Homeschooling now fastest-growing form of education in U.S—but it comes with extra costs
Homeschooling now far outpaces the growth of traditional education streams, according to a recent Washington Post analysis, which covered more than 60% of the country’s school-age population.
The Post estimates there are currently 1.9 million to 2.7 million students being homeschooled across the country, with the available data indicating this figure has skyrocketed by 51% over the past six school years.
In comparison, private school enrollment grew just 7%, while public school enrollment has seen a 4% dip—which the report suggests could be partly due to the rapid rise in homeschooling.
“This is a fundamental change of life, and it’s astonishing that it’s so persistent,” Nat Malkus, a senior fellow and deputy director of education policy at the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute, told the Post.
“The personal costs to home schooling are more than just tuition,” Malkus said. “They are a restructuring of the way your family works.”
The Post indicates that in most states, homeschooling rates have fallen only slightly from their peak during the pandemic.
In Georgia and Maryland, rates have returned to pre-pandemic levels, but in Florida, South Carolina, Louisiana, and South Dakota, homeschooling is a trend that has only continued to grow.
What’s driving the rise in homeschooling?
The explosive growth in homeschooling was propelled by stay-at-home policies and isolation measures during the onset of Covid.
Remote learning came with several challenges, such as access to high-speed internet and technology and keeping students engaged through the screen, and plenty of parents decided to opt out and teach their kids themselves instead.
However, even when schools resumed in-person learning, starting in the 2020-2021 school year, some families decided to continue educating their kids at home.
Census Bureau data shows that before the pandemic, about 3% of U.S. children were homeschooled. In the spring of 2020, about 5.4% of households with school-aged children reported homeschooling. This figure more than doubled by the fall of that year.
“The initial set of folks who came to homeschooling during the pandemic largely did so because 'Zoom school' was a complete and total failure for them and their families,” Jen Garrison Stuber, advocacy chair for the Washington Homeschool Organization, said.
She says parents were able to address their kids’ individual learning needs by homeschooling them.
Stuber also explains that some families of color or religious affiliations, or who have trans children, might be pulling their kids out of school to avoid racism, bullying, or putting them in an unsafe environment.
Census data shows homeschooling rates for Black kids had the biggest jump from spring to the fall of 2020 than any other racial group.
That said, you’ll still find significantly more kids in the classroom than at home. Homeschooling still only accounts for a single-digit percentage of students nationally, David S. Knight, an assistant professor of education finance and policy at the University of Washington, said.
There are extra costs to parents
Not everyone can afford to homeschool their kids—the costs can add up to hundreds of dollars a year for things like learning materials, extracurricular activities, and testing fees (some states mandate regular testing).
While it’s possible for families to find free curriculums online, or put one together themselves, some can cost upwards of $1,000.
Households might need to purchase other pricey materials, like printers, microscopes for science labs, and arts and crafts supplies. Some households might even face bigger grocery bills since some schools offer free or reduced-price lunches to eligible students.
And it’s a full-time job, meaning that most working parents who decide to teach their kids at home might need to cut back on their job hours or quit and lose a major income stream.
In comparison, public school is free since it’s funded by a mix of local, state, and federal dollars, although parents will likely have to shell out some extra cash for school supplies, clothing, and field trip fees.
However, there are a few states (Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, and Minnesota) that offer tax breaks for families that homeschool their kids.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill earlier this year that expands the state’s educational voucher program to cover homeschooling as long as parents submit instructional plans and the students take a standardized test each year.
Experts aren't convinced homeschooling is the answer
Critics have concerns regarding the lack of general state oversight, whether parents are qualified to provide a holistic education to their children, and the need for socialization with other students.
Elizabeth Bartholet, child welfare expert and Harvard law school professor, even called for a “presumptive ban” on homeschooling in 2020, noting that some states don’t mandate annual testing or even ask parents to report that they’re educating their kids at home.
Bartholet told The Harvard Gazette that parents should be able to provide a legitimate reason for wanting to homeschool their kids and proof they have the qualifications and abilities to provide an education comparable to what their kids would receive at a traditional school.
She adds, “For parents granted permission to homeschool, I would still require that their kids participate in at least some school courses and extracurricular activities so they get exposure to a set of alternative values and experiences.”