Even as officials report that homeschool growth in California has reached record levels, a primary alternative to parent-guided home education—online charter schools—continues to struggle.

Mike Smith, Home School Legal Defense Association president, said there’s good reason to believe the two trends are related.

HSLDA first reported on the issue last August, when we began hearing from parents who had been placed on waiting lists for charter schools because of new funding restrictions. Brick-and-mortar schools were still mostly closed because of COVID-19, and families were exploring educational options.

We encouraged them to try private homeschooling, which provides parents great flexibility in crafting custom programs that meet their students’ individual needs and interests.

“Now it’s a year later,” said Smith, “and all indications are that homeschool enrollment in California is off the charts. It’s a real testimony to the fact that so many parents make it a priority to ensure their children stay safe and keep learning.”

Big Numbers

The statistics certainly bear him out.

According to the California Globe, state Department of Education officials report that “the number of new homeschooling affidavits filed by parents has nearly tripled in the last few years, going from 14,548 in the 2018-2019 school year, to 22,433 in 2019-2020 and 34,715 in 2020-2021.”

The website goes on to state that, based on these affidavits, an estimated 400,000 students were homeschooled for at least part of the 2020-21 school year. That’s up from 200,000 homeschooled students pre-pandemic.

And though it’s impossible to know for certain the exact reasons why each family chose to switch to homeschooling, Smith added it’s reasonable to assume the ongoing struggles of online charter schools contributed to the change.

Continuing Struggles

Concern over the misuse of public funds by some educational companies led to the introduction of legislation that would have imposed several new restrictions on charter schools, including a limit on enrollment per school.

The bill was moved to the legislature’s inactive file in June. According to The San Diego Union-Tribune, the sponsor agreed to retire the legislation “as part of a working agreement with Gov. Gavin Newsom to extend a current moratorium on the creation of new non-classroom based charter schools until January 2025.”

Meanwhile, these educational entities face additional scrutiny regarding their academic effectiveness.

Early this year, The Washington Post shared the results of a new study that alleges California’s online charter school students perform well below their peers. The Post included this analysis from the study:

The score for online charter schools as a whole would rank in the 33rd percentile of all California schools. In math, online charter schools were further below the state average, equivalent to ranking in the 12th percentile of all California schools. These schools’ graduation rates were 13 points below the state average, and only 12.6 percent of graduating students in online charter schools were deemed ready for either college or a career.

Homeschool Success

By contrast, Smith said, a good deal of research shows homeschool students and graduates excel academically—often out-performing their peers—and go on to succeed in college, careers, and other adult pursuits.

“Homeschooling works because it’s directed by parents, the people who know and love their children best,” said Smith. “It minimizes the distractions that so often pop up in institutional settings, and it really allows students the best opportunity to focus on subjects that inspire them.”

He added: “We’re hoping that as more California families experience the benefits of homeschooling, more of them will also be encouraged to stick with it. And if they do run into challenges along the way, we hope they’ll remember that HSLDA is here to help.”