Wisconsin sees 9,600-student increase in homeschooling

December 28, 2020   |   By Scott Girard, The Cap Times

From The Cap Times

The number of students homeschooling this year rose by more than 9,600 after two consecutive years of growth in the hundreds.

The uptick to 26,641 homeschooled students comes as no surprise amid the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic has created for education, including some districts remaining entirely virtual while others are entirely in-person.

Applications to homeschool had to be filed with the state Department of Public Instruction by Oct. 15, but the state was waiting to release the data until it also had final numbers from private schools “to get a complete picture,” DPI spokesperson Chris Bucher wrote in an email. But because of an update in how private schools report their enrollment, that data is not yet complete.

The delay means there are still unknowns about how many students are “missing” from the system, with a public school enrollment drop of more than 35,000 students to 818,922.

“We hope to have the private school enrollment information collected and finalized within the next several weeks,” Bucher wrote.

Other states have found thousands of students who did not enroll in public school nor any other form of schooling for the year, raising equity concerns. Earlier this summer, indications of a rise concerned Madeline Hafner, an associate scientist with the Wisconsin Center for Education Research, for the long-term consequences for public schools.

“As a parent, we all need to keep remembering we will get through this pandemic and it’s not about accumulating the most academic gain or even a typical academic gain,” she said in August. “It’s not a typical year, nothing is typical.

“It’s about keeping our social lives, our emotional lives intact. If we don’t keep supporting one another, one of the ways our communities support each other is through public schooling … if we don’t keep our eye on that prize I worry about what we will look like in a year.”

It’s also a concern for school district leaders worried about funding, as enrollment is a factor in the yearly allocation of state aid and a district’s revenue limit.

While the state’s largest districts saw the biggest increases by count, some smaller districts experienced major jumps by percentage. Whitefish Bay, for example, went from seven students in 2019-20 to 69 in 2020-21. The Merton Community School District had a 400% increase, from six to 30.

In Madison, which saw a more-than-1,000-student drop in enrollment, the number of students being homeschooled grew by 52% from last school year, 358 to 545. Nearby, the Verona Area School District saw its homeschooling population double from 52 to 104 and the Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District grew from 73 to 168.

The Kenosha (273 to 545), Racine (383 to 530) and Oshkosh (162 to 359) school districts also experienced large increases.