What Is an Umbrella School?


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Homeschooling families have some unusual vocabulary that can be confusing when you’re just getting started. One of those weird terms is umbrella school. You may also hear it called a cover school or church-related school (CRS).

What is an umbrella school and why would a homeschooling family need one?

What Is an Umbrella School?

What Is an Umbrella School?

An umbrella school is an entity, typically considered a private school, which serves to oversee homeschooling families and help them meet the requirements of their state’s homeschooling laws.

Sometimes the umbrella school is an actual physical private school with which homeschooling families can partner. In other cases, an umbrella school is more of an organization established to help homeschoolers comply with the law.

Why Use an Umbrella School?

Some families use an umbrella school as one of their state’s legal homeschooling options. Others use a cover school to make some aspects of homeschooling, such as transcripts and graduation, easier.

We live in Georgia, which doesn’t require umbrella schools. However, my family, like many others I know, opted to use one for the last 5 years. Why on earth would we do that, you ask? One word: convenience.

Because we live so close to Tennessee, my kids are likely to attend a college or trade school there. Since the schools are used to seeing records from umbrella schools, we decided to use one for Josh and Megan’s high school years. (We graduated Brianna on our own.)

Cover schools in this area are relatively inexpensive. Plus, it seemed an easier option than possibly gearing up for a legal battle with an uninformed school in the future. Because y’all know I hate confrontation, right?

People use umbrella schools for many reasons including:

  • Compliance with homeschooling laws
  • The convenience of maintaining records (transcripts, attendance)
  • Having a diploma (or report card) issued by a more official-looking entity
  • Guidance on curriculum and course options
What Is an Umbrella School?

What Does an Umbrella School Do?

An umbrella school provides oversight and maintains records for homeschooling families. Some offer more oversight than others, so ask around to find a cover school that is right for your family.

The umbrella school we chose (HomeLife Academy for those who are curious) wanted a little more detail than I was used to providing, but not so much that it was stifling. We have to submit grades and attendance at the end of each semester and an education plan when enrolling each year.

Submitting the education plan is what I find most tedious. The school wants to know the courses the kids will be taking and the curriculum we’ll be using so that they are in compliance with the law. I don’t always know as early as they’d like, and they won’t “approve” an education plan with words like undecided listed in the materials section. (I have used the term self-directed with no issues.)

However, the umbrella school doesn’t actually dictate what we use. They won’t reject one resource over another, for example. (The school did allow only 0.5 credit hours for a class I that I’d intended to be a full credit.) If I’m not 100% sure what we’ll be using when we enroll, I just list one of my options and update later. No big deal.

It’s my understanding that some umbrella schools do expect more say-so in what you use. And, they actually do have to approve your curriculum. However, for all my loathing of confrontation, I’m a bit of a non-conformist rebel. And, my state laws don’t require an umbrella school, so I don’t have any experience with those types. If I wanted someone telling me what and how to teach my kids, they’d be in public school.

Some of the services that umbrella schools may offer include:

  • Guidance in choosing curriculum
  • Maintaining records (attendance, grades, course descriptions)
  • Testing (for states that require it)
  • Teacher and student ID cards (nice for getting teacher discounts)
  • Graduation ceremonies
  • Issuing diplomas
  • Offering clubs, field trips, and scholarships
  • Discounts for other organizations (such as HSLDA membership)

If your state offers umbrella schools as a homeschooling option, they are often the choice that provides the most freedom. Even if your state doesn’t require an umbrella school, the benefits and services they offer often make it worth enrolling.

Are you part of an umbrella school? What was your experience?

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13 Comments

  1. I never thought of Dayton Christian Homeschool as an umbrella school, but it fits your description. Often an umbrella school may be the peace of mind needed to navigate the state requirements (especially high school) and to offer support for families transitioning from public school to home educating.

    I would add two more reasons and benefits to joining an umbrella school: Fine Arts and Sports participation.

  2. We live and Tennessee and so do need do register in one of a few ways to follow the compulsory attendance law. We use HomeLife, too, and love them! Just one note for clarification–you wrote that you have to submit an education plan so that your curriculum is ” in compliance with the law.” Actually, your education plan is for HomeLife’s own records. It is their way of just double checking, especially in high school, that parents are truly using materials that are considered high school level. They value the parents’ choices and give great flexibility to those who have been homeschooling a long time and obviously know the ropes; however, we’ve had an increasing number of parents pulling their kids out of public school out of fear of shootings, bullying, etc, and having no real idea about how to go about homeschooling. HomeLife really wants to make sure the kids are doing more than just sitting around all day— and sadly, that happens a lot. Sorry– I’m rambling, but this topic comes up A LOT in our support group! I love HomeLife partly because testing isn’t required, whereas our local brick-and-mortar private Christian school requires testing every year for homeschoolers.

    1. Thanks, Sarah. That’s interesting. It was my understanding that HomeLife had to maintain those records so that they were in compliance with the laws governing umbrella schools as a homeschooling option. Thank you for clarifying! That makes perfect sense.

  3. We live in Tennessee. I started homeschooling our daughter last school year. We use Acellus Homeschool Program. My problem is…we don’t have an umbrella school. I am so worried that I have messed up. I tried to do everything correctly, I withdrew my daughter from public school and told them we would be homeschooling and we began our journey. Can anyone advise me what to do now! Can I find a umbrella school that will accept us since we have already been homeschool? I realize I should have read the laws better than what I obviously did. Thank you for any advice you can offer.

    1. I would contact some of the umbrella schools directly, explain your situation, and see what they say. Hope that helps!

  4. Hello, we just enrolled our child in Home Life Academy, totally new to homeschooling and we live in TN. He is now currently disenrolled from Willliamson County PUBLIC SCHOOLS!!!!! Yaaaay! Do I just download the books and resources for him online? Or how does that work? I put grades in on the home page since he has been doing his work straight from the workbooks I got for him. Could you tell me the way that YOU do your homeschooling? Because I think I am doing it wrong??? =( Oh well, Im trying. Thanks so much!!!
    ~Keisha Beal/Franklin TN

    1. Hi, Keisha. Congratulations on beginning your homeschooling journey! I wish you and your son the absolute best. I’d love to answer all your questions, but those answers would take at least a blog post or two. 😉 My site is pretty much a peek into how we homeschool. You can click on the reviews tab at the top of the page to take a peek at some of our favorites or an example of the curriculum my teen used last year. The folks at HomeLife should be able to help, too. They’re really flexible about curriculum and homeschooling style so don’t hesitate to reach out to them for some pointers. Good luck!

  5. Does Homelife require a lot of paperwork sent to them?

    Other than curriculum plan, grades, and attendance, any additional information required? We are currently homeschooling middle school but looking ahead to high school.

    Thank you

    1. No, they don’t. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of anything other than the education (curriculum) plan, grades, and attendance.

  6. I began my homeschooling journey in TN several years ago and enrolled in Homelife on the advice of other homeschooling moms. We have since moved to VA but I have stayed with them. The cost is well worth not dealing with the headache of paperwork (transcripts, diplomas, other record keeping etc). Especially now that my son is entering high school, I have found that their counselors are helpful in helping me figure out courses and credits. They are slightly picky about submitting your resources so that they can award you certain credits for classes (for example, I am splitting my son’s American history over two years and they want me to enter all of my additional supplements to justify awarding two credits for what would be a one credit class in public school). For me, it’s a minor inconvenience and you can update as needed throughout the year if you don’t know what you are using at the start of the year. So long story short, I am happy with Homelife and continue to use them even though I don’t *need to* any more.

  7. I see you are in GA but state your kids will probably go to TN colleges. How does this program work with GA state colleges and the Hope scholarship? Does it show that they are a TN graduate?

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