Can You Afford to Homeschool? Evaluating the Costs of Alternative Education
Believe it or not, it’s back to school time, and this year is unlike any we’ve seen before. When schools across the country closed their doors in the spring, many expected that the coronavirus pandemic would subside before class restarted in the fall.
Of course, COVID-19 persists, bringing far-reaching healthcare and economic consequences in its wake. In many places, soaring infections have made the start of school uncertain.
As a result, some schools are opting to start the school year virtually, hoping extra time in isolation will reduce infection rates and allow more time to prepare for students back on campus. Meanwhile, other schools are deploying a hybrid approach, allowing some students to return to school buildings while others continue virtual learning. Of course, some are choosing to open for business as usual.
Taken together, there is incredible uncertainty about the efficacy and responsibility of restarting schools. When coupled with broad disillusionment with earlier attempts at virtual learning, this reality is driving up the number of people considering or opting to homeschool their kids. According to a survey by Real Clear Education, a curation platform for educational issues, 40% of parents indicated that they were considering alternative options to traditional school structures.
However, many education experts are encouraging families to make this decision carefully, noting that homeschooling is a significant undertaking for families.
It can also have a substantial impact on personal finances, something that looms large for families navigating an uncertain economy. While we're not experts in childhood education, here at MMI we know a thing or two about personal finances. We even have many homeschoolers in our ranks, including myself. To help you in the decision-making process, we asked our staff to discuss some of the financial considerations associated with homeschooling.
Here’s what we found.
Homeschooling & Your Budget
The costs associated with homeschooling will vary by household. However, everyone should evaluate these expenses - both direct and ancillary - before committing to full-time at-home education.
For several months, parents have been asked to play many roles at once. They were simultaneously employees, parents, teachers, and an exclusive support system. This isn’t sustainable, and opting to homeschool is committing to being your child’s primary educator. Although this arrangement is nuanced and somewhat flexible, it may require a parent to take reduced hours, a temporary leave of absence, or quit a job altogether. While families can find creative ways to both work and teach – including relying on extended family and tutors to provide additional academic support – it’s important to crunch the numbers and consider your options before making a decision.
Peer-to-peer interactions continue to be one of the most valuable, intangible elements of in-person schooling. Parents choosing to homeschool will likely want to augment this through camps, clubs, sports or other extracurricular activities. While these activities are optional, they each come with a price tag that needs to be factored into your bottom line.
A commitment to homeschooling might require updating or retrofitting space in your home for this purpose. Parents and students will need workspaces, supplies, and other upgrades to create a fertile learning environment. Some of these costs aren’t mandatory (or these features may already exist in your home), but understand the true costs of your workspace expectations, and factor them into your decision-making process.
Schools are outfitted with a plethora of academic resources that meet the needs of all types of learners. These “extras” come with a cost. Evaluate your child’s academic needs, and estimate the potential academic assistance costs required to provide a high-quality academic experience.
Opting to use an individual curriculum is an up-front investment. There are entire organizations, blogs, and digital resources dedicated to this, which can help parents best understand the cost of academic curriculum. However, be careful not to assume that homeschooling can be completed on free resources alone.
How to Consolidate Costs
Homeschooling undoubtedly comes with a cost, but it isn’t necessarily a net loss. Before making a decision, carefully evaluate your entire household budget for potential savings. This might include:
While homeschooling, can you consolidate your vehicles? Moreover, how much money can be saved if one parent is no longer commuting to work?
When families are more home-based, they have the opportunity to be more thoughtful about diet and food plans, giving them more control over an often-overspent budget category.
Employment & education-related spending. Eliminate costs associated with maintaining a professional wardrobe, licensing, and other job-related expenses. Similarly, parents might be able to save money by spending less on the school clothes and other items that typically accompany the on-campus experience.
The same circumstances that encouraged you to homeschool in the first place are curtailing travel and recreational opportunities. During this season, these budget savings can help make up some of the difference when choosing to homeschool.
Should You Homeschool?
COVID-19 has pulled back the illusion that we are entitled to a public education that is both academically rigorous while serving as a de facto daycare. All parents want to make the best decision for their children, and there likely isn’t a right or wrong answer when it comes to opting to homeschool (although the stress and long-term financial impact could be a factor). Parents should carefully evaluate their finances as part of a holistic assessment of homeschooling as a best practice for your family.
Ultimately, it’s important to remember that this decision doesn’t have to be permanent. In the years ahead, you can pivot and make adjustments. Just because you are making a change right now, doesn’t mean that you have to make this decision forever. Do your best to make an informed decision and remember you aren’t alone.