Updated Nov 14, 2023 - News

Tampa the "capital of American homeschooling," per new report

Illustration of a welcome mat with the word "school" written on the front

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Tampa is at the epicenter of a nationwide homeschooling surge, according to a new report in the Washington Post.

Plus: Of the 10 school districts with the most homeschooled students, nine were in Florida, including Hillsborough County. The Post's database covers more than 60% of the American school-age population.

  • The newspaper attributes some of that standing to the state's large school districts, but elected officials have also warmed up to homeschooling while enacting politicized restrictions at public schools.

Why it matters: The data points show the Sunshine State's prominent place in a trend that, while cheered by advocates of the practice, has some experts concerned about a lack of oversight in the schooling of millions of children across the U.S.

  • Most homeschooled students, including those in Florida, don't have to take standardized tests to mark their progress.

Driving the news: The report, published Tuesday, showed that an increase in homeschooled students born from pandemic restrictions continued through the 2022-23 school year.

  • The report examines data from 32 states and Washington D.C. States missing from the analysis don't keep enough, or any, data on how many kids are homeschooled.

The big picture: The Post estimates between 1.9 million and 2.7 million students are homeschooled in the U.S.

Zoom in: In Hillsborough County, 10,680 children were homeschooled at the start of the 2022-23 school year — the highest total in the Post database.

  • "If there is a capital of American homeschooling, it may be Hillsborough County," the accompanying report said.
  • It marks a 74% increase since 2017. Meanwhile, public school enrollment increased just 3.4%.
  • Infrastructure has risen to meet the district's demand, the Post reported. Its homeschooled children enjoy many of the same extracurriculars and traditions as public school students, participating in sports, theater productions and dances.

Yes, but: Last year's homeschool numbers marked a decrease from the 13,641 students at the start of the 2021-22 year, per the Post. Still, it's more than pre-pandemic figures: about 6,800 students.

By the numbers: Among Tampa Bay districts, only Pinellas saw a similar decrease since a peak pandemic year. While the county experienced an overall increase of 20% since 2017-18, enrollment fell from 4,143 in 2020-21 to 3,680 last year. That's compared to about 3,300 students in 2019-20.

  • Sarasota had the largest increase since 2017-18 in Tampa Bay: 89%.
  • Enrollment in that county plus Manatee (52% increase since 2017-18), Pasco (70%) and Hernando (71%) also continued to climb into last year.
  • Polk County's homeschool enrollment also increased, to 5,561 last year from 3,330 in the 2017-18 school year, according to the most recent data provided to Axios by the district.
  • Florida overall saw a 72% rise in homeschool enrollment over the same period.

The latest: The trend just got an incentive in Florida. The school voucher expansion signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis earlier this year includes homeschooled students, as long as parents submit lesson plans and students take an annual standardized test.

  • That means parents stand to take in about $8,000 per child per year in taxpayer dollars to cover educational expenses.

Worthy of your time: Check out the rest of the Post's series, which also features reports on Christian homeschool trends and why parents homeschool their kids.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with the most recent homeschooling enrollment data for Polk County, which reflects a rise in homeschooling between the 2017-18 and 2022-23 school years. The Post's report showed a dip in enrollment in 2021-22.

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