Home Education Network founder discusses homeschooling trends in Vermont

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.

Retta Dunlap Linkedin

Retta Dunlap is the founder of the Vermont Home Education Network.

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.”

Parents seeking guidance on homeschooling options may visit the Agency of Education’s Home Study page. Additional resources are available at the Vermont Home Education Network.

John Klar is an attorney and farmer residing in Brookfield. © Copyright True North Reports 2022. All rights reserved.

Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and Retta Dunlap Linkedin
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4 thoughts on “Home Education Network founder discusses homeschooling trends in Vermont

  1. Three cheers for Ms. Dunlap. Homeschooling is every bit the legitimate choice of parents seeking alternatives to public schooling, and the choice should command the same taxpayer support independent school tuition enjoys.

    Why? … some may ask.

    Because taxpayer education funding should follow the student.

    The logical and somewhat rhetorical question is: Why should a public school receive taxpayer education funding for students not in the public schools?

    • Mr. Eshelman,

      Thank you for the cheers!

      While homeschooling is indeed a legitimate parental choice in the education of their own children, many homeschooling families do not want the strings that come attached to the money. Perhaps tax credits would be better for homeschooling? Canada tried this already. The first year had no strings and by the third year the Canadian government was telling homeschooling families what materials they could and could not use. No thank you. The money is not worth it. They can keep their funding otherwise homeschooling, as we know it, will cease to exist.

      Actually, the public schools do not receive taxpayer education funding for students not in the public schools. Every October there is a census taken in the public schools of how many children are in attendance in the school building. That is where the calculation begins for funding the following school year. This can be nuanced. For example, if a child is there that month and goes to homeschooling or to an independent school in November, well for that one year they are part of the count, but kids move in and out of the public schools all the time and it evens out in the end. And once a child is enrolled in home study year after year, the school does not get “education funding” for them. Same goes for kids moving to independent schooling.

      • Retta: I disagree with your assessment on almost every level. This is not to say that I’m against homeschooling. To the contrary – I think homeschooling is the future of education. But your understanding of public-school governance and budgeting is curious. And to anyone taking the time to read beyond this point, be advised, we’re heading into the weeds of the public education administrative state. It is complicated… by design.

        First, to your concerns, Retta:

        Any monies legislated for parents to use to afford homeschooling can come with ‘strings’ attached. In fact, the right to homeschool already has strings attached. Those wishing to homeschool their children must meet certain regulations, even without receiving money. And what Canada tried is what Canada tried. That doesn’t mean what happened in Canada must happen here.

        Your speculative caution is premature. Especially given that State-Aid to homeschool does not yet exist, and even tax credits can come with strings attached. In the final analysis, parents don’t have to accept State funding, if they feel it has too many strings. But that doesn’t change my opinion that homeschooling parents deserve financial support too.

        Re: “Actually, the public schools do not receive taxpayer education funding for students not in the public schools.”

        Well, yes, they do. It’s the slight-of-hand known as ‘equalized student enrollments’ in which some students are counted as more than one person. In my local high school district, the ‘equalized student enrollment’ is approximately 25% higher than the actual student count. But I digress.

        School budgets are not approved ‘based’ on enrollments. Yes, the ‘October Count’ reflects the school enrollments for the remainder of the school fiscal year already in session (July 1st thru June 30th). But the budget for that fiscal year was submitted for approval by the electorate more than six months before the October Count takes place. School principals and superintendents propose a budget to their school boards, the school boards discuss/negotiate the proposed budget (usually in December and January of the preceding fiscal year), and the final approved number is submitted to the electorate for approval in March, to take effect on July 1st – again, six months before the corresponding ‘October Count’ is taken.

        Yes, State law requires that the per student costs be estimated and included in the annual warning when the budget is submitted to the voters. But the actual budget amount has many more considered aspects in its creation than enrollments.

        Re: “And once a child is enrolled in home study year after year, the school does not get “education funding” for them.”

        You’re missing the point that naysayers to School Choice (and homeschool funding) use to argue against vouchers – specifically, as they claim that vouchers or tax credits take money away from the public schools. The point I’m making is that this argument is based on a false premise. The tuition or tax credit money should follow the student.

        And it doesn’t matter how many kids are actually in the public school. Again, once a budget is passed by the electorate, despite the line items listed in that budget, the school board can spend the money in any way it chooses to do so. And it can spend more money than approved by the electorate if it chooses. The only requirement is that any budget deficit be reported in the subsequent fiscal year budget.

        Again, the determination of the budget has virtually nothing to do with the student enrollments. The argument that vouchers take money away from the public schools is correct. But the absurd implication in this logic is that the money should follow the school, not the student.

        To be clear: my recommendation is, that as long as the public chooses to subsidize education, the subsidy should be granted to parents to use for the education programs they believe best meet the needs of their children. Should there be some strings attached? Yes. Suffice it to say, that government is best that governs least. And we can discuss the extent of those strings in a subsequent post when it suits you.

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