades K-12. 24 P.S. §1505-A.
- Professional development opportunities for teachers can also be provided through the intermediate units to ensure teachers can use the technology within the curriculum. 24 P.S. §1505-A.
- Many private/nonpublic schools employ teachers with public school teaching certification. In order to stay in active status, Pennsylvania's public school teaching certificate holders must obtain 180 hours of continuing professional education, or its equivalent in collegiate courses, every five years. Private/nonpublic schools may apply to the state department of education for approval of a professional education plan, which, if approved, enables the private/nonpublic school to provide in-service programs and activities that are creditable toward the five-year 180-hour requirement.
Reimbursement for Performing State and Local Functions
- There is no state policy at this time pertaining to reimbursement for performing state and local functions for private schools.
- No information available on the topic of tax exemption.
Public Aid for Private Education
- Constitutional Provisions: The Pennsylvania Constitution prohibits any appropriation of money raised for the public schools to a sectarian school. Pennsylvania Constitution Art. 3, Sec. 15.Appropriations to educational institutions not under the absolute control of the Commonwealth, other than teacher training schools, are prohibited unless passed by two-thirds of all the members elected to each House. Pennsylvania Constitution Art. 3, Sec. 30.
- Programs for Financial Assistance for Attendance at Private Schools:The Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) was implemented in 2001 and allows corporations to receive Pennsylvania tax credits for charitable contributions to scholarship organizations (SOs) or to educational improvement organizations (EIOs) and/or Pre-K Scholarship Organizations (PKSO). SOs provide scholarships to eligible students for attendance at a private school located within the Commonwealth or at a public school outside a student's district of residence; EIOs provide grants to public schools for innovative educational programs for public school students; and PKSOs provide scholarships to eligible students for attendance at a Pre-K program located within the Commonwealth. SOs and PKSOs award scholarships according to a household income limit of $60,000 ($75,000 on or after July 1, 2013) plus an allowance of $12,000 ($15,000 on or after July 1, 2013) for each dependent member as defined by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service. The amount of tax credit for corporations is equal to 75 percent of the amount contributed and can be increased to 90 percent of the amount contributed if the business makes a two-year commitment. Tax credits may not exceed $750,000 combined for the SO and EIO programs in any year. Tax credits may not exceed $200,000 for the Pre-K program in any year. Tax credits are awarded to corporations on a first-come, first-served basis by the date received. The EITC opens for corporations that participated in prior years on May 15. Corporations that are new to EITC may begin participating at the start of the state's fiscal year, July 1.
The Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) became law in 2012 and was first implemented in the 2012–13 school year. OSTC provides scholarships to eligible students who wish to attend a participating public or nonpublic school of their choice. Eligible students must reside within the attendance boundaries of a low-achieving school that is defined as a public elementary or secondary Pennsylvania school ranking in the bottom 15 percent of its designation as an elementary or secondary school. This ranking is based on combined math and reading scores on the most recent Pennsylvania System of School Assessment. The program establishes household income caps. For the 2012-13 school year, the maximum scholarship award available to non-special education students is $8,500 and the maximum for a special education student is $15,000. And, starting July 1, 2014, those amounts will increase to account for inflation. Student scholarships may be used for tuition costs and school-related fees at the participating nonpublic school. Students who use an opportunity scholarship to attend a participating nonpublic school located within 10 miles of the resident school district's boundaries may receive transportation to the nonpublic school if the student's resident school district provides transportation to its own students.
Home Education Programs
- Home education programs are conducted, in compliance with the state's laws and regulations, by a parent, guardian, or any such person who has legal custody of a child or children. 24 P.S. §13-1327.1 (b).
- Parents may refer to the Pennsylvania Religious Freedom Protection Act (RFPA) that references this option for homeschooling if parents substantiate a substantial burden on the free exercise of their religious beliefs. P.L. §1701, Act 214.
- A home education program is not considered a nonpublic school in Pennsylvania. P.S. §13-1327.1 (b).
- The parent or guardian or such person having legal custody of the child or children, who must have a high school diploma or its equivalent, is designated as the "supervisor" and is responsible for the provision of instruction. 22 Pa Code § 4.72, 24 P.S. §13-1327.1 (a).
Other State Option for Private Education — Private Tutoring
- A teacher who meets the standards for a "properly qualified private tutor" may provide private tutoring.
- A properly qualified private tutor is a teacher who is certified to teach in the state's public schools, is working with children who are members of a single family, is providing the majority of instruction, and is receiving a fee or other consideration for the instruction. Parents who meet these qualifications may homeschool as a private tutor. 24 P.S. §13-1327 (a).
- No person who would be disqualified from school employment by the provisions of subsection (e) of section 111 may be a private tutor. The private tutor must file a copy of his Pennsylvania certification and the required criminal history record with the student's district of residence superintendent. 24 P.S. §13-1327 (a).
- A private tutor is not required to maintain Act 48 credits. 24 P.S. §12-1205.1 (e).
- A private tutor must report enrollments, attendance and withdrawals. 24 P.S. §13-1332.
- A private tutor must report truancy. 24 P.S. §13-1333.
- A student who is privately tutored is eligible to be dually-enrolled in their school district, if the district permits it. 22 Pa Code §11.33.
- Private tutored students are subject to requirements for curriculum and instructional time and for documentation of these. 22 Pa Code §11.31.
- The parent of a privately tutored student is required to provide written assurance that the instructional requirements of this section have been met. 22 Pa Code § 11.31.
Initial and Renewal Applications
- An affidavit and accompanying attachments, submitted to the superintendent of the student's district of residence, is required to commence a home education program. The initial year, the supervisor may begin a home education program at any time by submitting the documentation; however, the documentation is due by August 1 on subsequent years of a home education program. 24 P.S. §13-1327.1 (b).
- The accompanying attachments include evidence that the child has been immunized in accordance with the provision of section 1303(a) and had received the health and medical services required for students of the child's age or grade level in Article XIV.
- The outline of proposed educational objectives shall not be utilized by the superintendent in determining whether the home education program is out of compliance.
- With submission of required documentation, there is no need to seek the approval of the school district where the family resides and plans to conduct the home education program. 22 Pa. Code §11.31a.
Curriculum and Instruction
- The school district of residence shall, at the request of the supervisor, lend to the home education program copies of the school district's planned courses, textbooks, and other curricular materials appropriate to the student's age and grade level. 24 P.S. §13-1327.1 (f).
- Mandatory courses and days or hours of instruction are defined for the elementary level (grades K—6) and the secondary level (grades 7—12). 24 P.S. §13 1327.1 (c).
- Graduation requirements are defined. 24 P.S. §13 1327.1 (d).
- Portfolios must include a written evaluation of the student's educational progress. This may be provided by a Pennsylvania certified teacher with two years of teaching experience at the level at which they are evaluating, a licensed clinical or school psychologist or a nonpublic teacher or administrator who has at least two years of teaching experience within the last 10 years at the level they are evaluating. 24 P.S. §13-1327.1 (e)(2).
- A portfolio must be submitted to the superintendent's office of the student's district of residence by the end of the school year to account for all homeschooling up to age 17. 24 P.S. §13-1327.1 (h), 22 Pa Code §11.13.
Assessment and Diplomas
- Homeschooled students in grades three, five, or eight must take, and report in their portfolio, the results of the statewide tests (PSSA) or another nationally normed standardized achievement test, as approved by the state department of education, in reading/language arts and mathematics. 24 P.S. §13-1327.1 (e)(1).
- A home education program may associate with an organization that has the authority to grant a Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE)-recognized diploma. Other credentials exist. 22 Pa Code §4.72.
- A home education program for a child who has been identified under the Federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) as needing special education services (excluding those students identified as gifted and/or talented) must addresses the child's specific needs. A written approval of the educational plan by a teacher with a valid certificate from the Commonwealth to teach special education or a licensed clinical or certified school psychologist must be submitted with the affidavit. 24 P.S. §13-1327 (d).
- The supervisor of a home education program may request that the school district or intermediate unit of residence provide services that address the specific needs of the exceptional student in the home education program. When the provision of services is agreed to by the supervisor and the school district or intermediate unit, all services shall be provided in the public schools or in a private school licensed to provide such programs and services. 24 P.S. §13-1327 (d).
Public School Access
- Homeschooled students may be allowed to attend curricular classes in the student's district of residence's schools. These services are provided at the discretion of the district; parents must consult the district's policy on this matter. 22 Pa. Code §11.41.
- Homeschooled students have the same access to participate in extracurricular activities (such as, but not limited to, clubs, musical ensembles, athletics and theatrical productions) of the public school district where they reside as do students who are enrolled in the school. All eligibility criteria, try-out criteria, policies, rules and regulations are applicable. 24 P.S. §13-1327.1(f.1).
Information and Legislation
- Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE): Division of Nonpublic School and Private School Services
- PDE: Home Education and Private Tutoring
- PDE: Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit Program (OSTC)
- Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development: Educational Improvement Tax Credit Program (EITC)
- Pennsylvania Code
- Pennsylvania General Assembly Link under Law Information directs users to the Pennsylvania Statutes
Contact Information--State and Federal Departments of Education