Umbrella School vs Registered Homeschooler
“Why did you choose to use an Umbrella School?” I have been asked this question often enough that I have decided to write about it since it seems to be a popular concern.
Please note that this is written from the perspective of homeschooling in Florida and the benefits/cons and legal requirements vary in other states.
Whether to register with the county as a home schooler or enroll in an Umbrella School is a personal decision and there is no right or wrong answer, one form isn’t better than the other (although some will argue so). The right choice will vary by family based on your needs and desires and may change through your homeschooling journey. You are not stuck with whatever you decide, you can change things as needed.
Before deciding on how you will comply with Florida’s compulsory school attendance, determine which options you need to meet your child’s educational goals. How you choose to comply with Florida’s requirements will determine your record keeping requirements and options as a home educator.
There are a few things to consider, as each option has its own pros and cons (depending on how you look at it), so below is a brief comparison. This table is not meant to be all inclusive and does not constitute legal advice. This is the perspective of a fellow home-school parent sharing her research. I encourage you to use this as a starting point for your research and familiarize yourself with the Florida Statutes
|Umbrella School||Registered Homeschooler|
|Child is considered a private school student in the eyes of the law. This does not mean you are not homeschooling your children, but it does change the way homeschool laws apply to you.||Child is considered a home school student in the eyes of the law.|
|No need to notify school superintendent that you are homeschooling. Do need to submit enrollment documentation to umbrella school including school physical and vaccination records (or exemption form)||Have to submit Letter of Intent to school district|
|Have to report attendance. (usually quarterly, requirements can vary by school)||Don’t have to report attendance|
|Most umbrella schools don’t require a portfolio||Required to maintain a portfolio of records and materials|
|Most umbrella schools don’t require an annual evaluation||Required to submit an annual educational evaluation (please refer to Florida statute for specific evaluation options available)|
|Some umbrella schools have an agreement with FLVS so their students can take courses||Child is able to take courses through Florida Virtual School (FLVS)|
|Most counties don’t allow private school students to participate in district extracurricular activities||Student can participate in school district extracurricular activities|
|Depending on umbrella school and college, student may be able to participate in Dual Enrollment||High school student can participate in Dual Enrollment|
|Some Umbrella Schools will assist the student with applying for the Bright Futures Scholarship||Student qualifies for Bright Futures Scholarship|
|Some Umbrella Schools award diplomas *||The school district doesn’t issue a diploma *|
|Some Umbrella Schools provide transcripts||The school district doesn’t issue transcripts, parent has to create it|
|You request to withdraw the student when you wish to stop using the school||You have to submit letter of termination when you wish to discontinue homeschooling (or switch to an umbrella or public school)|
- please note that a diploma is not required to graduate high school, universities will need the transcript.
Why we chose an Umbrella School
For us personally it’s more convenient to use an umbrella school now because we don’t have a need for any of the services provided by the district and we like the freedom of just reporting attendance without worrying about keeping porfolios and doing annual evaluations. I am still keeping a portolio and measuring educational progress but I am doing it by choice. I also must admit that I heard horror stories from local friends that had trouble with the local school district losing their paperwork and giving them a hard time that I decided to not take my chances.
We may find it better to become county registered as our children enter middle/high school age if they decide to participate in school sports or want to pursue Dual Enrollment, that is still many years away and the Florida legislature may choose to make changes along the way so we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.
If you choose to use an umbrella school, you then have to choose which school to enroll with. There are many options in the state ranging from completely free to some with tuition rates rivaling those of some brick and mortar private schools.
Your choice will depend on what services you want. Some schools offer a simple, no frills experience meeting the minimum required by law and you just have to report attendance. Others umbrella schools offer additional services such as curriculum reviews, transcripts, diplomas, and more. Some schools are secular, some are faith based to serve those families to whom that is important. A Google search will show you many options, the are some websites that try to have a list of all of them in one place but I haven’t found one that is truly comprehensive.
Our Umbrella School
We are proudly enrolled with Florida Unschoolers. This is a private school registered in Martin County that serves families throughout the whole state of Florida. The school has over 4,600 students and is free of cost offering the attendance tracking service to meet the requirements of Florida Law. If you are looking for added services such as transcripts, this is not the school for you. The Director, Nance Cofer, is a homeschool parent and administers a Facebook group for families in the school to connect and share. She is very friendly and approachable to answer any questions that parents may have.
This was not a choice that we made lightly, I researched dozens of Florida Umbrella Schools, read reviews and talked to other parents about their experience with them. Florida Unschoolers consistently had rave reviews and a track record of doing right by the students and processing enrollments, withdrawals and any other requests in a timely manner. That is something that is very important to me and sadly not all schools rated the same.
After submitting the one time enrollment documentation we only have to report attendance every 3 months to remain active. This process is so easy that is takes less than a minute to complete.
Don’t let the name fool you, Florida Unschoolers has families using a wide variety of homeschooling methods; you do not have to be an unschooler to enroll. This is something I specially like since we are about 70% unschooler/ 30% eclectic schoolers. We just finished our first year with this school and are very pleased with the freedom and flexibility that we have in our home education program. We plan to continue with this school as long as my children don’t have a need for a service that it doesn’t provide.