Homeschooling enrollment in North Carolina increases every year, and local parents cite standardized tests and a need for individual attention as reasons to begin educating their children at home. But financial barriers can make it difficult for some families to make that choice.
When Amy Scurria’s daughter was two years old, she and her husband could already tell she had a different way of learning that might not fit well at a public school.
“We would later learn to define her style of learning as tactile and kinesthetic,” she said. “But at the time, we just saw an unusually active and bright little girl.”
Scurria didn’t immediately consider homeschooling as an option. A Durham resident, she thought about sending her daughter to a local charter school.
“We did feel that we might need to navigate that process of sending her to the Durham Public Schools carefully, and we were considering charter schools,” she said. “My assumption was that most people who homeschool do it for religious reasons, and we are not very religious.”
In North Carolina, the majority of homeschooling families do choose to do so at least in part for religious reasons. But about 39 percent, or 26,282 home schools, are independent from any religious affiliation.
After meeting other children in her neighborhood who were homeschooled, Scurria began to research the possibility.
“We began to meet kids in our neighborhood who were homeschooled, and we began to notice that there was something about them that really set them apart,” she said. “They tended to have conversations with us with great ease, making direct eye contact and speaking with unusual confidence.”
Scurria said she sees many advantages that come as a result of homeschooling her daughter.
Like access to a close-knit community of other homeschoolers.
Local support groups such as Chapel Hill Homeschoolers, Christian Home Educators of Greater Durham and Great Endeavor Homeschoolers, which covers both Durham and Hillsborough, provide homeschoolers with a network of families they can turn to.
Scurria said she and her husband have seven university degrees between them, so she believes her daughter is getting a top-notch education.
“Because we have the freedom to structure our daughter’s learning, we also have the option to give her the best information out there,” she said. “We can research things for our daughter and use our teaching skills to impart the age-appropriate information to her.”
Homeschooling enrollment in North Carolina has increased every year except one since the practice became officially legal in 1985 by the North Carolina Supreme Court’s decision in Delconte v. North Carolina.
The state’s homeschooling enrollment increased from 98,172 to 106,853 students from the 2013-2014 school year to the 2014–2015 school year.
Former teacher Bekki Buenviaje never planned to homeschool her children either.
“I used to be a public school teacher myself and was a supporter of public schools,” she said. “The public schools were failing my students, and I had no choice but to homeschool.”
Buenviaje lives in Orange County, and her children would attend Chapel Hill–Carrboro City Schools (CHCCS) if they were not homeschooled.
CHCCS is ranked by Niche.com as the best public school district in North Carolina. But Buenviaje said her kids were in need of individualized attention that the schools weren’t able to provide.
“I have been able to individually design my children’s curriculum to meet their specific needs,” she said. “The whole family is involved in the learning process, and learning never really stops. I know exactly what each of their strengths and weaknesses are.”
Kristin Bowman, a former public elementary school teacher whose children would normally attend Durham Public Schools, had similar reasons for choosing homeschooling.
“When I had my first child and left teaching to be with her, the tide was beginning to shift in public education, with a significant increase in the role of testing,” she said.
“As we moved to North Carolina and added two more children to the family, I began to think seriously about homeschooling. I honestly wasn’t ready to hand my five–year–old over to the school system for six or seven hours a day, regardless of the school’s quality.”
Dilip Barman also has experience as a teacher and lives in Durham. He said he homeschools his second-grade daughter because he has problems with standardized testing.
“If I’m teaching other people, I should be teaching my own child,” he said.
Barman said public schools can be too distracting. He said he and his daughter are usually done with school material for the day in about two hours.
Ruth Steenwyk lived in Wake County while homeschooling her two sons, and now lives in Orange County while homeschooling her 14–year–old daughter, who would otherwise attend Orange High School.
Steenwyk said her daughter has always learned at an accelerated rate and is hoping to graduate high school at 16. She is also heavily involved in performing arts activities.
“Homeschooling has allowed her many more opportunities to take higher-level classes and to take part in performances than she might not have been able to participate in had she been restricted to a public school schedule,” she said.
Homeschooling allows children to meet their full intellectual potential, Steenwyk said.
“There is less busy work and more emphasis on mastery of skills. There is also greater freedom in choosing materials and teaching methods.”
Some families cite financial issues as possible disadvantages of homeschooling.
“Not everyone is a teacher or has the resources, endurance or time to homeschool effectively,” Steenwyk said.
Scurria said her inability to have a full-time job can sometimes be a burden for the family.
“But it’s a choice we are making,” she said. “We do find ourselves limited in not having the options for fancy vacations, for instance. But again, we would not trade those vacations for what we are experiencing with our daughter and our family.”
According to census data, Chatham County has a median household income of about $57,140. Durham County, on the other hand, has a median household income of $52,038.
Chatham County has a rate of school–aged children who are homeschooled that’s double that of Durham: about 6.8 percent of children aged five to 19 are homeschooled, as opposed to 3.6 percent in Durham County.
But financial difficulties are also present in less obvious ways.
Buenviaje, for example, pays taxes on her house in Chapel Hill that go to benefit the public school system, which she cannot take advantage of.
“I can only hope that my tax dollars are supporting students who are getting something out of it,” she said. “I still do volunteer work in support of public schools, because I know not everyone can homeschool.”
Property owners in Chapel Hill pay a special district school tax rate of 20.8 cents for every $100 of assessed property value. —
The process of getting approval from the North Carolina Department of Administration to start homeschooling is simple.
To begin, a family must file a notice of intent to operate a homeschool. Afterwards, there is a specific amount of time to submit documentation of diplomas or degrees to ensure that the teachers in the homeschool are qualified.
While homeschooling, a family must keep academic and attendance records. Students are required to take one standardized test a year, which must be kept on file.
Scurria said one of the biggest benefits of homeschooling is the experiential learning her daughter gets to practice.
“We have known many families who will, for instance, rent an RV and travel across the country for firsthand learning…that is ripe for scientific research, gathering of information to grasp history or meeting different people to understand our world from other points of view,” she said.
“Because my daughter is with me throughout the day, she has the opportunity to learn so many things beyond the core subjects.”