Across the country, we’re in the midst of an unprecedented explosion in homeschooling and alternative education. The main triggers were Covid-19 shutdowns and masking policies. But parents were already frustrated and revolting — even in some of the most liberal cities — over radical social agendas and poor academic results. Today, we investigate the mass exodus from America’s public schools.
Carter Mackes may be just four years old, but his parents have already made a big decision about his formal education.
Sharyl Attkisson: Have you decided whether he'll go to public school or not?
Casey Mackes, Father of Carter Mackes: We've decided that we want to, at least, try to homeschool, and then if we need to make a decision... I think schools and public schools have a purpose. But there's a lot of unknown, and there’s a lot of things going on in the schools, and a lot that that is concerning.
That’s an understatement. From coast to coast, the last few years have been marked by unprecedented events and stunning revolts surrounding public schools.
In Loudoun County, VA: “My 6-year-old somberly came to me and asked me if she was born evil because she was a white person, something she learned in a history lesson at school.”
In Vandalia, IL: “I'd rather see this school in ashes than to see you sit there with your pockets full while you suffocate our children with diapers on their faces!”
In Luray, VA: "My children will not come to school on Monday with a mask on, alright? That's not happening. And I will bring every single gun loaded and ready to... I will call every—" (Distant voice) "That’s three minutes."
In San Francisco, fed-up parents gave three school board members the boot in a landslide vote, accusing the board of putting woke activism over academics.
In Loudoun County, Virginia, parents also recalled a school board member, and they are working on the others.
Some parents are even putting themselves in the driver’s seat...
Brian Echeverria: I’m biracial. I’m bilingual. I’m multicultural.
Running for political office.
Brian Echeverria: And the person who tells my little pecan-colored kids that they are somehow oppressed based on the color of their skin would be absolutely wrong and absolutely at war with me. My name is Brian Echeverria. I thank you for your service, and we're taking back the wheel.
Fadde Mikhail: Our K-12 schools rank 40th in the nation. When my wife and I look at our own kids, we wonder, "Will they have it better than us?" Right now, the answer is "no."
One of the biggest consequences of all the upheaval is a dramatic exodus from public schools. Corey DeAngelis is national director of research at the American Federation for Children, an advocate for school choice.
Corey DeAngelis: Relative to pre-pandemic levels, homeschooling has at least doubled.
Sharyl Attkisson: That's huge
Corey DeAngelis: That's a huge surge in homeschooling.
Sharyl Attkisson: How many kids does that represent?
Corey DeAngelis: It’s about a couple million students nationwide formally homeschooling — pre-pandemic levels. So, closer to 4 million students, for example, now.
Still more students have left for religious schools, or other private schools. And charter school enrollment has spiked more than 7%.
Corey DeAngelis: Since pre-pandemic levels, there's been a mass exodus from the traditional public school system. And the public schools lost about 1.5 million students.
Sharyl Attkisson: Is that in 2021 or?
Corey DeAngelis: This was the 2020-2021 school year, relative to the previous year. About a 3.3% drop in enrollment. And so, my basic idea is that the funding should follow the child to wherever they're getting an education. If it's the public school and that works best for them, absolutely they should be able to have that opportunity to stay there. But if not, they should be able to take their education dollars to a private, charter, home, or another type of option.
Sharyl Attkisson: And that’s “school choice,” more or less?
Corey DeAngelis: That's what most people would define as school choice. We’re actually calling 2021 the year of school choice, and I think it's because the teacher's unions overplayed their hand and awakened a sleeping giant — parents who want more of a say in their kids' education. And 19 states expanded or enacted programs to fund students as opposed to systems.
If anybody thought all the pupils lost during the Covid shutdowns would return to public school after the pandemic, that hasn’t happened.
Corey DeAngelis: For all the bad things that happened starting in 2020, one of the unintended benefits is that some people got a taste of home-based education. And people who thought that they didn't have the ability to do it, or they just didn't understand what it would take to get the job done, they've started to figure out that, "Well, maybe this works better for my kids."
That’s the story of the Steckers when schools closed in Loudoun County, Virginia.
Phuong Stecker: Well, they started with the shutting down of the schools. Kids had to be at home. They weren't learning anything new.
Jon Stecker: So the entire last quarter was a wash for them. So when we realized that they weren't going to have a plan to treat them any better, we said, "All right, we're going to give homeschooling a try.” And when they started talking about bringing the kids back to school, first of all, they were just so wishy-washy about it. They didn't have a solid plan. But by then, Loudoun County started hitting the national news over and over and over again. We became much more aware of their policies.
There was the father, wrestled to the ground at a school board meeting. He’d tried to speak about his daughter’s sexual assault in the bathroom by a boy wearing a skirt. Also in Loudoun County, there were controversies over taxpayer funds used to train educators in critical race theory. And a criminal investigation over a Facebook parents’ group that targeted parents, and turned out to be made up of school board members and the local prosecutor.
Jon Stecker: And at that point, actually one of my friends said, "Hey, the kids are going back to school. Are you going to put your kids back in school?" And I said, "Let's see if Loudoun County Public Schools can go one week without making the national news first."
With their sons home, the Steckers discovered they were good at something they hadn’t contemplated before: taking over teaching duties.
Phuong Stecker: At this point, today, I don't think we want to send them back to school.
Because public schools get money per student, the losses translate directly into dollars and cents. Denver, Colorado is projecting a 6% loss of public school students over the next few years: 6,000 kids and $78 million dollars a year. Denver’s school superintendent told a board meeting that the district may have to start closing schools starting in 2024 due to dwindling enrollment.
Alex Marrero, Denver Public Schools Superintendent: In this year-and-a-half wait as we do this process, there are some who are on life support right now that potentially would not even make it to that timeline.
Sharyl Attkisson: We're not real happy with our education system overall, but certainly there are worse education systems, and there are some very good schools. Is there a chance that this could damage the good?
Corey DeAngelis: When it comes to the kids who remain in the public schools, changes in enrollment and this bottom-up accountability can lead to better outcomes in the public schools as well. In fact, 25 of 27 studies that exist on the topic find statistically-significant positive effects of private school choice competition on the kids who remain in the public schools. It's a win-win situation. And in this sense, school choice is a rising tide that lifts all boats.
Meantime, parents keeping their children out of public schools are developing even bigger ideas on the direction American education should go. And they're taking the wheel.
Jon Stecker: We need to be more involved, and we need to be able to help develop the plan for our children's education. So it's got to be more flexibility, more a la carte, more customization.
Carter Mackes: I think the kids should be like the CEOs of their own education, as far as the things that they like and the things that they do. I think that should be more heavily focused on, versus on, "Hey, you've got to know this,’ but they might not ever use it.
Sharyl (on-camera): A poll by RealClear Opinion Research found 74% supporting school choice after a year of school shutdowns, up ten percentage points from the year before.