The rates of children being schooled at home have risen dramatically since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a recent survey released by the U.S. Census Bureau, the national homeschool rate rose 5.6% from Spring 2020 to Fall 2020. “The survey shows that homeschooling is notably higher than the national benchmarks,” the Census researchers said in their report.
During the past year, North Carolina saw an increase of 5.4%, with 9.4% of children in the state now being homeschooled. Some other states saw double digit increases, such as Alaska, Florida, Oklahoma, and Vermont. Of particular note is the growth of homeschooling in minority households nationwide, with the percentage of homeschooling Hispanic families nearly doubling (from 6.2 to 12.1%), and Black or African American families seeing a fivefold increase (from 3.3 to 16.1%).
As the Census researchers stated, “It’s clear that in an unprecedented environment, families are seeking solutions that will reliably meet their health and safety needs, their childcare needs and the learning and socio-emotional needs of their children. […] American parents are increasingly open to options beyond the neighborhood school.”
Presently, state lawmakers are seeking to further affirm and expand school choice options in North Carolina through HB 32—Equity in Opportunity Act. The bill would, among other things, expand eligibility and increase the amount provided to eligible students by the Opportunity Scholarship Program and the NC Personal Education Savings Account Program (to be renamed the Personal Education Student Accounts for Children with Disabilities, or PESA).
The Opportunity Scholarship Program currently provides tuition assistance up to $4,200 per year for eligible students who enroll in a participating nonpublic school. HB 32 would change this flat amount to “a percentage of the average State per pupil allotment” equaling up to 70% for the 2022- 2023 school year and 80% for 2023-2024 and beyond.
Similarly, HB 32 would increase the Education Savings Account from up to $9,000 per year, to a scholarship up to $17,000 for tuition and qualifying expenses for eligible disabled students. Similar to the forward funding for the Opportunity Scholarships, a PESA Fund Reserve would be created for these accounts—starting at about $17 million for 2022-2023 and increasing each year to about $26 million for 2031- 2032 and subsequent years. These students would also be eligible to receive an Opportunity Scholarship Grant.
The results of the U.S. Census Bureau’s survey clearly show that students across the state and the nation are continuing to benefit from school choice options. Since homeschooling may not be possible for everyone, the passage of HB 32 would allow even more families in North Carolina to find the best fit for their children.