More Money or More Strings?

A homeschooling innovation brings opportunity and danger.

Homeschooling has gone mainstream. About 2.5 million students—3 percent of all school-aged children in the United States—homeschool, according to Brian Ray, president of the National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI). It’s no longer a movement of non-establishment people on the left and evangelical believers on the right: Nationwide, only 21 percent of parents in 2012 cited religious or moral instruction as their reason for homeschooling, down from 36 percent in 2007, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

 

As a young mom, Martha Hazelrigg rarely left the house with her four homeschooled children during school hours. When they did venture out, she coached them to tell inquisitive grocery clerks and shoppers they attended a local Christian school. It was true: Hazelrigg’s children homeschooled through that school’s independent study program. But in 1985, home education was rare, and mothers had legitimate fears that skeptics, even family members, might report them to the government.

Thirty years later, Hazelrigg’s oldest daughter, Christy Harmeson, homeschools her five children without any qualms about leaving the house on school mornings. She usually sees a scattering of families like hers at parks, stores, libraries, and hiking trails. In the San Francisco Bay area, where Harmeson lives, museums, aquariums, and even the University of California Berkeley host “homeschool days” or special classes for home-educated children. These programs sell out quickly.

Homeschooling has gone mainstream. About 2.5 million students—3 percent of all school-aged children in the United States—homeschool, according to Brian Ray, president of the National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI). It’s no longer a movement of non-establishment people on the left and evangelical believers on the right: Nationwide, only 21 percent of parents in 2012 cited religious or moral instruction as their reason for homeschooling, down from 36 percent in 2007, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Ray says more families are choosing to homeschool for lifestyle reasons. They might have a child who is a gifted athlete or musician, or one who struggles in a traditional classroom environment. This has changed the face of homeschooling, as these new homeschoolers may not be concerned about government entanglement and may be open to ideas that steer government funding to homeschools.

Some homeschoolers in California have been using tax dollars to pay for parts of their homeschooling expenses through a charter school program. Homeschooling purists, though, worry that any government money comes with strings that threaten the independence they’ve worked so hard to achieve.

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