Tennessee state resources
In order for students to satisfy the compulsory attendance laws, they must attend a public school or a non-public school, which includes home schools. The State Board of Education Rule defines six categories of non-public schools:
Category I schools are approved by the State Department of Education. Special purpose schools encompassing some Pre-K programs and short term medical or transient care facilities may be approved as Category I.
Category II schools are approved by a private school accrediting agency, which has been approved by the Tennessee State Board of Education. Schools holding full accreditation status with an approved agency are also approved by the State Department of Education.
Category III schools are accredited by one of the regional accrediting bodies.
Category IV schools are church related schools as recognized by associations.
Category V schools are Acknowledged for Operation.
Category VI provides for International schools associated with the state universities.
Accreditation is required for category II and III schools. Approval is required for category I schools and is optional for category IV schools.
The Tennessee Department of Education has assembled a page of detailed requirements for private schools.
The US Office of Innovation & Improvement has assembled a summary of regulations for private schools operating in Tennessee.
Parents must provide a curriculum plan, hours of instruction, and qualifications to teach in order to homeschool their student(s).
The Tennessee DOE has no published requirements for school insurance -- consult a professional for guidance in this area.
State funding sources & support
Tennessee provides funding for private education:
Individualized Education Act Program: creates individualized education accounts (IEAs) for eligible students with disabilities to use for educational purposes.
Private high schools which offer a four-year course in literary branches must require every student to have one year of instruction in American history and government.
Category I, II, and VI schools must adhere to the state’s minimum graduation requirements for public schools as listed in State Board of Education Rule.
A Category II school’s curriculum must include the areas of reading, composition, speech, mathematics, social studies, science, art, music, health and physical education.
A Category VI school’s curriculum must include areas of English, mathematics, social studies, science, the arts, foreign language (it can be the language of the host country), and wellness consistent with Tennessee curriculum standards.
Teacher certification & hiring
Teachers in Category I schools must be licensed and at least one must be licensed in special education.
Teachers serving in Categories II and III must meet the licensure and certification standards set forth by their agency/association.
Category V teachers must hold a baccalaureate degree, but are not required to have a teaching certificate.
Category VI teachers must meet the licensure requirement of Tennessee or their host country.
Food services / school lunch
In Tennessee, school lunch requirements, including funding for schools offering the National School Lunch Program, are managed by the Department of Education.
Length of school year
Schools in Categories I, II, IV, V and VI must be conducted for the same length of term as public schools.
The State Board of Education Rules do not address the length of school year or days in Category III schools.
Recordkeeping and reports
All schools are required to keep and provide to the state enrollment and attendance data for each student.
Category II and VI schools must maintain cumulative records on each student.
All non-public schools in category I shall submit annually: 200 Day Accountability Report, Non-Public Reporting Form; S-File (for student numbers); T-File (for teacher information) as part of the school’s direct application for approval.
Category V schools must submit by November 1st of each year the name, mailing address and telephone number of the school; the name and academic credentials of the principal or headmaster of the school; the number of students in each grade level as of October 1 of current school year; the name and academic credentials of each teacher and the subjects taught by that teacher; and certification that the school year provides an operating schedule that includes the minimum number of instructional days and hours as required of public schools.
Health and safety requirements
Students must be immunized or provide proof of religious or medical exemption. Schools must hold monthly fire drills and must be inspected by the fire marshal annually.
Transportation is not provided by the state or district.
Category I schools must test in accordance with public school requirements.
Category II schools must test at least once every school year, give a nationally standardized achievement test covering the areas of reading, language arts, spelling, math, science, and social science to each pupil in grades two through eight and grade ten; the results must be communicated to teachers and parents and kept on file at the school for one calendar year.
Category V schools must administer a nationally standardized achievement test covering the basic academic areas at grades two through eight and grade ten. Test results should be used to improve student instruction.
Category VI schools must administer high school tests required by the state. Results must be communicated to teachers and parents, and kept on file for one calendar year. If the state requires minimum scores to receive a diploma, Category VI students must achieve such scores to receive a diploma.
Category VI students must achieve English language proficiency per the standards of the associated public university.
State and regional associations
Tennessee Association of Independent Schools: a voluntary association of sixty-four schools located throughout the state of Tennessee. It is a non-profit organization governed by a Board of Directors, all of whom are currently serving as Headmasters of TAIS schools.
Southern Association of Independent Schools (SAIS): The mission of SAIS is to strengthen member schools by providing high-quality accreditation processes, comprehensive professional growth opportunities, and visionary leadership development programs.
Starting a Private School
Want to know more about opening a school? We’ve assembled a complete guide to starting a private school, with considerations for everything from planning and finance to branding, hiring, curriculum, facilities, and more!
We've done our best to pull together current and accurate information. Even so, there may be omissions or mistakes or content that needs to be updated. If you have recommendations for any resources or corrections, we appreciate your input so we can continue to improve this guide for everyone.
Nothing in this guide should be construed as legal, business, or tax advice. It is important that you engage qualified professionals who can advise you on such matters, and please visit the Department of Education pages for your state to verify you are in compliance with all regulations.