- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 7, 2005

MYRTLE POINT, Ore. (AP) — One day after jazz band practice, Peter Wilson’s band teacher pulled him aside.

The instructor wanted to know whether Peter, 14, who is home-schooled with his three brothers, liked being taught by his mother, and why he didn’t come to public school full time, instead of just for music.

When he got home, Peter told his parents.

Mark and Teckla Wilson, who are rearing their four sons in Mr. Wilson’s roomy childhood home in this former timber town, soon found out to their annoyance that the teacher’s questions were part of an effort by the Myrtle Point School District to persuade home-schooling families to give the public system a shot.

Enrollment has been dropping steadily as timber jobs have dwindled, and Oregon’s budget cuts have left Myrtle Point facing a $675,000 gap for next year. Because Oregon bases its state school funding on enrollment, every home-schooled child Myrtle Point can woo means an extra $5,000 or so. An estimated 100 youngsters living in the district are home-schooled.

Already, 18 percent of the nation’s 1.1 million home-schooled students are enrolled at least part time in public school, usually for specialty courses such as music, art or science that are more difficult for parents to teach at home.

In Myrtle Point, the district is trying to phase in some courses that could prove particularly appealing to home-school parents, such as forestry, ecology and computer science.

Superintendent Robert Smith said the school system also is willing to adjust the curriculum — for example, by allowing discussion of creationism in biology class, or biblical literature in English courses.

Myrtle Point, with an enrollment of 779, is not the only district pursuing such a strategy.

In Walla Walla, Wash., school officials have proposed a learning center that they hope will attract at least 30 home-school students, to help cope with a projected $200,000 in budget cuts next school year.

A school district in Fort Collins, Colo., started a program aimed at drawing home-schooled youngsters into the system with two days a week of art, science and music. In 2003, it earned the district an extra $203,341 in state funding.

There are no guarantees the strategy will work.

Many home-school parents are fiercely loyal to the lifestyle and to the educational benefits they see for their children. Some want to protect their youngsters from the peer pressure and drugs they fear are rampant in public schools. Others, such as the Wilsons, home-school their children in part for religious reasons.

“I like instruction where the instructor, not just the body of knowledge, is important,” Teckla Wilson said. “Home schooling allows you to work out the pace that is best for them. And, we are Christians and, for me, it is important that I teach them to think with a biblical worldview.”

After Mark Wilson complained, Myrtle Point officials told teachers not to try to recruit home-schooled students directly. Instead, parents received letters inviting them to a dinner to hear about classes the school is adding.

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