Parents opting to home-school beyond closures add to school finance concerns

But if there is a massive shift to home-schooling in the next few months, school districts could feel the financial pinch for years to come. 

“The way the state statutes work is that when the state is determining how much it is going to spend and allocate for public education, one of the basic components of that calculation is how many students are in the public school system,” said Daniel Thatcher, a senior fellow in education at the National Conference of State Legislatures.

State laws differ, but in general, student counts matter for determining resources, including school staff as well as per-pupil funding, for the following school year, Thatcher said. That means school districts are preparing for next year based on pre-COVID budgets — funds that may no longer be guaranteed, especially in light of state economic hardships[2]

“States are going to make mid-year cuts. They’re going to have to,” Thatcher said. “If a district relies heavily on state revenue … then that means they’ll have to cut staff or they’ll cut a lot of things. If there’s students leaving the public school system, you just don’t know yet what that’s going to look like.”

How likely is a mass exodus of students?

Thatcher said he’s heard people discuss the option of home-schooling their kids next year if remote learning is still in play, but he’s not personally convinced there will be a mass exodus out of public schools since only a relatively small segment of the population has the option to home-school. And if the Great Recession is any indication, private schools will likely lose students because some parents will no longer be able to afford tuition prices, so those students could end up taking the place of students who leave public schools.

“It could be just a wash,” Thatcher said.

The impact, if there is one directly linked to students being home-schooled, will most likely be felt in the 2021-22 school year, based on next year’s student counts. 

Meanwhile, some school leaders are upping their efforts to keep families engaged.

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