A Guide to State Regulation of Private Schools

Published September 1, 2003

While parents may have the right to direct the education of their children in a private school, states still have the power to regulate those schools in various ways. What regulations are imposed in different states? State Regulation of Private Schools, a publication issued by the Office of NonPublic Education in the U.S. Department of Education, provides the answer.

State Regulation of Private Schools is an online manual last updated in June 2000. After summarizing relevant U.S. Supreme Court decisions, the manual provides a state-by-state briefing of the legal requirements that apply to private schools, together with statistics on the types of private schools in each state.

The manual addresses the following areas of state regulation of private schools:

  • Registration/Licensing/Accreditation
  • Recordkeeping/Reports
  • Length of School Year/Days
  • Teacher Certification
  • Instruction in English
  • Curriculum
  • Health and Safety
  • Transportation
  • Home Schooling
  • Public Aid for Private Schools/Students

Three summary charts show the state-by-state requirements for state oversight of private schools, state-mandated educational requirements, and public assistance to private schools and students.

According to the manual’s authors, the challenge to state legislators in regulating private schools lies in crafting statutes that:

  • respect the right of parents to direct their children’s education;
  • protect the state’s interest in having an informed citizenry;
  • avoid interference with religious beliefs–unless compelling interests are at issue, and then only in the least restrictive manner; and
  • avoid such comprehensive regulation that parents would be deprived of any choice in education.

The variation in regulations across states shows how differing local concerns and circumstances have led states to develop different views about what is “reasonable.” No two states regulate private schools in the same way.

For more information …

The Office of NonPublic Education’s June 2000 manual, State Regulation of Private Schools, is available online at http://www.ed.gov/pubs/RegPrivSchl/

The Web site of the Office of NonPublic Education in the U.S. Department of Education, which contains a long and useful list of publications concerning nonpublic schools, is at http://www.ed.gov/offices/OIIA/NonPublic/