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Home Schooling Rose 21% Across North Carolina During Pandemic Year, New Tally Shows

Kailyn McCain was home-schooled last year, but her mother has enrolled her in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools for 2021-22.
Jarrett McCain
Kailyn McCain was home-schooled last year, but her mother has enrolled her in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools for 2021-22.

When public schools opened with remote classes and uncertain schedules last August, it quickly became clear that a lot of North Carolina families were choosing other options for their kids.

New state tallies of home schooling and private-school enrollment put numbers to where they went.

Almost 180,000 North Carolina students were home-schooled last year, an increase of more than 20% over the previous year. Mecklenburg County alone saw about 2,100 more children join the ranks of home-schoolers.

The number of families licensed to home-school their kids rose from about 95,000 in 2019-20 to almost 113,000 last year.

In the last five years, the state's estimated home-school enrollment has gone from roughly 118,000 to almost 180,000, increasing by 52%.

Private Schools Grew More Slowly

Private-school enrollment also grew, but on a smaller scale. Statewide enrollment topped 107,000, up about 3%.

Mecklenburg's private school total rose 2.4%, to about 18,800. Lincoln, Union and Cabarrus counties saw larger-than-average percentage increases, but have fewer students in private schools.

Over the past five years, enrollment in North Carolina's private schools has risen almost 10%.

In counties like Mecklenburg and Wake, where private schools are plentiful, private enrollment tops home-schooling, but that's not the case in many smaller counties.

'Market Share' Shifts

Even with the significant drop in traditional public schools that was reported last fall — school districts were down an average of 5% statewide — they served about 76% of North Carolina's school-age children last year.

State and local education officials say some of the home-schooled students will likely return to public schools, with in-person classes a near certainty for the coming year. Large numbers of families kept their kids home from kindergarten last year, with total enrollment down 15%. Those children may show up as first-graders or kindergarteners in August.

Charter schools, where enrollment has been growing steadily for years, accounted for about 7% of school-age kids statewide. The new reports indicate that about 10% of all North Carolina students were home-schooled last year and 6% attended private schools.

In Mecklenburg County, about 72% of students were enrolled in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, 12% in charter schools, 10% in private schools and 7% in home schools. (Rounding accounts for the fact that state percentages come to 99% and Mecklenburg's come to 101%.)

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Ann Doss Helms has covered education in the Charlotte area for over 20 years, first at The Charlotte Observer and then at WFAE. Reach her at ahelms@wfae.org or 704-926-3859.