Families Keep Homeschooling Despite Tough Times
David Crary - The Associated Press
When hard times reached the Schneider household in central Oregon, the longtime stay-at-home mom took action - getting a job at Subway to offset a drop in her husband's earnings. What she didn't do was also notable: She didn't stop homeschooling her three teenage children.
Despite the impact of hard economic times, parents around the country are continuing to homeschool their children. (Photo: homeschool.com)
Colleen Schneider works evenings so she's home for her favored morning teaching hours. The family scrimps - more frozen pizza, less eating out. But an inflexible 9-to-5 job that would force her to quit homeschooling was not an option.
"I would fight tooth and nail to homeschool," said Schneider, 47, a devout Roman Catholic who wants to convey her values to her children. "I'm making it work because it's my absolute priority."
Other families across the country are making similar decisions - college-age children chipping in with their earnings, laid-off fathers sharing teaching duties, mothers taking part-time jobs - with the goal of continuing to homeschool in the face of economic setbacks.
Before the recession, the ranks of homeschool students had been growing by an estimated 8% annually; the latest federal figures, from 2007, calculate the total at about 1.5 million.
While some families are giving up because of a stay-at-home parent's need to get a job, the recession overall will likely be a further boost to homeschooling, according to parents and educators interviewed by The Associated Press.
"We're going to see continued growth," said Brian Ray, president of the National Home Education Research Institute in Salem, Oregon. "The reasons parents home-educate are not passing, faddish things."
Christopher Klicka of Warrenton, Va., senior counsel for the Home School Legal Defense Association and co-teacher along with his wife of seven homeschooled children, says hard times enhance homeschooling's appeal as private school tuition becomes unaffordable and some public schools contemplate cutbacks.
"People are looking to homeschooling as an alternative more now in light of economic circumstances," he said, citing its low cost and potential for strengthening family bonds.
At Allendale Academy in Clearwater, Fla., which provides resources for homeschoolers, enrollment has risen 50% over the past two years to about 900 students as families desert private schools, says academy director Patricia Carter.
"Often one parent has been laid off," she said. "That makes private school tuition impossible, and they don't want to send their kids back to public school."
Her academy charges $65 per year to support students through 8th grade, $95 for high school students, compared to private school tuitions often running many thousands of dollars per year.
For frugal families, homeschooling can be a good fit. Used academic material is available at low cost; free research resources are on tap on the Internet and at libraries.
"Homeschoolers are pretty self-reliant," said Judy Aron of West Hartford, Conn., who has homeschooled three children. "They'd rather cut back on other things.... They very vehemently don't want to see themselves as victims."
Michael Marcucci, of Middlebury, Conn., is president of the Connecticut Homeschool Network, which has about 1,500 member families - including 34 who signed up in January alone.
"During difficult times, people tend to go back to basics," Marcucci said. "I know a family with five children - the father's been out of work 18 months and they're still homeschooling."
His own family, with three homeschooled children, got a taste of that challenge last year when Marcucci, a banker, was out of work for six months. His wife continued homeschooling, rather than seek a job, and he supplemented his job-hunting with teaching stints of his own.
"It was a chance to reconnect with family, to get to know your children in a different way," he said. "I was excited about the opportunity to teach Greek history, to help out with algebra."
Andrea Farrier, a mother of three girls from Kalona, Iowa, does double-duty - homeschooling her daughters and working part-time for her school district as a supervisory teacher for 23 other homeschool families. Several are struggling financially - in some cases because of a father's layoff - but abandoning homeschooling so the mother can find a job is not their response, Farrier said.
"These families are already sacrificing - when times get tough, there's no belt left to tighten," she said. "These are families who homeschool because public education wouldn't serve the needs of their children - it's the last thing they'll give up."
Among Farrier's colleagues - both as a homeschooling mom and as a part-time teacher - is Crystal Gingerich, 44, of Kinross, Iowa.
Her husband, Joe, used to be a self-employed electrician, but business dwindled and he's now a truck driver whose routes across the Midwest keep him away from home except on weekends. That leaves her single-handedly running the household on weekdays, and teaching her four children ages 15, 13, 10 and 4.
"It's definitely shifted the pressure load on me in terms of being a single parent when he's gone," Gingerich said. "But I'm doing what I love."
In Michigan, among the states hardest hit by recession, April Morris, 44, of Auburn Hills remains committed to homeschooling even though she's now working full-time at Target - a job she started after her husband was laid off from his computer job.
The three oldest Morris children have moved on to college, but 13-year-old Ben continues to homeschool, getting help from his father and older siblings as well as his mother, who works evenings and has Thursdays off to maximize her teaching availability.
"It's an easier adjustment for him than me," she said. "I still feel I'm supposed to be home with him all day."
In Southfield, Mich., mother of eight Abbey Waterman says she's able to continue homeschooling her four youngest children thanks in large part to support from the four oldest, who've been willing to chip in with earnings from caddying, guitar playing and tutoring.
"We're used to making a lot out of a little," she said.
So far, her husband, Kevin, has been steadily employed with a financial printing company, but the family takes nothing for granted.
"His company laid off two entire departments - so we're not sure he'll be laid off or not," Waterman said. "If he was, my college-age kids offered to get jobs so we could continue what we're doing."
She said some of her friends have taken more drastic measures - selling their cars or even their homes - to keep homeschooling.
Shelly Mabe, a coordinator for a group of 250 Christian homeschooling families in Michigan's Macomb County, said she hasn't heard of any of them giving up homeschooling - but some have moved to other states where laid-off fathers had better job prospects.
In La Pine, Oregon, Colleen Schneider is still trying to adjust to the challenges that arose when a booming local real estate market collapsed and her husband's earnings in drywall work plummeted.
Initially, she tried to work an early morning shift at Subway, but soon switched to evenings.
"I felt ripped out of my house," she said. "When you homeschool, the morning is a very precious time. You greet your children, encourage them to get on schedule.... Otherwise, the tendency to sleep in and put things off really creeps in."
Schneider hopes to leave Subway soon to work as a caregiver for the elderly, but she's intent on continuing to homeschool.
"I've seen too much good come out of it to change now," she said.