It’s back-to-school season and some parents aren’t happy about that.
Take the example of Rousmery Negrón, a single mom of two boys who was featured in a recent Associated Press article on chronic absenteeism. After being insulted by his teacher and placed in a special classroom for students with alleged hyperactivity, her middle schooler didn’t want to go to his assigned district school in Springfield, Massachusetts, located in the western part of the state.
Negrón, who is from Puerto Rico and works as a school cook, would rather not send him. She told the AP that she’d love to homeschool her boys if she could but has to work full-time and doesn’t want them to miss out on social connections. “If I had another option, I wouldn’t send them to school,” said Negrón.
For this mom and many like her, there are more low-cost education options available than ever that blend the best of homeschooling and traditional schooling.
For instance, hybrid homeschooling programs, such as the University Model®, have been gaining in popularity for more than two decades and provide affordable education options for homeschoolers.
At Grace Preparatory Academy, a University Model® hybrid homeschool just outside of Boston, students attend drop-off classes with hired teachers two days a week, from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., and then continue to work on their curriculum at home with their parents or in self-organized cooperatives.
Grace Prep was launched in 2012 by two homeschooling moms who wanted more consistent structure and social interactions for their children within a faith-based learning environment. Their initial class had seven students. Today, Grace Prep serves 72 K-8 students with 11 staff members, and costs just over $4,000 a year, with scholarships available to further defray fees.
“I think parents want to take back a little bit of control over their children’s education,” said Jenna Wertheimer who leads Grace Prep and has seen its enrollment triple since 2020. There are dozens of University Model® hybrid schools across the US, and three in Massachusetts, including one near Springfield, where Negrón lives.
There are also low-cost secular options for families who cannot or don’t want to assume full-time homeschooling responsibilities. North Star is a self-directed learning center for tweens and teens located in Sunderland, Massachusetts, about 30 miles from Springfield, that homeschoolers can use as a full-time schooling alternative. With a sliding scale tuition structure, and a maximum cost of $9,500 a year with generous scholarships, North Star is a fraction of the cost of traditional, secular private schools in Massachusetts.
Launched in 1996 by Kenneth Danford, a former public school teacher who became disillusioned with the conventional school system, North Star offers regular classes and mentoring for homeschoolers who want to chart their own path to adulthood. In 2013, Danford cofounded Liberated Learners, a global network of North Star-model hybrid homeschool programs.
Even these low-cost schooling alternatives can be financially inaccessible for some families, which is why school choice policies that enable a portion of education funding to go to students directly for approved expenses are so helpful. In Springfield, for example, the school district spends more than $18,600 of taxpayer money per student each year. Even a small amount of that funding given to parents who want to exit an assigned district school would go a long way toward covering the cost of various schooling alternatives.
Massachusetts doesn’t have private school choice, but many states now do, including nine that have passed universal or near-universal choice programs over the past three years. In Utah, for example, one of the states that passed a universal education savings account program this year, all K-12 students will be eligible to receive about $8,000 per year to use on an assortment of educational expenses, including for hybrid homeschooling and microschooling programs.
My heart aches for moms like Negrón who don’t want to send their children to an assigned district school, but also don’t want to go to jail for violating compulsory schooling laws and can’t find or fund a schooling alternative.
Fortunately, education entrepreneurs are steadily building more low-cost, learner-focused education options across the US, and those options are becoming even more abundant and accessible in states with robust school choice policies.
Back-to-school time should not be filled with dread by either students or their parents. Childhood learning can and should be joyful, and there are now many affordable educational environments that foster that joy.
Kerry McDonald is a Senior Education Fellow at FEE and host of the weekly LiberatED podcast. She is also the author of Unschooled: Raising Curious, Well-Educated Children Outside the Conventional Classroom (Chicago Review Press, 2019), an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute, education policy fellow at State Policy Network, and a regular Forbes contributor. Kerry has a B.A. in economics from Bowdoin College and an M.Ed. in education policy from Harvard University. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts with her husband and four children. You can sign up for her weekly email newsletter here.
Image by Jordan Whitt on Unsplash