North Carolina’s home schools are growing at a record rate and are now estimated to have more students than the state’s private schools.
New figures from the state show there were 60,950 home schools in the 2013-14 school year, a 14.3 percent increase from the prior year and a 27 percent increase from two years ago. The state estimates there are 98,172 home-schoolers, marking the first time that North Carolina’s home-school enrollment has surpassed the number in private schools.
Last school year, there were 95,768 students at the state’s private schools, a total that’s been dropping annually since the 2007-08 school year.
“If you’re dissatisfied with public education, you really have two routes,” said Kevin McClain, president of North Carolinians For Home Education, a statewide support group. “You can send your child to a private school – which is really expensive – or you can home-school. The economy means that, for many people, you home-school.”
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Home schooling has steadily risen in North Carolina since it was legalized in 1985 by the state Supreme Court. Twenty-five years ago, there were about 2,300 home-schooled students in North Carolina. But concerns about school violence, lack of a religious focus and the large size of public schools have helped fuel home-school growth.
And home-school growth in North Carolina has surged the past two school years. There was a net gain of 7,603 home schools in the 2013-14 school year with a projected net enrollment increase of 10,194 students.
The recent growth spurt has coincided with the use of the Common Core standards in math and language arts in North Carolina’s public schools. While hailed by supporters in more than 40 states as providing a more rigorous education, critics have charged that Common Core is not appropriate for some students.
“Common Core is a big factor that I hear people talk about,” said Beth Herbert, founder of Lighthouse Christian Homeschool Association, which has around 350 families, largely in the northern Wake County area “They’re not happy with the work their kids are coming home with. They’ve decided to take their children home.”
The General Assembly passed legislation in July to create a commission to recommend standards to replace Common Core.
‘Very little stigma’
Concerns about the ability of teachers to implement Common Core was one reason Andrea Forte of Wake Forest began home-schooling her two children in 2012.
Forte said she’s able to ensure her 8-year-old son, Devon, and 7-year-old daughter, Elena, learn without the pressure of high-stakes testing. She said they finish quickly enough that they her children can be involved in many after-school activities with other children.
“We’re not stressed,” Forte said. “They have time to pursue their own interests. We have time to travel when we want to.”
Paul English, director of the Charlotte Home Educators Association, said one factor in the growth in home schools has been how much easier it is to operate one. Numerous organizations have sprung up to support families, and multiple curriculums are available online.
“In the early days you had to be philosophically against the public schools to home-school. It was so hard and there was pressure from all sorts of angles,” he said. “Now, it’s not only easier, but it’s more accepted as a valid choice. There really is very little stigma attached to it anymore.”
Ginger Monette, who works at consignment store The Homeschool Room in Matthews, said redistricting in Union County has driven a lot more parents to educate their children at home. But she also cited what parents perceive as a decline in the quality of public education.
“Teachers have been cut, they’ve cut a lot of teacher’s aides, more and more children are having learning disabilities,” she said. “Parents are realizing that children are falling through the cracks. They are finding that home schooling is a way to give their children the education they need.”
Mecklenburg County has the second-most home schools in the state with 4,587 – 546 more than the previous school year. An estimated 7,274 students attend in Mecklenburg. Wake County added 793 home schools in the 2013-14 school year, giving it 5,706 with an estimated enrollment of 9,559 students.
Home schools are never inspected; federal courts have ruled that sending government workers into homes violates the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure.
Keeping records of attendance, immunization and testing is required by North Carolina law but voluntary in practice.
In the Charlotte area, three cases in recent years have raised concerns about the lack of scrutiny. That means that other issues, such as abuse, can go undetected because the children may not have regular contact with other adults.
The Larson family was among those that said they home-schooled. Wanda Sue Larson was charged with child abuse after a deputy found a boy handcuffed with a dead chicken tied to his neck. Larson filed to home school in May 2012.
North Carolina’s home-school enrollment still pales in comparison to the public schools, which have 1.5 million students. Public school supporters have successfully battled legislative efforts in recent years that would have given tax credits to home-school families and allowed home-schoolers to take online classes free from the state’s virtual public school.
“We want to keep public schools, but if people want to home-school or send their kids to private school that’s their choice,” said Christopher Hill, director of the education and law project for the N.C. Justice Center, a liberal Raleigh think tank. “But taxpayer money shouldn’t go for that.” Charlotte Observer staff writer Andrew Dunn and Ann Doss Helms contributed.