The first year North Carolina parents could establish a home school for their children, the state recorded 381 such schools with slightly more than 800 students for the 1985-86 school year.
Fast forward to this school year and the state has 112,614 schools on record, educating an estimated 179,990 children.
“As home schools increased in the state, DNP staff did not,” Dr. Chena Flood, director of the Division of Non-Public (DNP) Education, told members of the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on General Government on Tuesday.
“So, we were not able to physically visit every single home school in the state. And as the statute is written, they do not have to provide enrollment numbers annually.”
Dr. Flood said that the pandemic caused home schooling numbers to spike even more.
During the 2020-21 academic year, parents filed 19,454 Notices of Intent (NOI) to open their own home school — a 105% increase over pre-pandemic filings.
Between July 2021 and January of this year, another 12,314 NOIs were filed.
But when it comes to how well those students may be performing, Dr. Flood says the state really has very little to go on.
“Do we have any read at all in how many kids actually graduate from home school?” Sen. Bob Steinburg (R-Camden) asked.
“That information is not collected by our division, so we can’t actually say,” Dr. Flood responded. “The enrollment is not anything that’s required by statute. We can’t even tell you the list of 12th graders or students who are 17 and 18 in the system, if they graduated and if they are still in that school.”
Less than satisfied, Steinburg asked what the division would need to “amp up” its data to get that answer.
“In other words, to be able to track some of these home school kids so they don’t get lost,” Steinburg said. “I know some who have been very successful, who have even gone on to military academies, but I’m wondering about the vast majority of them. What do you need to do better to get more accurate numbers to us?”
“As the statute is currently written, we can’t do anything to get that information that you need. If you would like other data to be collected, that requires a statutory revision,” Flood explained.
Rep. Erin Paré (R-Wake) questioned what testing data was available.
“Home schools, do they pick their own test? Do you collect that data?”
Dr. Flood said home schools get to decide their curriculum and the test they would like to administer.
“We do not collect test data, if you will. The law requires that they administer the test and make the test available upon request. And ‘upon request’ can have many different definitions in the home school realm,” Flood offered.
“The law only requires that they have a test administered. It does not have to link to their curriculum. You would think that is the case, but because they have free rein to decide their curriculum and to decide the test, we have no idea.”
“So, they would pick the curriculum, the test is taken, but they could fail the test and still graduate?” Paré asked.
“Yes, ma’am. The law does not have any stipulations about academic requirements or standards.”
Dr. Flood said the law only requires home schools to administer a national standardized test, hold onto the results for a year, and make the test available if requested by the state.
“But making it available to us is just showing they had a test administered within the last year,” Flood continued.
“How do you inspect what you expect? The program seems like once you are accepted into home schooling that’s it. Is that it?” asked Sen. Ernestine Bazemore (D-Bertie).
“Because of our small staff and because of the way the statute is written, it is a challenge to know if they are actually operating and it’s a challenge to know if they truly administer the test,” Dr. Flood said.
Some schools have refused to provide requested records, unless a member of the Division of Non-Public (DNP) Education is willing to travel to the individual home.
Flood said with more than 100,000 home schools and a staff of just six, her office does not have the resources to follow-up in person with each school.
“So, when they do not comply…what happens?” Sen. Bazemore inquired.
“The statute does not say that we can close them for not providing us with that information,” Dr. Flood responded.
“I’m presuming the statute must be as old as when home schooling started. I wonder if there need to be some changes made to that statue,” Sen. Steinburg offered.
Flood said the home schooling law has not be updated since 2013, when the state allowed parents to hire tutors and other experts to come into the home and teach their children.
North Carolina projects it could see 10,000-11,000 additional home schools annually for the next several years.