Recession doesn't hurt homeschooling

The nation has high levels of unemployment, foreclosures and bankruptcies.

But none of those economic factors in this recession has come close to damaging the popularity of homeschooling nationwide.

Instead, the homeschooling movement continues to grow at a pace of about 7 percent a year, which has occurred each year for a decade, reports Ian Slatter, spokesman for the Virginia-based Home School Legal Defense Association.

HSLDA is an advocacy group for the legal rights of parents who choose to educate their children at home.

Slatter said there are two main reasons that parents choose homeschooling: the ability to teach their children for religious reasons and to avoid the social environment of crime, drugs and gangs that is present in too many public schools.

"Everyone goes into homeschooling for different reasons," said Hilda Lantz, a mother of four boys living in the suburbs of Grand Rapids, Mich. She has been a homeschool mom for 14 years.

She said the motivation was to give her sons the best education they could receive. Lantz said the one-on-one tutoring of homeschooling made more sense because of the differences between her sons. She said a second factor was "it also took them away from damaging situations" of peer pressure.

Lantz said public school teachers with about 25 students in a class teach to the average student. She said that neglects students who struggle and those who are overachievers.

Andrew Coulson, director of the Cato Institute's Center for Education Freedom, said the availability of tools to assist parents has played a significant role in the popularity of homeschooling.

Coulson said if parents chose homeschooling in 1985, they would have had to go to the local library and find out the best curriculum and its cost.

Today, parents can go to the Internet, find out the cost of books, read reviews of curriculum and find a network of other parents who homeschool their children in their neighborhood or nearby their home.

He said this makes "the logistics of it are a lot easier."

For example, the HSLDA website provides multiple resources for parents.

Also, by typing "homeschool organizations" into a search engine, you could find at least 208,000 responses.

Slatter said each state has a pretty significant home-school network, but he identified Alabama as one state that has "a strong and developed network."

One home-school group in Alabama states that it makes resources available for parents in Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and Florida.

Meanwhile, a network of 400 families called the Tri-State Home School Network is located in Delaware, but has members in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland.

Lantz was pleased to hear that homeschooling has grown during the recession.

"The motivation behind homeschooling is not money. The motivation for homeschooling is sacrifice for what's best for your children," Lantz said.

"I don't think I've ever seen people drop out of homeschooling because of money," she said.

Michigan has been one of the hardest-hit states during this recession. Lantz said she knows of some families that homeschool and have been hit by extended unemployment for one of the parents.

"I don't know how they're doing it," Lantz said.

Slatter said the HSLDA has heard anecdotal accounts out of Florida where parents had their children in private school and the economy has compelled them to now homeschool their children.

Coulson said the economy may convince parents to do that.

He also said elected officials in states with looming billion-dollar budget deficits could save their states money by copying Florida's Education Tax Credit and education policies similar to it. Floridians are allowed to give money to scholarships that are disbursed to poor students so parents have better options to educate their children. Coulson said research has shown that for every dollar given to these scholarships it saves Florida state government $1.49.

Coulson also said a couple of other states allow parents to claim tax deductions on all money used for homeschooling. He said the rationale is that states see the value of letting parents educate their children for about $2,000 a year. If those children were in public schools, the state could pay as much as $13,000 a year for each student.

Homeschooling saves each state money and a few states have recognized that and have adopted tax incentives for parents who homeschool their children, Coulson said.