My partner and I recently had a discussion about the amount of debt we have been accruing. I use the word “discussion” lightly, as, like with most couples raising kids, the topic of money tends to make both of us feel like we’re being squeezed in a vice grip, and the temptation to take our frustrations out on each other is strong. Though we usually succeed in being mostly civil to each other, it is rife with potential land mines and usually exhausting. On this occasion, after going over the same seemingly unsolvable conundrums for the umpteenth time, my partner paused for a moment, then said, also for the countless time, “Of course, if we weren’t homeschooling, you could work a real job, and everything would be different.”
He said this with an affable smile, and I knew that in no way did he wish we would change that aspect our life. It’s just become a bit of a humorous outlet for the stress of our financial situation. “If only we could just do what most families do, and send our kids to the free public school, we could be debt free, we could fix the car, we could finish building our house, we could take that trip to Thailand we’ve always wanted…, etc. etc”
Though not entirely substantiated, there is a lot of truth in this “joke”. At least, in theory, we could have a good deal more financial comfort and stability if I was available to work 40 hours a week at a job that pays actual money. Of course, I have known plenty of families with far greater income than ours who are still mired by debt and seem unsatisfied with their status. Financial comfort is also a matter of the choices one makes and your money managing skills. But, there is no doubt that we would have a lot more financial options if both of us had steady incomes. I suppose the reason we think of it as a joke is that we have loved our homeschooling journey so much, and the results we see in our kids, that we would never seriously consider putting them in school unless absolutely necessary. Homeschooling is part of who we are.
The truth is, in spite of the financial sacrifices, I still think of homeschooling as a privilege. There are so many pieces that need to be in place for homeschooling to work well. For one, the fact that my partner and I are a team, that we have a thriving relationship in which we share responsibilities and assigned roles. I often wonder how, or if, I could homeschool at all if I was a single mom who did not have the privilege to stay home with my kids because I had to be the breadwinner. Although my partner’s job does not have a lucrative salary by any means, he has the skills to earn much more if he needed. And because his schedule is flexible, I am able to work part-time in the evenings to make ends meet. Even the location we choose to live is a privilege. We built our house and live frugally in order to make our land payments, but the purchase would not have been possible without a family inheritance for the down payment. In fact, our families help in myriad ways, for example funding extracurricular activities that enrich the boy’s lives and help buffer the isolation of rural homeschooling. All of these factors are necessary to make homeschooling possible. If that family support wasn’t there, or, for example, if our parents were unhealthy and we needed to live close to them where the cost of living was higher, our whole system would collapse.
Every homeschooling family, as far as I can tell, has its own system in place, a system in which the removal of one strand could change everything. I often wonder if, aside from philosophical or educational concerns, finances might be one of the main reasons there aren’t more homeschoolers in our country. Even if the desire might be there, there are many factors that can make homeschooling impossible, or at least highly distasteful financially. How many families are willing to give up a yearly vacation, or the ability to eat out regularly, buy a new car when needed (or, in some cases, to fix the one they have ), or even the ability to buy the food they really want at home?
Information collected by the National Center of Education Statistics (NCES) between 1999 and 2016 found that the average income of homeschool families in the U.S is close to those in public school, but that by 2016 there were about 12% more public school families at or above 200% of the poverty level. (Homeschool Demographics) Simultaneously, there was about a 10% increase in the number of homeschool families living in the income bracket called “near poor”, or near the poverty line, during that time frame.
The researchers noted that this increase may be due to homeschool families giving up one income. The report showed that about 20% more homeschool families have only one parent in the “labor force”, although that distinction would not include cottage industries or other “under the table” type work that many homeschool parents engage in, such as selling crafts or farm products.
Another interesting discovery I noted from this site was the education level of homeschool parents vs. parents who enroll their children in public school. It seems the number of homeschool parents with at least some college education has been a little higher for some years. However, it also seems there was a noticeable (about 19%) increase in the number of parents with no high school diploma who began homeschooling between 2012 and 2016. It is too soon to say exactly what the factors may be for this shift. The researchers speculated that increased access to online curriculums and online public school may be involved. I wonder if other changes, such as school shootings and the decline and closing of many rural schools may be involved.
These kind of statistics are interesting but difficult to decipher and tend to create more questions than answers for me. For example, do the families with one income earn a similar amount as the average family with two incomes? If so, why is that true? Also, how many homeschooling families are earning significantly less than their potential, regardless of what their current income is now? I cannot answer all these questions here, though I am considering a series of articles that would examine all these factors in more detail.
What I can speak of with certainty is my own experience and those of families I know. I have often stated that homeschooling is a way of life, not just a way of educating our children. I believe this is true in the financial sense as much as any other. We must make adjustments to our working schedules in one way or another, and this inevitably will impact many aspects of our lives. It is just another testament to how much we believe in the homeschooling journey and the innate value that path holds for both parents and children.