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School Choice in Homeschooling

By Griffin Saltron, February 28, 2024


A key issue in the 2024 Primary Election has been the implementation of school choice legislation in Texas. This comes as a result of the 88th legislature's failure to enact a broad school choice bill during the regular session and subsequent special sessions. The most significant of these failures was the removal of an Education Savings Account (ESA) program from House Bill 1 in the fourth special session. This failure of the legislature, however, is not a complete loss. The interim can be taken to craft an even better school choice bill. One that does not leave children out. HB 1 would have granted $10,500 a year to the accounts of students participating in the ESA program, except for one group: homeschoolers. Under that bill, homeschoolers would only be granted $1,000 a year to go toward their academic pursuits. Homeschooling does cost less annually than a private school, with an average annual homeschooling cost of somewhere between $700-$1,800 and $500-$2,500 depending on the source. However, education is more than just the cost of materials and courses. Allowing all students to be treated equally under an ESA program, would allow homeschoolers to pursue more than just the bare minimum.

 

Increasing the amount from $1,000 to $10,500 would permit those students who are homeschooled to take full advantage of ESAs. These students would then be able to have a high-quality homeschool experience whether it be traditional or in a pod learning setting. Pod learning is when a group of families in a community pool together resources in order to hire an educator, whether it be a tutor or a teacher, who is employed to instruct or assist in the instruction of this select group of students. This is especially valuable to more rural communities which may only have a singular public education option for them. Through pod learning, parents in a rural community could band together to create their own education experience for their children. The issue under the ESA program in HB 1 is that $1,000 annually, even across 20 students, is not going to be able to afford learning materials and a tutor or high-quality educator. According to the New York Times and Powerful Prep, pod schools can cost upwards of $1,000 a month per student, with an example given of $2,500 a month by the NYT. Assuming a full school year of 170 instructional days, this range in annual cost is $5,700 to $14,200 per year per student. This far surpasses the allotted $1,000 a year allotted to homeschoolers in HB 1, but comes close to the $10,500 offered to all other students utilizing the prospective ESA program.

 

The students would also be able to utilize the funds to take additional in-person courses at a local community college through dual enrollment or employ a tutor, as long as it is within the boundaries of permissible utilization as covered in HB 1. The cost of a dual credit course is anywhere from $210 to $420 depending on the length of the course and the student's district status. Similarly, tutors in Texas range from $22 to $40 per hour. These prices add up and are a limiting factor in allowing families to take advantage of all the educational opportunities outside of public and private schools.

 

Homeschooling is an important part of school choice. Nationally, homeschooling rates have grown by 51% since 2018. This can be attributed to a multitude of factors including Covid-19, school lockdowns, and dissatisfaction with public schools. These factors all stem from a desire of parents to have more control over the education of their children. Another component of the increase in homeschooling is likely the passage of school choice legislation. Since 2018 a total of sixteen states have passed some form of school choice, whether it be an ESA, tax-credit, or voucher. Of those states, all have seen an increase in homeschooling, and over half permit homeschoolers to participate in the program with the same or similar stipulations as other participants. While this shows that school choice is not the singular driver of homeschooling participation and the unrelated factors mentioned above certainly contribute, it is undeniable that giving parents the opportunity through monetary support can increase the number of families choosing to homeschool. This is evident in both Florida and Arizona which have some of the most expansive ESA programs in the nation. In these states, all students are permitted to participate in their ESA program and may utilize the funding for a wide variety of educational expenses, including homeschooling. This has likely been the major causal factor in the increase in the share of students homeschooling in these states, as after implementation the share of homeschooling students has risen by roughly one to two percentage points.

 

Unfortunately, an argument is often made by rural Republicans that since there are few or no private schools in their district, their constituents would see no benefit from the passage of an ESA or any other form of school choice. This is, in most cases, untrue, but an ESA bill can be strengthened by increasing the amount afforded to homeschoolers. Indeed, a higher percentage of rural students participate in homeschooling (4.7%) than in cities (2.5%), suburban areas (2.4%), or towns (2.2%). The legislature should support these constituents in the next iteration of an ESA bill.

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