Getting Started Homeschooling in Wisconsin
- What Is Legally Required?
- Some Things Not Required of Wisconsin Homeschoolers
- How Do I File the Required Form PI-1206?
- Do I Have What It Takes to Homeschool My Children?
What Is Legally Required?
Wisconsin has one of the most reasonable homeschooling laws in the country, so it is not difficult to homeschool here. However, it is important to understand what the law does and does not require and how to comply. Some of this information may surprise you. Please take a few minutes to read the information below.
Please note that homeschoolers have worked long and hard through WPA to gain and maintain Wisconsin's homeschooling law, and we are still working to keep it. Read the story behind the law in Kitchen Tables and Marble Halls and join WPA. Your support is needed.
The first official step is filing Form PI-1206 with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction on which you agree to comply with Wisconsin's homeschooling law. Instructions on how to file the form are below. However, first let's consider what you'd be agreeing to do.
Homeschoolers in Wisconsin must meet two major requirements. The first is to provide 875 hours of instruction each academic year. You do not need to spend 875 hours at the kitchen table, reading textbooks and completing worksheets, although you can do that if you choose. Children in conventional schools learn through field trips, audio-visual materials, and in other ways. Among the activities homeschoolers can count as instruction:
- Reading books, listening to others reading aloud, listening to books on tape
- Following a purchased curriculum and completing the worksheets provided
- Using computers (with parental supervision as necessary)
- Participating in community activities, including field trips and volunteer service
- Exploring careers through job shadowing, work study, volunteer work, and part-time employment that is similar to work-study programs in conventional schools
- Learning practical skills such as cooking, driving, home maintenance, engine repair
- Playing educational games
- Playing individual sports and on community sports teams
You can follow a schedule similar to a conventional school's, that is, 5 hours a day for 175 days, taking off weekends, winter and spring breaks, and summer vacation. Or you can follow a different schedule you choose for your family. Because homeschooling offers so many opportunities for learning and because you can choose learning activities that are well suited to your children's interests and abilities, homeschooling families find that it is not difficult to meet this requirement for 875 hours of instruction.
The second requirement is to provide an educational plan for learning basic subjects in which children build on what they have already learned. (In the statutes, this is called a “sequentially progressive curriculum of fundamental instruction in reading, language arts, mathematics, social studies, science and health.”) You can add as many other subjects as you want to: art, music, religion, woodworking, home economics, etc. Since there are no specific requirements for how many hours are spent on each subject, you can decide what to emphasize.
Ways of meeting this requirement for a curriculum fall into three basic categories, although many families combine parts from two or all three of these approaches.
- You can purchase a curriculum that outlines in detail what your children should study, when, and how. It can be very similar to the curriculums used in conventional schools, or it can be based on a different approach to education, such as religious beliefs or educational methods such as those of Charlotte Mason, Montessori, Waldorf, a Thomas Jefferson Education, etc.
- You can develop your own curriculum. It can be based on academic subjects like reading, mathematics, art, and religion. Or you can start with general topics like frogs or Peru.
- You can plan that your children will learn from life experience and from pursuing interests and projects at home and in your community, sometimes supplementing this with learning resources or maybe a class.
The WPA handbook, Homeschooling in Wisconsin: At Home With Learning, provides detailed information and resources for each of these choices.
Having so many choices is both good news and bad. The good news is that you have an excellent opportunity to find or develop a curriculum that will work well for each of your children, allowing them to learn more material that is more appropriate for them and their goals than the one-size-fits-all curriculums offered by conventional schools. The bad news is that all these choices can be confusing and seem overwhelming.
If you're like most homeschooling families, you'll have times when you feel you've finally figured out how to homeschool and times when you feel unsure and overwhelmed. Just hang in there. Experienced homeschooling families find that their approach changes as they homeschool and their children grow and that the good times definitely outweigh the problems. In addition, this process of deciding what to study and learning how to learn will be an invaluable experience for you and your children. Knowing how to learn is one of the most important skills anyone can have.
Fortunately, you can begin homeschooling without having decided what specific curriculum you will use. You can also change approaches. Families who begin homeschooling on short notice because their children have had difficulty in a conventional school, find it works well to take a break from academics for several weeks, a month, or more when they begin homeschooling. They do constructive activities together, such as baking, reading aloud, watching carefully selected videos and DVDs, visiting museums, perhaps going on a family vacation. The learning that happens during this break can be counted toward the required 875 hours of instruction each year.
Some Things Not Required of Wisconsin Homeschoolers
Homeschooling laws vary greatly from state to state. Wisconsin has one of the most reasonable homeschooling laws. Because parents are required to file form PI-1206 with the DPI and attest that they are complying with the law, the law holds parents accountable. However, the law acknowledges parents' right to choose for their children an education consistent with their own principles and beliefs. The law does not require that parents raise their children according to government standards.
- Homeschoolers in Wisconsin are NOT required to follow a curriculum chosen by the state; we are free to choose our own curriculum.
- Our children are NOT required to take the state-mandated tests that students in public schools must take. Instead, we can evaluate our children's learning in ways we choose. We can observe them learning, listen to their questions and ideas, and keep records of things they do. If we want to, we can have them take standardized tests that we have carefully chosen because they are consistent with our principles and beliefs, but we are not required to have them take any tests.
- We are NOT required to have school officials review and approve our curriculums or reports we have written on our children's progress. This is as it should be. Homeschools are very different from conventional schools, and we are raising our children according to our own principles and beliefs, not those of the state. So it would not be appropriate for the state officials to review our curriculums or records.
- Homeschooling parents do NOT have to be certified teachers or have any specific educational degrees. Homeschools are private schools, and teachers in conventional private schools are not required to be certified.
How Do I File the Required Form PI-1206?
Note: Please read the following information. Specific steps for filing the form are at the end of this section.
Key Points to Keep In Mind
- Remember that filing the form means you are simply REPORTING that you are homeschooling. You are NOT requesting permission to homeschool. You are NOT asking the DPI to approve your curriculum. You are NOT registering your child. You are NOT enrolling your child in a homeschool. (Note: Your children are automatically enrolled in your homeschool when you start homeschooling. There is no special procedure for enrolling them and no form to fill out. If you enroll your children in a public virtual charter school, you are NOT homeschooling.)
- Wisconsin statutes require that homeschoolers file form PI-1206 with the DPI every year. It is illegal to homeschool without filing the form “on forms provided by the department [the DPI],” which now means filing online. The DPI will not provide paper copies of the form. This may cause a problem for people who have religious or other objections to using electronic media. The DPI encourages them to use computers in public libraries or to ask a friend with a computer to help them. People who are considering trying to file a paper copy of the form as a way of preventing their family from being included in an electronic database should be aware that even if the DPI were to provide paper forms, information from these forms would still be entered in the same database. In addition, by trying to avoid filing an electronic form, they are calling attention to themselves and risking having their form red-flagged or singled out in some other way.
- WPA and all other Wisconsin-based homeschooling organizations that we know of tell homeschoolers to file form PI-1206 online.
- Unfortunately, the website of the Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) has suggested that homeschoolers file HSLDA’s paper version of form PI-1206. Homeschoolers who file this version and do not file the online version are homeschooling illegally. They could be charged with truancy and taken to court. This could lead to new homeschooling legislation that increases state regulation of homeschooling and reduces the homeschooling freedoms of all homeschoolers.
- Please share this information with other homeschoolers so they do not file a paper form because they were misinformed by HSLDA’s website and then get into trouble.
- Form PI-1206 serves as a signed affidavit of parents’ compliance with the homeschooling law. It becomes an important document if your compliance is questioned.
- To maintain our homeschooling freedoms, do only the minimum required by law. Doing more than the minimum encourages public officials to increase requirements for homeschoolers and exceed the authority they have been granted by law. See WPA handbook, p. 159.
- Because the compulsory school attendance law covers children between the ages of 6 and 18, do not file a form for children until the school year during which they are six years old on or before September 1. Wait until they are six even if one or more of the following are true:
- Even if you are filing a form for older children in your family.
- Even if you are actively homeschooling children who are younger than six by following a purchased curriculum or doing learning activities you have chosen yourself. There is no reason for the state to know you are homeschooling a child younger than six, so protect our freedoms and don’t tell them.
Even if you enrolled your child in four- or five-year-old kindergarten in a public or conventional private school and now are planning to homeschool them. As a courtesy and to minimize the chances of being charged with truancy, you need to tell the school that your child will no longer be attending. You do not need to formally withdraw your child. (See more information here. http://issues.homeschooling-wpa.org/2012/09/how-questions-about-school-enrollment-affect-parental-rights.html) As long as your child was not six on or before September 1 of the current school year, you should not fill out the form for them even if they are or were enrolled in kindergarten in a public or conventional private school.Again, this is doing the minimum the law requires. It also may help minimize the chances that your local school district will contact you for information about your children who are under 6 or pressure you to have them screened. (For more on problems with screening, see the WPA handbook, page 219.)
- For accurate information about homeschooling and Wisconsin’s homeschooling law, contact WPA. Do not contact the DPI. Some of the information about homeschooling on the DPI’s website is inaccurate and misleading; homeschoolers should not trust it. The DPI and the educational establishment have been opposing and misrepresenting the rights and responsibilities of homeschoolers since before the current homeschooling law was passed in 1984. Although they have grudgingly made certain corrections in the information they distribute, they still are not a trustworthy source of information about homeschooling.
Why It’s Important NOT to File the Form Before the Third Friday in September
Some homeschoolers may be tempted to file their form before the third Friday in September to get it taken care of. They may think this will prevent local public school officials from contacting them. If their children attended a public or conventional private school last year, they may think it’s easier to file the form than to call or write to the school, as a courtesy, to inform them that their children will not be attending this year.
However, filing the form before the third Friday in September weakens homeschoolers’ authority and freedom to operate a homeschool independent of the state and public school authorities. Here are some of the reasons:
- Filing the form early becomes a substitute for knowing and exercising our homeschooling rights and, if necessary, standing up for them. Instead it is used to shield us from dealing with public school officials. When we use the form in this way to shield us from dealing with public school officials, they gain power over homeschoolers, power they didn’t have before homeschoolers gave it to them.
- When some homeschoolers file their form early, it encourages local school officials to require all homeschoolers to do so, even though the statutes do not give officials the authority to do this. For example, officials could require that homeschoolers file their forms before September 1 so school officials know who will not be attending public school; then officials could pressure them to attend. It could also encourage officials to attempt to demand more of homeschoolers, such as details about the curriculums they are using, their calendars and daily schedules, etc.
- Wisconsin statutes require public and private schools (which include homeschools) to report to the DPI their enrollment as of the third Friday in September. Homeschoolers who file their forms after that date are emphasizing to school officials that they are simply reporting their enrollment along with other schools. They are not under the control of the public schools. They are not registering their homeschool with the DPI or requesting permission from the DPI to homeschool.
- Homeschoolers who file their form early are not fully exercising their rights and freedoms, perhaps because they do not know how much freedom they have and how important it is to exercise it.
- Filing the form early could weaken the power of WPA as a grassroots organization of informed parents confidently and, when necessary, strongly standing up for their rights and freedoms.
How To File the Form Electronically
Note: After you have filed your form, follow the steps below in the section titled “What To Do After You Have Filed Your Form.”
Go to the DPI web site. You will see a page titled "PI-1206 Homeschool Report (HOMER)". On this page, under “How to Report Homeschooling Enrollment,” the DPI recommends that you read “the information in the navigation bar at the left of this page.” WPA recommends that you NOT read this information because some of it is misleading and inaccurate. If you have questions, read more on this website, consult the WPA handbook, or call the WPA voice mail at 608-283-3131 or your Regional Coordinator.
Short version of instructions:
Follow the instructions on the DPI web site. WPA suggests that you NOT use your email address or your name as your ID to protect your privacy and minimize the opportunities for your local school district to contact you. Instead, make up a user ID. Note: If you filed a form last year, you can use the same ID and password as last year. Record the ID and password you create on paper or in your computer so you can update your form (because your address changes or the number of children you are homeschooling changes) or so you can print additional copies of your completed form. If you have already used your email address as your ID and want to change your ID, sign in to the DPI web site and change it. When you have filed your form, print a copy for your records.
More detailed instructions (for people who want more information or who are unfamiliar with computers):
You can file the form from any computer with internet access, including a friend’s computer or one at your local public library. You do not need an email account to file the form or to receive confirmation that the DPI has received your form.
Click on the button on the page titled "PI-1206 Homeschool Report (HOMER)" that says, “Click Here to Begin.”
As you will discover on the page titled “Step 1: Sign In,” reporting homeschool enrollment to the DPI electronically requires two steps. First, you need to “set up an ID and password,” by using the right side of the page under “New to HOMER?” (Note: If you filed a form last year, you can use the same ID and password as last year.) This is similar to establishing an account with an online business. The DPI strongly encourages people to use a valid email address as their ID. However, to protect your privacy, WPA encourages you NOT TO USE YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS OR YOUR NAME AS YOUR ID. If you use it, your local school district may contact you by email to request more information (which they are not authorized to collect), encourage you to enroll in the public school, offer you special favors, etc. Also, databases including contact information too often are misused and/or given to other government agencies and researchers.
(Note: If you have created your ID using used your email address or your name as your ID, you can change it right now or at any time in the future. Go to the page that says, “Step 1: Sign In.” Sign in, using your old ID and password and click the “Sign In” button. The next page will ask you to “Review Sign-In Data.” Click on the blue link that says “Change Email or ID.” You will see a page that shows your old ID and asks for your old password. Enter it. If you are not going to use your email address as your new ID, click on the circle that says, “No, I am not using an email address as my ID.” Then type your new ID in the box provided and retype it in the next box. Click the “Save” button and the “Review Sign-In Data” page will appear with your new ID on it. Click the “Continue” button [unless you want to change your ID again or change the parent name or your password].)
Once you have created an ID and password, you can sign in and follow the instructions below. If you have not yet created one, click on the button that says “Set Up New ID.”
To create your ID and password, on the next page, titled “Set Up New ID,” type your first and last name in the boxes provided. If you are following WPA’s recommendation and NOT using your email address as your ID, click on the circle that says, “No, I am NOT using an email address as my ID.”
The box in the middle of the page labeled “Email / ID” should be labeled “Email or an ID You Create” or even better “ID You Create.” Again, WPA encourages you not to use your email address or your name. Instead, create your own ID: a random combination of letters and numbers, your pet’s name, your hobby, your favorite food or flower, whatever. Write it down, then type it in the box. Retype it in the box as directed. If the two IDs do not match, you will see “Emails don’t match” in red. Change one of them so they both show the ID you want to use.
Then create a password. It is often recommended that a password be a random combination of letters and numbers, not your name or a familiar word. An easy way to create one is to think of a sentence, and use the first letter of each word. For example, if you use the sentence, "I have been homeschooling my 3 kids for 2 years," your password would be Ihbhm3kf2y. Write your password down, and then enter it in the box and re-enter it where it says “Retype password.” If you don’t type it exactly the same way both times, there will be a message in red that says, “Passwords don’t match.” Change one so the both passwords are what you want to use.
Then click the “Save and Continue” button. If you have forgotten to fill in any boxes that are required, you will see a red asterisk and the message “Required.” You need to fill them in before you can continue.
Now click either “Continue” or “Sign In” and the page that says “Step 1: Sign In” will reappear with your ID in the email or ID box. Type the password you just created in the password box and click “Sign In.” You will see a page that says “Review Sign-In Data.” If your ID and parent name are correct, click continue. If they are incorrect, click “Change Email or ID” or “Change Parent Names” and correct them.
You will now see a page that says, “Enter Parent / Guardian Contact Information.” Fill in your mailing address. If your mailing address is the same as your street address, click the box that says, “Street address is the same as mailing address.” If your mailing address is not the same as your street address (for example, if your mailing address is a post office box), you need to type in your street address so school officials can verify that the school district you enter later in this process is the correct one.
(Note: At one point the DPI asked for phone numbers, but in response to a request from WPA, the DPI has removed this.)
The next page asks you to review your contact information. Click the “Continue” button to proceed.
Fill in the form completely, clicking the “Continue” button when you have completed each page. The electronic form is the same as paper forms used before 2010 except for the fact that the questions are on separate pages. For a sample completed form from a previous year, see the WPA handbook, page 29 or click here. Note that to protect your privacy, the form does not require your children’s names, birthdates, ages, social security numbers, etc. Since 1984, homeschoolers have worked hard through WPA to prevent this information from being required. Please do not provide any information that is not required.
Although one page has a header labeled “Electronic Signature,” all you have to do to “sign” the form is check a box that says “By checking this box, I agree that the home-based private educational program meets all of the following criteria.” Nothing else is required for your signature. You do not need to scan it in, type your name, provide your social security number or any other identifying number, or anything else.
As soon as you have clicked on the box that says, “Submit Enrollment Data,” you will see a page that says, “Congratulations! Your PI-1206 Homeschool Report has been successfully received. What To Do Next.” Click on “Print a copy of your Homeschool Report data.” Note that in the upper right hand corner of the form you printed, it says, “To the Parent: Your PI-1206 Homeschool Report has been submitted and received by the DPI. Your confirmation number is 000.” This statement is the equivalent of a letter of acknowledgement from the DPI and is what you will need for proof that you filed your form.
What To Do After You Have Filed Your Form
(1) Understand your rights and the limits on what school officials can demand.
Note that near the bottom of the form it says,
“Recommendations: It is recommended that a copy of the following be maintained in your home if you are homeschooling children:
A school calendar verifying a minimum of 875 hours of instruction.
Course outlines verifying that there exists a sequentially progressive curriculum of fundamental instruction.”
This statement has appeared on PI-1206 forms since 1984. It is more prominent on the electronic version than on previous paper versions. Remember that the DPI does NOT have the authority to require that you keep either a school calendar or course outlines, and local school district officials do NOT have the authority to ask you for them. (However, officials do have the authority to ask to see your attendance records. See WPA handbook, page 82, for information.)
If an official asks to see your school calendar or course outlines, politely respond that they do not have the authority to make such a request. If you need more help, see the WPA handbook or call your Regional Coordinator or the WPA voice mail at 608-283-3131.
(2) If your child is currently officially enrolled in a public or conventional private school, take a printed copy of your form to the school your children have been attending. Explain to the person you talk with, preferably the principal, that you are now homeschooling, and ask them to remove your children from their rolls. Write down the name and title of the person with whom you spoke and the date and time, so you have a record in case there are any questions about when the school was informed that your children are homeschooling. Or better still, make two copies of your form. Give one to the principal and have the other copy signed and dated by the principal indicating the date and time he or she received a copy of your form. Keep this signed copy for your records.
WPA suggests that you not complete a student withdrawal form even if the school asks you to. More information is here.
(3) Keep your copies of your form on paper or store it as a PDF or something similar in your computer. Copies are sometimes required by school officials, employers, colleges, Social Security officials, military recruiters, and others.
However, if you need another copy of the PI-1206 form you filed for the current school year, you can sign in on the same DPI web page you used before, using the ID and password you created. On the next page, which says “Review Sign-In Data,” you will now see a box that says, “Click here to reprint your current PI-1206 Homeschool Report data.”
(4) Update your form if necessary. During the year, if your name, address, or the number of children you are homeschooling changes, update your online form. To do so, sign in and press the “Continue” buttons until you get to the page that has the information you want to change. Delete the old information and type in the current information. Complete the process of filing your form as you did before. Print a copy for your records.
Do I Have What It Takes to Homeschool My Children?
If you're like many beginning homeschoolers, you're wondering what homeschooling will be like and whether you really can manage it. Thousands of successful homeschooling parents could offer you encouragement and reassurance. Here are a few of the things they might tell you.
You don't have to teach your children everything they will need or want to learn. Learning resources abound, including free materials from your local public library, the Internet, and the world itself. Some homeschoolers work with mentors. Actually, we homeschooling parents enjoy learning with our children, reawakening the curiosity we had as children and discovering new interests. Life is rich and fascinating when you're homeschooling.
Homeschoolers don't have to do what conventional schools do, although you can purchase a curriculum similar to those used by conventional schools and follow it if you want to. Whatever approach you choose, homeschooling is much easier than teaching in a conventional classroom. You only have a few students and you know them well; no problem trying to learn everyone's name the first day of school! You can let them learn at their own pace, in ways that work best for them. You're not limited to the contents of one room; you have the whole world to explore. You can see that they are learning all the time, not just during “school hours.” You don't have to worry about the principal, the school board, or whether taxpayers will approve the next bond issue.
Parents find that family life is more relaxed and enjoyable and kids are much easier to get along with when they are not under the pressures of conventional school.
Homeschooling is work. But so is any approach to parenting. Homeschooling parents would rather plan their own days (and lives) and spend time with their children than contend with problems of conventional schools.
Concerned about the responsibilities and risks of homeschooling? What about the risks of sending children to a conventional school? However they choose to educate their children, parents worry. It's part of our job.
Expect to have ups and downs. Nothing's perfect. Make a list of people who support homeschooling whom you can call when you're feeling overwhelmed. Try not to talk with critics until you're back on track again.
Homeschooling gives children wonderful opportunities to develop social skills. They interact with their peers and people of all different ages through their immediate and extended families, youth organizations, religious organizations, community groups, neighbors, and others.
Finding time for yourself can be a challenge when you're a homeschooling parent. But many parents enjoy spending time with their children so much that they count it as time for themselves as well as time with their kids when they are learning something exciting, reading aloud, doing a project, playing games, running errands, doing chores, getting exercise, and so on. Some families limit the number of activities each person can participate in, so schedules are more relaxed and manageable for everyone. Others have regular times when each person, including parents, works independently on a project. Some homeschooling parents work from home and find the kids learn a lot in the process and make important contributions.
Colleges and employers are increasingly seeking homeschoolers because of their reputation as highly motivated self-starters who can be relied on. Homeschooling gives children opportunities to explore various types of work, gain experience, and live the kind of life that translates into a very impressive college application.
For more perspectives, insights, and encouragement, see Wisdom from Experienced Homeschoolers.
Did you know that spelling “homeschool” as one word announces that homeschooling is more than just doing what conventional schools do in a different location? See “Homeschool v. Home School: What’s In a Name?”