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Home schooling is growing across the nation, especially in the Tampa Bay area

Child reads from a book at their desk for virtual schooling.
Pasco County Schools
Child reads from a book at their desk for virtual schooling.

Hillsborough County has the largest number of home-schooled children, according to a Washington Post analysis.

More families than ever turned to home schooling during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, as a Washington Post analysis shows, the number of homeschoolers remain high, particularly in Hillsborough County.

About 10,680 children in Hillsborough were being home-schooled at the beginning of the 2022 school year. That's more than any other district in the 32 states the Post was able to obtain reliable data from.

According to their analysis, Florida leads the nation with the most home-schooled children — around 154,000. Meanwhile, New York and Washington D.C. saw the biggest increase in home-schoolers since before the pandemic.

books at the hive home school store
Courtesy
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Kimberlee Tucker
Kimberlee Tucker runs The Homeschool Hive, LLC which sells home school-related products and offers consulting and annual evaluations for home-schoolers.

Various reasons are pushing families to home-school.

In Florida, they include pandemic-induced home-schooling, a turbulent political climate and an expanded voucher program that helps families subsidize education outside of the public school system.

Kimberlee Tucker runs The Homeschool Hive, a home school consulting service and educational resource store in Tampa. She said more families are looking for curriculum that suits their child's particular needs.

"Not all kids fit into a box. It's about how you relate to your child, and helping them learn the material in the way that they need to, to succeed," said Tucker.

"Home schooling years ago was typically for religious reasons. But now, it's almost like it's a grassroots movement back to bringing our children home no matter where you fall in your thought processes or your beliefs."
Kimberlee Tucker

Tucker said she realizes that the freedom that comes with homeschooling could be abused by "bad apples," but feels that that's "not the norm."

"Our state statute allows for wonderful freedoms for homeschoolers, but we also have accountability," she said.

In Florida, parents or family members must submit a letter of intent to home-school to the district. And, home-schooled students must pass an annual evaluation that is conducted by a state-certified educator.

According to High School of America, a company that offers online high school curriculum, Florida has "moderate" regulations when it comes to home-schooling.

A closer look at Tampa Bay area counties

Since 2017, Hillsborough County saw a 72% increase in the number of children being home-schooled. Meanwhile, public school enrollment increased by 3.4%.

The number of home-schoolers in Hillsborough and Pinellas dipped from the 2021-22 school year, but remains higher than pre-pandemic numbers.

However, home-schooling consistently grew in Pasco, Hernando, Sarasota, Manatee and Polk counties, according to the analysis of more than 6,700 districts.

As a whole, the data shows that there was a 51% increase in home-schooled students since the 2017-18 school year. Private school enrollment saw a 7% increase during the same period; public schools, a 4% increase.

The Post states that "obtaining accurate information about the home-schooling population in the United States is challenging," as some states do not require families to notify when they decide to educate their children at home and lack a reliable monitoring system.

Home-schooling attracts families from varied backgrounds

The home-schooling population is becoming more diverse as well. Parents across the political and ideological spectrum are choosing to educate their children at home.

"Home schooling years ago was typically for religious reasons," said Tucker, "But now, it's almost like it's a grassroots movement back to bringing our children home no matter where you fall in your thought processes or your beliefs."

child doing home school learning
Courtesy
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Ashley Bradley
Ashley Bradley home-schools her six-year-old daughter. She said public schools have become a political battleground, and does not feel the environment is safe for her child.

That's the case for Ashley Bradley, who said she home-schools her elementary school-aged daughter because of state legislation such as "Stop Woke" and "Don't Say Gay" that has made her and her wife feel unsafe about their daughter in a public school setting.

They're among a growing number of families who don't agree with a conservative-led movement that seeks to restrict discussion on topics such as gender identity, sexual orientation, and systemic racism.

"She [her daughter] is biracial and she does have two moms, and she has multiple other LGBTQIA+ family members. So we just didn't feel like it would be safe," said Bradley.

Bradley said, because the home school community is so large, she's able to connect with like-minded people who make her and her daughter feel accepted.

Home school co-ops offer some of the same social and extracurricular activities as public and private school systems, said Bradley. She sends her daughter to gymnastics and art classes so that she's still interacting with peers.

Home schoolers can even play sports at certain high schools.

"There are opportunities all over the place for homeschoolers," said Tucker, "Businesses realize homeschooling is something to offer — like karate studios, art studios, and field trips galore."

As resources for home-schooling continues to surge, the community will only continue to grow, she said.

"Home-schooling, it's not an oddity anymore," said Tucker.

As WUSF's general assignment reporter, I cover a variety of topics across the greater Tampa Bay region.
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