- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 12, 2006

‘I would love to home-school,” a parent says, sighing despondently. “We just can’t afford it. Both of us have to work.”

The question of how much home-schooling costs could be one of those math problems that gave most of us nightmares in our adolescent years — the ones that start off, “A train is traveling west at 75 miles per hour.”

The typical school district spends thousands of dollars per student each year, according to “Strengths of Their Own,” a study by Brian Ray, president of the National Home Education Research Institute. Public schools spend from a low of $3,206 in Utah to $9,075 in New Jersey per student per year. However, that isn’t the kind of outlay required of home-school parents. According to the same study, the average amount spent by home-schooling parents on each child’s education each year is $546.

“It is clear that the direct costs of public (state-run) schooling in the United States are at least 975 percent (or 10 times as much) of what the home education families in this study spent on educational materials and services,” Mr. Ray concluded (www.nheri.org).

How about private school? Private schools in our area can range from $6,000 per year up to $25,000 per year, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Even with grants, this option probably will cost parents a healthy chunk of change out of their net income. The teacher-pupil ratio is slightly lower for private schools — about 15 pupils per teacher as compared to 17 for public schools. However, the teacher-pupil ratio for home-schoolers is, of course, far lower than either.

Certainly, $546 per year is a lot less for a family to spend per child than private schooling parents are spending. Most families, however, have to count the cost of having one less breadwinner.

If mom commands a salary of $40,000 per year, the family will have to weigh whether they can do without that money to home-school. Of course, it’s important to subtract the taxes paid on the income; the cost of working (transportation, clothes, food); the time lost commuting, transporting children to school, school-related sports and child care; and any fees associated with after-school care.

If a family still can net $20,000 after all those expenses, that money certainly could be used to put the children in private schools. However, test scores from home-schoolers are higher than those of both private and public schoolers, according to the 1999 performance of about 40,000 students on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills.

Home-schoolers in the 1999 study had average scores in the 77th percentile to 91st percentile, or 27 to 41 points above the population average (www.nces.ed.gov).

Simplifying the equation, we can see that two working parents may enable a family to afford private school — barely — but may result in lower grade outcomes than home-schooling.

No matter how you look at the issues, parents are the responsible agents in making sure their children receive an education. This principle is ingrained in our legal system as well as our societal assumptions. If a child plays hooky, the parents are contacted. If a child wins a huge academic honor, the parents are interviewed. Studies show that students’ educational accomplishments are correlated to parental involvement. So it should come as no surprise that home-schooling — which has built-in parental involvement — creates the most conducive learning environment.

The bottom line in the question of the cost of educational choice isn’t measured in dollar signs and decimal points, and it’s not even measured in test scores and percentiles. Rather, we families have to create our own assessment, based on our goals, our quality of life and our own sense of value.

Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a freelance writer who lives in Maryland.

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