Sep 13, 2023 - News

Washington's homeschooling boom is here to stay

Illustration of an apple shaped like a house.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Among Washington families who took up homeschooling during the pandemic nearly half are sticking with it, according to state data.

Why it matters: While some families say homeschooling is a lifeline for kids who struggled in public schools, it's contributed to enrollment drops, budget shortfalls and potential cuts in many districts, David S. Knight, an assistant professor of education finance and policy at the University of Washington, told Axios.

What they're saying: Parents who continue to homeschool say they've seen their children's happiness increase and their anxiety, depression and self-harming behaviors decrease, according to Jen Garrison Stuber, advocacy chair for the Washington Homeschool Organization.

  • The increase has been especially notable among Black families and families of color, who cite the desire to avoid bullying, racism, violence and the school-to-prison pipeline as chief reasons for their continued commitment, Stuber told Axios.

Zoom out: Across the state and nation, lower birth rates, fewer school-aged children and less immigration are also contributing to declining enrollment at public schools, said Knight.

  • Fewer students in public schools means fewer state and federal dollars coming to school district budgets, which get money allocated to them based on enrollment headcounts.
  • On average in Washington, $17,199 was allocated per student from state, local and federal funds in the 2021-2022 school year, per the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI).

By the numbers: Home schooling is estimated to account for more than 26% of the 1.2 million decline in student enrollment at public schools nationwide, while private schools account for about 14%, according to a 2023 study by Thomas S. Dee of Stanford.

  • This school year, there are 28,000 registered homeschoolers in Washington state, up from 20,000 in 2019, but down from the pandemic peak of 39,000, according to OSPI, which tracks homeschooling numbers and provides some technological support to districts working with homeschoolers.

Of note: Washington's homeschool laws require, among other things, that parents be "qualified" by having 45 college-level credit hours or the equivalent.

  • They must also submit an annual declaration of intent and allow students' academic progress to be assessed by the state through an approved achievement test or by a certified educator.

What we're watching: Seattle Public Schools (SPS) is one of several local school districts already facing budget shortfalls and hard choices caused in part by declining enrollment.

  • SPS is predicting that enrollment will continue to decline from 49,550 this year to 46,910 in the 2025-2026 school year.

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