Students are withdrawing from Texas public schools in record numbers as more families are opting to homeschool in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Lone Star state saw nearly 30,000 withdrawals from public school to homeschool for students in grades 7-12 during the 2021-22 school year, according to data released by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) in an open records request to the Texas Home School Coalition (THSC).
In fact, the 29,765 withdrawals last year were only topped during the peak numbers reached under the statewide COVID-19 emergency declaration, when there were 29,845 withdrawals.
Prior to the pandemic, between 20,000 and 25,000 students in grades 7-12 withdrew to homeschool each year.
Since 2020, however, that number has reached nearly 30,000 and appears to be staying there, according to Jeremy Newman, VP of policy and engagement for THSC.
Newman told The Christian Post there are two reasons behind this trend.
“First, demographically, due to falling birth rates, the TEA is anticipating that enrollment statewide will trend negative for the next decade,” he said. “Second, students are leaving the public schools in record numbers, accelerating the enrollment decline even more.
“This [acceleration] picked up dramatically with Covid and, as demonstrated by the new homeschool withdrawal numbers, they haven't slowed down.”
According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, homeschooling in Texas nearly tripled between the spring of 2020 and the fall of 2020, rising from 4.5% to 12.3% — a jump that would translate into approximately 750,000 homeschool students in Texas in the fall of 2020, more than all private school students and charter school students combined.
And it’s not just white families: homeschooling is also surging in popularity among minorities, with roughly 41% of homeschool families identifying as non-white/non-Hispanic, according to figures from the National Home Education Research Institute.
Newman said parents are citing three main factors in their decision to withdraw their kids from the public school system.
“We continue to see concern about safety, parental involvement, and the school environment as the most important reasons that parents cite when they [choose] to homeschool,” he said.
There’s also an economic incentive for taxpayers: current estimates place the percentage of homeschool students in Texas at between 8 and 10 percent, or the equivalent of between 500,000 and 620,000 students.
At those numbers, homeschool families in Texas save the state more than 7 billion dollars per year, according to THSC.
It’s not clear whether this trend held up through the 2022-23 school year since that data will not be available until 2024.
The surge in homeschooling in Texas largely follows nationwide trends as homeschooling saw a 30% increase in 2021-22, even as public school enrollment fell by more than 1.2 million students within the first two years of the pandemic, according to a study released earlier this year.
The study from the nonprofit research organization Urban Institute finds that private school enrollment increased by 4.3% between the fall of 2019 and the fall of 2021. Data collected between the 2019-20 school year and the 2021-22 school year showed that homeschool enrollment rose by 30%.
Steven F. Duvall, director of research for the Home School Legal Defense Association, told The Christian Post that the findings are consistent with other observations regarding COVID-19's influence on homeschooling.
"We believe that homeschooling is a wonderful way to educate a child and that many hundreds of thousands of families made this same discovery during the pandemic," Duvall told CP.