The number of homeschool applications submitted to the California Department of Education shot up since the pandemic began, state data show.
Applications almost doubled from the 2018-19 to the 2020-21 academic year. There were 34,715 private school affidavits for five children or fewer submitted in 2020-21, about 20,000 more than in 2018-19.
Nationally, the proportion of families homeschooling at least one child grew from 5% in spring 2020 to 11% in fall 2021, according to a U.S. Census Bureau survey.
And the amount of families who have expressed an interest in homeschooling in Shasta County has increased considerably as well, according to Lorene Foster.
That in part has been driven by some families’ frustrations with state- and federally-mandated COVID rules.
Foster runs the Redding Homeschool Enthusiasts, a local clearinghouse for homeschooling resources and events in the North State. She periodically checks the group’s Facebook page to gauge the county’s interest in homeschooling.
“Anytime there’s a new mandate or vaccine requirement there’s another big jump in membership. It’s at 1,400 families right now,” Foster said. “Two families joined in the last month.”
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Foster has always homeschooled her six children, she said. Her oldest is 19 and learning welding at Shasta College. Her youngest is in the third-grade. Pre-pandemic, Foster said parents chose to homeschool for a variety of reasons.
“Parents would homeschool not because you were against something but for something,” she said. “You wanted the flexibility, or more time with your kids, or a religious education.”
Post-pandemic, Foster attributes the raised interest she’s seen in homeschooling to the school mandates. The latest mandate will require students ages 16 and older to get the COVID vaccine in the 2022-23 academic year, and students ages 12-15 to receive the vaccine once it is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
What resources are available for homeschooling?
There are two ways to homeschool, said Rabecca Smith, a teacher at the College Prep Academy, a homeschooling program at the Redding School District. One way is through a public charter school, a private school that offers a homeschooling option, or an independent school program. The other way is through filing a private school affidavit with the California Department of Education, allowing a parent/guardian to teach at home, independent of any school curriculum.
Either way, homeschooling means parents are primarily responsible for educating their children at home, Smith said.
Smith has homeschooled her four children through the College Prep Academy. Two of them are now are attending public high schools, she said.
The benefits to homeschooling:
- If a learner has ADHD and has trouble staying still in a classroom, homeschooling can be a better option to meeting their needs. It offers more flexibility and freedom, Smith said.
- Foster loves the ability to chose the curriculum and what her children learn every year.
- It allows children to spend more time learning about what they’re interested in, Foster said.
- There are lots of programs to help with teaching at home, Foster said.
A few of Foster’s children were late readers, she said. They weren’t reading fluently until at least the third grade. Her family doesn’t necessarily follow the grade-level standards, she said. But when it clicks, “they make up for it,” she said.
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“It’s incredibly difficult. It’s a big sacrifice for parents; especially working parents,” Smith said. “If you want to homeschool and do it well, there’s a lot on the parents to make sure that happens. Even if there’s a teacher helping you.”
Charter programs, like the College Prep Academy, follow the California Common Core State Standards and abide by the same laws as the public school system, Smith said. They simply offer families who do not want to vaccinate their teenagers another option and support.
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Smith meets with students every two weeks; she answers parents’ questions about how to teach at home.
“We’re a resource. So we give them the curriculum and tell them what parts of the assignment to do and help them with how to teach their children at home,” Smith said.
Funding charter homeschooling programs
While the state Department of Education saw a rise in private school affidavits in the last two years, charter homeschooling programs have not seen a rise in enrollment.
That’s because Gov. Gavin Newsom’s 2020-21 budget froze funding for all public schools, including charter schools, to the previous year’s levels. That hurt schools that experienced growth in enrollment.
“It was a huge bummer,” Foster said. When the pandemic started, charter schools were not able to accept more students, Foster said.
“There were so many families when schools were closed who were thrown into kind of a weird homeschooling world and didn’t have much support,” Foster said.
Another homeschooling charter, the Redding Collegiate Academy — part of the Enterprise Elementary School District — serves over 200 homeschooled students in transitional kindergarten through 12th grade. That number has been steady throughout the last two years, Superintendent Heather Armelino said.
The district also has a virtual independent study program for kindergarten through 8th grade, Armelino said. Two teachers are serving these students but if there is an increase in the number of parents interested in this option next year, it will expand, she said.
Nada Atieh is a Report For America corps member and education reporter focusing on childhood trauma and the achievement gap for the Redding Record Searchlight. Follow her on Twitter at @nadatieh_RS. Help local journalism thrive by subscribing today! And if you are able, please consider a tax-deductible gift toward her work.