frequently asked questions
Some of the questions/answers below refer to sections of Montana law (MCA) regarding home education in our state. If you have questions regarding the law and its application, you should contact either HSLDA or your attorney for assistance.
How long has homeschooling been legal in Montana ?
In 1895 and 1903 the Montana Legislature acknowledged homeschools. In 1980 Attorney General Mike Greeley issued an opinion, stating that the 1971 legislature had done away with home education. As a result of that opinion, many Montana homeschooling families were forced into court in order to defend their right to direct the education of their children. In 1983 the Montana legislature passed a new law outlining the minimum requirements for private and homeschools. And in 1991, 20-5-111 was added to Montana's law that clarified the "responsibilities and rights of a parent who provides home school".
How many children are home educated in Montana ?
Homeschooling grows annually. Homeschool students make up just 8% of Montana's overall school population. Recently, private school enrollment fluctuated between about 7,000 - 7,500 students, while the homeschooled population hovered 4,200-4,500. The OPI report for school year 2011-2012 stated a total of K-12 home schooled students as 4,260.
What about sports ?
For many parents, it is very important for their homeschooled children to participate in sports. In the early days of homeschooling there was little available for those desiring to play on teams sports. The only opportunities were available in public schools. But, much has changed. In nearly every community there are many opportunities available. Only football remains as a public school sport. In most communities there are volleyball and basketball teams. And in the Spring, there are several statewide and national competitions. Other sports available include; swimming, track, skiing, boating, climbing, biking and hiking. In the summer there are homeschool adventure camps, backpack trips, rock climbing, and more. Even though high school age homeschool students are NOT allowed to participate in public school 'conference' sports, there is still much available (read next question below for more information on public school participation). Contact a local support group for more information.
Can homeschool students participate in public school sports ?
In Montana all access decisions are up to the local school districts. The exception is high school sports. The decision regarding participation in conference athletics is made by the Montana High School Association. They have ruled that only full time district students with a passing grade are allowed on the team.
In regard to academics, band, art, etc, there was a MT Supreme Court decision in 1997 (Kaptein v. Conrad School District) that ruled in favor of the school districts. Even though the issue started out regarding only athletics, the ruling was quite broad and stated (regarding academics) that no school district can be compelled to allow non-public students take any public school classes or participate in sports.
If you are interested in reading the entire 1997 Kaptein Supreme Court decision: CLICK HERE
Also, here is a quick link to sports participation across the US: CLICK HERE
Will public schools allow homeschool students to take classes in public school ?
The answer to this question depends upon the policy of your local school district. In several legislative sessions, there have been bills introduced to require school districts to allow entry if room is available. In every case, those bills have been defeated. But still, there are many school districts across the state that have official policies that allow non-public school students to take any classes where there are open seats. In the past, school districts charged for those classes - but years ago Montana Office of Public Instruction issued a ruling prohibiting that. Whether a student is allowed in is strictly a local district decision. You need to contact your local County Superintendent of Schools for help, or the office of the School Superintendent (different office) of the district you are interested in.
Will public schools allow homeschool students back into public school ?
Again, the answer to this question depends upon the local school district. Montana law (20-5-110 MCA) states: "School district assessment for placement of a child who enrolls from a nonaccredited, nonpublic school. The trustees of a school district shall: (1) adopt a district policy on assessment for placement of any child who enrolls in a school of the district and whose previous place of instruction was a nonpublic school that is not accredited;". That means that every school district must adopt some form of re-entry policy. Montana legislators have always promoted local control - thus allowing policies to be created by your local school board. If you have concerns about re-entry, you should check with your local district and what their policy is.
What about Drivers Education ?
Prior to 1999, some school districts only allowed public school students to attend local drivers education programs. In 2005, MCHE worked with OPI and the Legislature to change the law to provide equal opportunity for all students - regardless of whether the student is from a nonpublic OR public school. Thus, 61-5-106(2) was amended to include language that required that all students of the proper age could participate in a drivers education program. You need to contact your local school district for registration information.
Are there any problems getting into college ?
Typically no, but again it depends upon how prepared your student is, and the college/university involved. Entrance requirements are established by each college. It is important to contact them early to find out what they are. In the last number of years the number of colleges seeking homeschool students has increased. The issue of a students transcript has become less of a factor.
In Montana, all public universities are part of the Montana University System. The U-System and its policies are under the direction of the Montana Board of Regents, and below is a partial list of requirements:
Graduation from a high school accredited by the state accrediting agency or a passing score on an approved high school equivalency exam such as HiSET or GED. Students who complete their secondary education through home schooling or at unaccredited secondary schools may be admitted as long as they have satisfactorily performed on the ACT or SAT test.
MSU Academic Requirements:
A 2.5 cumulative grade-point average (on a 4.0 scale), OR
ACT Composite score of 22, OR
SAT Combined Critical Reading/Mathematics/Writing score of 1540 (prior to March, 2016), OR
SAT Total Score of 1120 (after March 2016), OR
Rank in the upper half of the graduating class
Successful completion of a College Preparatory Curriculum. (There are exemptions available in Montana. Check with the college registrar for more information)
Addition information can be found at: http://catalog.montana.edu/undergraduate-admissions/#admit_as_ug
Are college scholarships available for homeschool graduates ?
Yes. It is important to plan ahead if you intend to search for college scholarships. A primary tool used by those choosing students to award scholarships are the SAT and ACT scores. When a student is in their Junior year in high school he/she should plan to also take the PSAT exam. All these exams are given only at certain times of the year. It is very important to contact a participating college to make arrangements in advance.
Also, other sources of scholarship information is the internet and Montana Office of Public Instruction. The majority of the scholarships are available to public and non-public students. In the past there have been several homeschooled students that have been awarded the Montana Presidential Scholarships.
If you are considering scholarships, plan your search prior to your Freshman year. Scholarships for Freshman are much easier than other years. And Freshman scholarship winners will discover it is easier to win scholarships that will renew for the following years.
Do homeschool students need the GED ?
No. Actually in recent years OPI replaced the GED with HiSET. The GED exam is one option available to demonstrate academic capability. In the past the GED was the principle requirement for entering Montana's universities. Since diplomas issued to homeschool graduates are not the same as those from state accredited public high schools, often the GED exam is used as a substitute. In deciding whether to take this exam, first determine whether it is necessary for your future plans. In Montana, most enter college by simply taking the PSAT and SAT exams.
For more information on the HiSet tests, visit: http://opi.mt.gov/Programs/CTAE/HiSET.html
What about high school graduation ?
In Montana there are generally graduation ceremonies held in different communities across Montana. Graduations range in size from 1 to 50+, depending upon the location. Often those organizing the graduations have a cutoff number, thereby keeping the ceremony within 2 hours. If you have a student that will be graduating in the upcoming year, it is very important to contact graduation organizers early. Typically registration deadlines are set for early Spring. So plan ahead.
Are there any tax benefits available to homeschoolers ?
No. In the last number of legislative sessions there have been a number of bills that would have provided tax credits and rebates to homeschooling families. None of these bills ever passed. Most were defeated in various committees before ever reaching the House or Senate for debate. Typically they were drafted to address tuition expenses only.
Homeschool families are dedicated to their goal of educating their children - with or without tax credits.
What about entering the military ?
For years, the military was one area that was difficult for homeschool students to enter into. But in the last number of years things have changed.
Amendments to the Defense Reauthorization Act over two years ago changed the ranking of home school graduates from a Tier 3 status, a ranking that included high school dropouts, to Tier 1, the same ranking high school graduates receive. This favorable change in status dramatically increased enlistment opportunities for home schoolers-particularly in the Air Force and Marines Corps, two branches that accept only Tier 1 applicants.
For more information regarding military enlistment of home schoolers visit: HSLDA Military Admissions
How do I notify the county superintendent of schools ?
Montana state law requires that homeschooling parents notify the county superintendent of schools annually of their intention to homeschool their children. (Note: the county superintendent is not the same as the school superintendent. The school superintendent is in charge of the public schools in the local school district. The county superintendent's office is typically in the county courthouse.) There is no mandated form required (but their office can provide one to assist in notifying). Notification can be a phone call, letter, visit or provided form. Most superintendents have forms available, but their use is optional. A phone call is not recommended, since there should be some record available to prove your notification.
Technically, since compulsory attendance is not required after the age of 16, it is not necessary to continue to notify the county superintendent beyond that age. But, in order to demonstrate to educational institutions beyond high school, it is generally better to continue to be on record as homeschooling until graduation.
Beyond the above notification, state law allows the superintendent to request attendance records and proof of immunization. There are no requirements in Montana for any education official to request any other records relating to your homeschool (See 20-5-111 MCA). Also, there is a religious exemption for providing immunization records. An exemption form is available from your local county superintendent or CLICK HERE.