Homeschooling rates in North Carolina are soaring to a point believed to be higher than the state's number of children in private schools.
According to the newest figures, 60,950 homeschools existed for the 2013-2014 academic year — 14.3% more than last year and 27% higher than two years ago. It is estimated that 98,172 students attended those homeschools, surpassing the 95,768 students attending the state's private schools.
"If you're dissatisfied with public education, you really have two routes," said Kevin McClain, president of North Carolinians For Home Education, a statewide support group. "You can send your child to a private school – which is really expensive – or you can homeschool. The economy means that, for many people, you homeschool."
Homeschooling first became an option for North Carolina parents in 1985 when it was made legal by the state Supreme Court. That first year, 2,300 students were homeschooled. The number has continued to rise with growing concerns over class size, school violence, and freedom of religion.
Urban areas within the state are seeing some of the largest growth. Mecklenburg County offers the largest number of home schools in the state at 4,587, with an estimated 7,274 students attending. Mecklenburg County is the largest county in North Carolina, with a population tipping 1 million as of November 2013.
The most recent growth in homeschooling coincides with the implementation of the Common Core standards in the state's public schools. Although the standards are in use in more than 40 states, some do not agree with education they deliver, saying that type of learning is not for everyone.
"Common Core is a big factor that I hear people talk about," said Beth Herbert, founder of Lighthouse Christian Homeschool Association, which has around 350 families, largely in the northern Wake County area "They're not happy with the work their kids are coming home with. They've decided to take their children home."
Legislation was passed in July by the General Assembly in an effort to replace the Common Core with state-crafted standards.
With homeschooling becoming an increasingly popular option, it is possible for students to attend but still stay involved in extracurricular activities with other children, including sports.
Public schools in the state still have the highest enrollment rate with 1.5 million students. Legislative efforts to offer tax credits to homeschool families as well as allowing homeschooled children to attend class online free through a virtual public school program have not been successful due to the efforts of public school supporters.
"We want to keep public schools, but if people want to homeschool or send their kids to private school that's their choice," said Christopher Hill, director of the education and law project for the North Carolina Justice Center, a liberal Raleigh think tank. "But taxpayer money shouldn't go for that."