Homeschooling is surging, but parents fear INCREASED oversight is on THE way

Ashley Ndiaye’s daughter, Nori, is just nine months old, but Ndiaye has already decided that she will homeschool her once she reaches school age. Concerned about the way LGBTQ issues and gender identity is being taught in schools, the 33-year-old mother from Frederick, Maryland is determined to have a greater influence over the content of her child’s education.

“I really want to be in control,” she said, “and understand and know what she's learning.” Ndiaye said didn't want her daughter being "indoctrinated" at a public school. "I want to make sure I'm really being there for Nori," said, "and just being active, like understanding, like, you know, how she feels, and all that.”

Ashley is not alone. The number of parents considering homeschooling as an option has surged since the onset of the pandemic. In 2019, 2.5 million students were homeschooled across the United States. By 2022, that number had jumped to 4.3 million, a 72% increase. While the reasons for homeschooling are unique to every family, several factors appear to be at play.

“A lot of parents are concerned about, first of all, safety issues with their children,” said Yvonne Bunn, Director of Government Affairs at the Home Educators Association of Virginia. “There is a lot of bullying and anxiety with students,” she added.

The number of school shootings has also climbed significantly in recent years, averaging 144 incidents per year since 2018, up from 41 between 2012 and 2017, according to the Center for Homeland Defense and Security.

Bunn said the shootings are prompting many to look into homeschooling and decide “that they can protect their children better at home.”

The pandemic also led to a reorganization of work and school environments. During the pandemic, many parents became more involved in their child’s education as classrooms migrated online. Parents formed micro schools and learning pods with other families to share teaching responsibilities; some decided they didn't want their children to return to traditional schooling.

The rise of remote and hybrid work options also gave parents more flexibility to balance homeschooling with work commitments, making the practice more accessible.

Dr. Khadijah Ali-Coleman, co-editor of Homeschooling Black Children in the US, said the rate of homeschooling has increased among single-parent homes, lower income and socioeconomic levels, and educational levels, with Black families the fastest-growing homeschool demographic, according to the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey.

“People are seeing that I too can homeschool,” said Ali-Coleman.

“You start getting tax money to aid homeschooling, that's when you start to lose even more freedoms,”

-Dr. Khadijah Ali-Coleman, Co-editor, Homeschooling Black Children in the US

Ndiaye said that flexible working arrangements were a major factor in her decision to commit to homeschooling. She now works from home and said there was “no way” she could have considered it before the pandemic.

“The pandemic has definitely like just opened my mind to like the idea,” Ndiaye said.

Moira Ballard has been homeschooling for 11 years in Upper Marlboro, Maryland and says she was drawn to it, and has kept at it, for similar reasons to Ndiaye. There are views “in our world today that are not in line with what we believe,” she said.

“We want to be able to have the most influence on our children that we feel is beneficial to them and their upbringing, and not hand that over to a public school system,” Ballard added.

But many in the homeschooling community fear that this autonomy may be under threat.

Some states are offering to help parents with the costs of homeschooling through Educational Savings Accounts, or ESAs. While access to public funding might appear a cause for celebration, many are concerned that the money may be a Trojan Horse, and once parents accept, more stringent oversight will follow.

“With the parent covering the funding, then the parent has the choice of the curriculum, of the schedule, of remediation or advanced placement, of making all those educational decisions themselves,” said Bunn. “Once parents begin taking government funding, then there would be strings attached.”

ESAs were originally a vehicle to deliver funding to parents of students with special educational needs, and 11 states currently use ESAs for this purpose. However, in 2021, Arizona became the first state to expand eligibility to all students in the state, including homeschooling students. Homeschool students in grades 1-12 could apply for around $7,000 in funding to spend on homeschool products and services in the 2022-23 financial year.

Iowa, Arkansas, Florida, and Utah will soon enact legislation to expand their own ESA programs.

These ESA accounts are optional. Parents who don't want to participate can continue funding their child's homeschooling themselves. And since Arizona adopted the legislation, most of the students who have applied for ESAs are not homeschooled, but privately educated—the funds can be spent on any education outside of public school.

But many in the homeschooling community rejected traditional schooling for greater control over their child’s education and are sensitive to any potential limits on their freedom.

“You start getting tax money to aid homeschooling, that's when you start to lose even more freedoms,” said Ali-Coleman, “because then it becomes an issue of oversight.”

Ndiaye said she wouldn’t take the money if, in the future, it tied her to a specific curriculum or came with increased oversight.

“I don't want her to have to learn certain things that they would want,” Ndiaye said, "that's almost like the whole point."

However enticing the prospect of public money may be, many homeschoolers are taking a wait-and-see approach.