Recent education news reports indicate that enrollment in homeschooling has increased dramatically over the past two years. In fact, it appears that homeschooling enrollment has increased four times since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020. The question is: where did those kids enrolling in homeschools come from and where will they go?
The Transition to a Remotely Located America
Public schools have been reporting declining enrollment, even in suburbs where the post-pandemic population is increasing. A new, mobile, economy has emerged. When the pandemic started, school kids were abruptly moved to “school at home” arrangements. At the same time, many parents elected to remove their children from public school classrooms and set up schools in their own homes. This was, at least partially, made possible by the fact that a huge percentage of American workers were moved into their home offices and remote working arrangements with their employers.
In fact, statisticians predict that fully 25% of all jobs in America will go remote by the end of 2022. This fact represents a huge number of parents who are now at home full time. Not surprisingly, the biggest demographic of remote workers is represented by mothers with school age children. Mothers are the half of the “parenting unit” that generally take over the role of homeschool teacher and administrator and family schedule manager. This leaves open the opportunity to keep the kids at home and totally leave the public school system.
At the same time, because the “primary wage earner” (whether mom or dad) has been released from reporting into an office on a daily basis, families have become more mobile in terms of where they can choose to live. Many large companies have elected to shift completely to a remote working situation. Many others have adopted a “hybrid” model where workers’ primary location is at home but, perhaps on a weekly or monthly basis, they report into a brick-and-mortar corporate location for meetings or conferences. Still others are arranging schedules that include a portion of the office staff working remotely one week and at home the next week and flipping that arrangement to the other half of their employees the next week.
This evolving “remote” arrangement for both work and education purposes, leaves a family with the opportunity to consider where it is they really prefer to live – which can be anywhere, so long as they manage to keep their jobs. Consequently, an “out migration” from big cities to more affordable, safer, and more pleasant suburbs and to small communities all over America is gaining major momentum. This locational flexibility makes moving children into a homeschooling situation an obvious path, providing the family with even more flexibility in terms of their physical location.
How Public Schools are Affected by Remote Living and Learning
Public schools in the U.S. have been experiencing funding shortfalls for at least a decade. This problem has been partially based on obsolete public education funding systems that depend on state-and-local contributions based on property taxes and sales taxes. This problem is now seriously exacerbated by decline in home ownership based on the “out migration” from cities, mentioned above. A decline in home ownership equates to a decrease in state-and-county-collected property taxes. A decrease in property tax revenues equates proportionately, and directly, to a decrease in available dollars for public schools.
Public education in America is funded on a per-student basis. Each state has a funding formula, part of which results in a per student dollar amount provided directly to the school. When a school’s enrollment declines, so does its’ share of the public education dollars. If a school once had 500 students enrolled at a $10,000 per/student allocation ($5,000,000) and then lost 20% (100) of those students to private schools, charter schools or homeschooling, the school immediately suffers a $1,000,000 budget deficit. And the only rational way to cover that deficit is by cutting the number of teaching slots. This, obviously, creates teaching shortages that could cause logistical problems if or when, post-pandemic, a shift back to public schools happens. It’s not entirely predictable how many students might register for any given school year. With no guaranteed numbers, schools cannot hire teachers to fill openings. Yes, returning students will be funded, but not immediately at the front end, and it takes time to ramp up a massive hiring process and get more “boots on the ground.”
Current Budget Cuts
As mentioned above, school budget deficits are not a new problem. Funding issues continue to plaque the system. After the Great Recession, the economy snapped back rather dramatically, but – school budgets did not. In addition to budget cuts, schools are suffering under the weight of increasing class sizes and the elimination of pre-K educational programs – which puts K to 4 teachers in a tough spot because the early education gained in pre-K experiences is entirely lost.
A February 2020 Forbes article noted that “school funding had already been cut at the federal level by 8 percent, before the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.” An excellent blog entry reported that “COVID-19 has introduced further funding cuts.” According to the Learning Policy Institute, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act will only equate to 1.9 percent of pre-K through 12th grade education revenue, while state revenue is expected to drop between 10 and 20 percent. This could result in a reduction of $21 billion to $57 billion in education budgets and nearly 750,000 teaching positions eliminated.” (https://soeonline.american.edu/blog/school-funding-issues)
Implications for Homeschooling
“In Spring 2019, in the US, grade K-12 students constituted 2.5 million children who opted for homeschooling. If we observe the trend in the last few years, there is an annual homeschooling growth rate of 2%-8%. However, there has been a significant increase in those figures from 2019 to 2021. By the end of 2020, about 9 million Americans said they had attended homeschool at some point in their lives.” (https://admissionsly.com/homeschooling-statistics/ )
On January 24, 2022, under the headline “More parents are home-schooling. Some are never turning back,” the Los Angeles Times reported that “the pandemic pushed more parents who would never have otherwise home-schooled their children in that direction.” Times staff writer, Laura Newberry, cited James Dwyer, a professor at William and Mary Law School: “a growing segment of the mainstream middle class, well-educated and not on either political extreme, has been very disenchanted with public schools’ response to the pandemic.”
Newberry summed up the situation: “I can say that most of the parents I spoke with are thinking deeply about how to give their kids the most well-rounded education possible, as well as a variety of social opportunities. They see this choice” (i.e., home schooling) “as a reprioritization of values, an opportunity to really get to know their kids and nourish their natural curiosities.”
The final question then becomes – As this trend to homeschooling continues into the future, can America’s public education system survive?