The COVID-19 pandemic stretches into the fall school session and concerns continue over mask requirements in schools and childcare centers. As a result, some families are thinking twice about sending their children back to school. For parents weighing the risks and rewards of in-person classes, it’s worth reading up on another educational option: homeschooling.
If you did make the move in favor of home learning, you would be far from alone. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, homeschooling in Texas last year jumped from 3.3% to 11% of households with school-age children. That’s an estimated 750,000 homeschool families in more than 1,200 Texas school districts.
To help families make informed decisions, Stephanie Lambert, executive director of the nonprofit Texas Home School Coalition (THSC), shares her recommendations for what parents need to know, including factors on the legislative front that have contributed to the increase in homeschooling popularity.
Funding Halted for Remote Schooling
One factor in the high interest: Texas House Bill 1468 failed to get a vote before the legislative session expired May 31. “And without funding in place, many North Texas independent school districts have notified parents of their decision to forego any virtual learning programs this fall,” says Lambert.
Check with your local school district to see if other options might have become available. After initially scrapping them, some school districts have since decided to offer online programs temporarily. Plano ISD announced it will offer a parent-led temporary virtual option through September 3, open to kids in pre-K through sixth grade. Frisco ISD will offer a temporary online option for students in Early Childhood programs through sixth grade. This online option will be offering at least through the first nine weeks of school and reevaluated after that.
UIL Equal Access
One bill that did pass before the end of the Texas legislative session was House Bill 547, which opened access for homeschoolers to participate in the University Interscholastic League (UIL) sports and academics.
“UIL participation has the potential to open up a whole new world of possibilities, as students in school districts who opt in to this new law will now have access to sports and other extracurricular activities that help them grow, socialize, and succeed,” shares Lambert.
The mention of “opting in” points to one a big caveat. Individual school districts will decide whether to participate, and homeschool students can only participate activities in the districts near them. (Learn more details at thsc.org.)
Public School Withdrawal
If parents ultimately decide to homeschool, the Texas Education Agency requires them to formally withdraw their kids from public school. Otherwise they’ll face the possibility of truancy checks later. The THSC provides a submission form online and instructions for sending a notification email to your district.
Lambert explains: “Before you formally withdraw a student from the Texas public school system, you must establish an instruction plan with a curriculum in a visual form.” That is, books, workbooks, video instruction. “This curriculum must include the minimum of basic subjects (reading, spelling, grammar, mathematics, and citizenship). There are several established homeschool curriculums available online, from a variety of sources, and at all levels of investment.”
What Homeschooling Is and Isn’t
Lambert notes that homeschooling parents are not on their own. “Homeschooling can be a wonderful opportunity to experience the flexibility and freedom of educating your children in an environment with more control than public schooling.
“Educational goals may be set according to the expectations and needs of your own children—which can be a liberating experience,” continues Lambert. “But it’s a common misconception to assume that homeschooling will leave you feeling isolated and alone with your lesson plans.”
Visit thsc.org to learn more about the network of advocates and resources meant to empower parents and provide support, direction and information to meet your child’s needs. Annual memberships to the THSC also provide homeschool planning tools, expert coaches, and 24/7 legal consultation. For more questions about the Texas Home School Coalition, call the Lubbock headquarters at 806/744-4441 or reach out via this online contact form.
Pros and Cons
Facts to consider when weighing whether it’s worth it to your family to make the switch:
Pro: Make the switch anytime
Parents may withdraw their children from in-person public school at any point during the calendar year.
Con: Not feasible for single-parent households
The option for homeschooling remains largely out of reach for single parents who work outside the home or cannot devote daytime hours to schooling, especially for families who are forced to narrow their usual support network (extended family members, at-home tutors, babysitters) due to COVID precautions.
Pro: Flexibility in the curriculum
Beyond those five core subjects (reading, spelling, grammar, mathematics, and good citizenship), the schedule, additional subjects (such as STEM, art, music, and foreign language) and educational materials you choose is entirely up to you. THSC has a great quiz online to help you determine your child’s learning style (auditory, visual or kinesthetic) and the National Home School Association’s match tool at curriculummatch.com helps you find the right, age-appropriate curriculum. A one-time $35 fee includes a one-year membership to NHSA.
Con: The price tag…
No federal tax breaks or Texas-state funded vouchers exists for homeschoolers, and you won’t get a break on property taxes to pay for your local school. According to online education service Time4Learning, the average cost of curriculum, school supplies, field trips and extracurricular activities ranges from $700 to $1,800 per child per school year.
Pro: The price tag!
Some online curriculum is free! For example, Khan Academy offers online classes for all grade levels including advanced placement courses for high-schoolers at no cost, though the nonprofit does encourage monetary donations. Plus, benefits to the THSC membership include scholarships as well as discounts to partner providers.
Pro: Internet not required
Homeschooling has been a legal alternative to public schooling since the Texas Supreme Court decided Leeper v. Arlington ISD in 1994, long before high-speed internet as we know it today. If your home’s location or access to a computer make connectivity unreliable, consider choosing written materials. Think textbooks, worksheets and crafts. Trade virtual learning for subscription boxes or kits, such as the STEM-focused Genius Box for ages 8–12, as a way to homeschool offline.
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