Private schools have made the news as an alternative to public schools, but increasing numbers of Vermont parents find homeschools are an attractive additional option.
Vermont’s public school students have exhibited declining proficiency scores, compounding parental concerns about illegal drug use, anxiety, disciplinary and bullying threats, COVID measures, and ideological indoctrination of novel gender and race “theories.”
Homeschooling provides an affordable and trustworthy option for families who favor parental control over what — and where — their children are taught.
Vermont’s public schools have experienced declining student enrollment for decades. The government narrative is that many young people are moving out of state and thus not raising their children here.
“There’s so many factors at play, right? The overall narrative about declining enrollment has been that just young Vermonters are less likely to want to live in Vermont than they were in previous generations.” Ted Fisher, an Agency of Education spokesperson, told VTDigger in an interview in 2021.
A dramatic increase in homeschooling was witnessed when COVID struck – when schools closed, families were widely left with the choice of either homeschooling, or leaving their kids untaught. Essentially, every student in Vermont became a homeschooler, overnight. As the pandemic abated, many families returned their kids to public schools.
But the trend toward increased homeschooling has prevailed. Retta Dunlap, an advocate of homeschooling for decades, is founder of Vermont Home Education Network. She has tracked these numbers closely.
According to Dunlap, about 2,300 kids enrolled in home study prior to the pandemic. During the pandemic the number rose to more than 5,000 kids enrolled. It now sits at about 3,000 kids.
The Agency of Education has clearly taken note of this trend. The agency’s new Family Engagement Council specifically recognizes the need for feedback from this growing cadre of child educators. Members of the panel “must be a parent, guardian, or family member who is the primary caregiver of a student enrolled in a Vermont school or Home Study program.”
There are other reasons more parents see homeschooling as an attractive option for their kids. Recent controversies, such as the girls’ changing room incident at Randolph Union High School, have doubtless fueled concerns about evolving school policies. In addition, COVID is credited with adversely impacting test scores, but it also exposed more parents to what students are being taught. Many parents are alarmed that educational time and resources are being diverted away from instruction in core learning areas toward ideological conditioning, social-emotional learning, and other novel changes.
Retta Dunlap emphasizes that the common impetus for the homeschooling decision is parental control.
“What turns a family to homeschool their child is as varied as the families,” she said. “I know that in the past a lack of education, bullying, special ed issues, and more recently Covid were the reasons. When parents turn to homeschooling, most of them are of the same mindset that they can do it better than the public schools, or they would not make such a choice.”
Dunlap said she hasn’t heard parents discuss critical race, gender, or pronouns as reasons to homeschool, and she tries to keep “homeschooling away from politics as much as possible.”
Vermont’s home study provisions are detailed in 16 V.S.A. § 166b. There do not appear to be any legislative initiatives intended to undermine homeschooling rights, and the Agency of Education affirms that “every family in Vermont has the right to educate their own children.”
Dunlap said she is confident that the homeschooling creed is alive and well, and here to stay, in the Green Mountains.
“Homeschooling in Vermont is not left or right. It stands apart from all that,” she said. “…We can all stand together to protect a parent’s right to direct the education of their own children. No one political point of view is allowed to claim it as their own.
“I have fiercely defended the neutrality of homeschooling in Vermont as it is the only way we can protect it by speaking with one voice even though we come from different points of view. Over the years many have tried to co-opt the homeschooling movement, as it is strong, but we are a one issue collection of like minded people when it comes to educating our own children.”
John Klar is an attorney and farmer residing in Brookfield. © Copyright True North Reports 2022. All rights reserved.