Tom Lubnau: Homeschool Enrollments Are Up While Public School Enrollments Are Down

Columnist Tom Lubnau writes, "If there are defects in our system of education, they should be adjusted. If the trend is away from a free and public education, our policy makers should examine why people want to educate their children at home."

Tom Lubnau

February 28, 20244 min read

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In the second of a series, remember those thoughts of Mark Twain about lies, damned lies and statistics. 

In researching the state population compared to school population article, more interesting data revealed itself that justified thoughts in another column.

At the suggestion of a friend, homeschool and private school data were aggregated and compared to the public-school options.  A review of the data shows an interesting thing started to happen with homeschooled students in 2020. 

The homeschool student population increased from 2585 in 2020 to 3769 in 2023.  

At the same time, private school enrollment remained about the same (Enrollment increased from 2240 to 2270.)  The private school figures were only available in odd numbered years, so I extrapolated them out to the even numbered years at the same rate.

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While the increase in homeschooled population does not fully justify the decrease in public student enrollment compared to population increase, it does explain a large part of the decrease in enrollment in public schools.

What is happening to cause this shift away from public education? Obviously, technology is a factor.  

Covid taught us all that in-person meetings and schooling are not necessarily a requirement anymore.  But there has to be more of an explanation for the shift.

Thomas Jefferson, in writing about the importance of public education, said, “Convinced that the people are the only safe depositories of their own liberty, and that they are not safe unless enlightened to a certain degree, I have looked on our present state of liberty as a short-lived possession unless the mass of the people could be informed to a certain degree.”  Thomas Jefferson (2017) “LETTERS”, p.709. 

To paraphrase his argument, Jefferson believed the citizens of the United States should have a good understanding of how the government works in order to protect their liberty.  He also believed the strongest way to protect liberty was to educate the population – thus a free and uniform education. 

If we have an unequal understanding of how the government works, two things happen.  First, the lack of a mutual understanding makes it impossible for us to communicate about the workings of our system of government.  

For example, if one does not have an understanding of how the separation of powers works between the branches of government, then one my think an elected official has sole discretion to spend state money the way that elected official wants to spend the money.  

An understanding of our system of checks and balances reveals only the legislature can appropriate money.  A lack of understanding about how the money is spent leads to serious misunderstandings about the operation of government.

The second thing an unequal understanding of how the government works may cause is the ability for someone who wants to tinker with the government, to suggest the government is not working well. 

For example, if one did not know Wyoming selected judges through the Missouri Merit Selection and Retention Plan, one would think being a judge in Wyoming is political, when it fact it is not. 

Judges in Wyoming are forbidden from political participation. We do not elect judges in Wyoming based on political views. Instead, we choose judges with a nonpartisan selection process, aimed at assessing their legal skills,  

Then, judges face a retention election after their first year as a judge, and every six years thereafter.  Judges in Wyoming to not get appointed to the bench based on political views. 

Without that understanding, it becomes easy for someone to accuse the judicial system of systematic bias, when there is none.

If the key to our liberty rests with education, and unexplained trends regarding population and public education show a shift away from education, our policy makers should examine what is causing these demographic shifts. 

If there are defects in our system of education, they should be adjusted. 

If the trend is away from a free and public education, our policy makers should examine why people want to educate their children at home rather than in the public schools.  

If there are problems in the education provided by public schools, those problems should be addressed.  On the other hand, if private education is being used to circumvent education requirements, circumventing the system should be addressed.

Our education system is the key to preserving our democracy.  We should understand these trends and why folks are choosing to educate their children outside of the public education system.

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Tom Lubnau