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Homeschooling used to be relatively rare in New Jersey–until COVID-19 hit and schools closed. In the pandemic’s wake, homeschooling rates have risen. In school year 2019-2020, 1,295 students –0.1% of New Jersey’s total K-12 population—studied at home instead of in public, private, or parochial schools. But the NJ Department of Education just released data that shows during the 2020-2021 school, that tiny percentage jumped to 5,326 students homeschooled, a quadruple jump to 0.4%.
That’s tiny yet notable rise. Joe Strupp of Advance Media quotes a U.S. Census report:
It’s clear that in an unprecedented environment, families are seeking solutions that will reliably meet their health and safety needs, their childcare needs and the learning and socio-emotional needs of their children. From the much-discussed ‘pandemic pods,’ (small groups of students gathering outside a formal school setting for in-person instruction) to a reported influx of parent inquiries about stand-alone virtual schools, private schools and homeschooling organizations, American parents are increasingly open to options beyond the neighborhood school.
While some states require parents to submit curricula, lesson plans, and student progress reports, New Jersey is relatively laissez-faire: to homeschool your child in the Garden State, you simply disenroll them from whatever school they were attending (if in fact they were attending one) and carry on. Richard Bozza of the NJ Association of School Administrators explains that “there was a time years ago when the local school district had to approve the curriculum. But now parents are able to check their children out and provide the home schooling and there are a lot of online programs. It is a lot easier to do.”
Some speculate that as COVID recedes, school enrollment will increase, and some district leaders say they’re seeing students return. Yet with the advent of micropods, online resources, and (for some) fear of infection, homeschooling may be a continuing trend.
Jim Stefankiewicz, superintendent of Ocean Township Schools which has seen an enrollment decline, says the cause “was predominantly COVID” but “some people who saw that (home instruction) worked for them stayed with it. There were also those people who were concerned about coming back to school because of their own health or a family member.”
There are other reasons for enrollment drops among NJ school districts. Nationwide, there was a 4% drop in the birth rate between July 1, 2020 and July 1, 2021, or 10.8 births for every 1,000 people nationwide. That is the lowest birth rate on record and well below the replacement rate. In New Jersey the birth rate is 10.3 births for every 1,000 people between July 1, 2020 and July 1, 2021, the 14th lowest among all states.