Public School Enrollment Drops, Homeschooling Soars Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

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Fewer Massachusetts children than usual are attending public schools this year — but the homeschool student body may have doubled.

Statewide enrollment in Massachusetts public schools was down 3.9 percent from last year as of October 1, 2020, according to data provided to New Boston Post by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. On October 1, 2019, there were 948,828 students enrolled in 400 public school districts in Massachusetts. On October 1, 2020, that number was 911,432. That’s a decrease of almost 4 percent.

The largest decreases came from a drop-off in the number of kids enrolled in prekindergarten and kindergarten. Pre-K enrollments decreased by 30.8 percent while kindergarten enrollments were down 11.9 percent. Combined, it represents a 17.9 percent drop-off in the amount enrolled. For grades 1 through 12, the decrease is 2.4 percent. In total, 46 percent of the decline in student enrollment comes from prekindergarten and kindergarten.

As for alternative forms of schooling, state officials say exact figures are not yet available. But data on transfers from one type of schooling to another suggest that homeschooling has increased sharply.

In all, 7,188 students transferred to homeschooling — a nearly 789 percent increase from the 820, 805, and 802 transfers that occurred in the previous three school years.

Additionally, in-state private schools saw a significant increase. In the 2019-2020 school year, 7,299 students had transferred to them as of October 1 — but this year, that figure spiked to 13,166. That’s an 80 percent increase over last year.

A definitive count of all homeschooled students in Massachusetts is not yet available, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education told New Boston Post in an email message — but the transfer figure suggests a major increase in the amount of homeschooled students in the state.

As of January 1, 2020, there were 7,802 homeschooled students out of 983,058 total Massachusetts students, according to a report released by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education back in August. That means that, according to state figures, homeschoolers made up about 0.794 percent of the student body last school year.

What remains unclear is how many of those homeschoolers graduated, dropped out, or switched into other academic programs. However, the transfer figure’s potential to represent positive gains for the homeschooling movement has its advocates excited.

That includes Andrew Beckwith of the Massachusetts Family Institute and Corey DeAngelis of the Reason Foundation. They said the spike in homeschooling underscores their contention that public education funds should follow the student, not just the public school.

“It is always encouraging to see parents exercising their right to educate their children at home, and these figures mean there are twice as many homeschoolers in MA as last year at this time,” Beckwith told New Boston Post in an email message. “I know some parents have been very disappointed with what they’ve seen pumped directly into their homes through virtual public schooling, and this is a response to that. So, instead of sending more tax dollars into broken public school systems that are often impervious to the desires of parents or the needs of children, more than ever the money should follow the child, wherever their family chooses to have them educated.”

DeAngelis also noted why he thinks it’s happening, and what it represents moving forward.

“We are witnessing an exodus from public schools for the first time in modern U.S. history,” DeAngelis told New Boston Post in an email message. “Some of this might be because families liked the taste of homeschooling they experienced in the spring. These families might be re-visioning the factory model of schooling itself. But many other families pulled their children out of public schools simply because they realized that the system is not going to be there for them this year. Families are struggling because many public school systems are refusing to provide adequate in-person instruction. The obvious solution to this problem is to fund students directly so that families can access educational alternatives.
“If your local neighborhood doesn’t reopen you can take your money elsewhere,” he added. “If your local school doesn’t reopen you should similarly be able to take your children’s education dollars elsewhere. As a matter of fact, you should be able to take your children’s education dollars elsewhere even if their school reopens. Education funding is supposed to be meant for educating children — not for protecting a government monopoly.”

The Boston Teachers Union, Massachusetts Teachers Association, National Education Association, Learning Policy Institute, and Association of American Educators could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.