Defying pandemic-era predictions, home schooling remains on the rise in Idaho and beyond

When Linda Patchin was home-schooling her now-adult children, she was careful not to take them out in public during school hours.

Doing so could subject them to questioning and judgment. If asked, she would say her children were in private school. It was just easier than having to confront everyone’s preconceived notions about home schooling, she said.

Now, what used to be a form of fringe education is becoming more mainstream. 

“Everybody knows somebody who is (or has been) home-schooled,” said Patchin, who is a board member for the nonprofit organization Homeschool Idaho. “I think it has a pretty positive perception.”

Heather Erwin has homeschooled all 10 of her children. Photo: Darren Svan / Idaho Education News

It’s impossible to fully quantify the number of home-schoolers in Idaho because the state doesn’t require families to report students, but the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that about 6% of Idaho students were home-schooled, on average, during the past two school years. And the state data that is available shows increases since the height of the pandemic. 

At the same time, public school enrollment dipped this year for the first time since the 2020-21 school year. In the past decade, declines have only occurred on these two occasions. Some school districts, including Coeur d’Alene and Nampa, have decided to close schools partly because of low enrollment. 

The pandemic “opened a lot of parents’ eyes” to the possibility of home schooling, Patchin said. Fears over bullying and whether schools are adequately meeting student needs — either because they have a disability or are academically advanced — have also driven parents to opt out of public schools.

That’s a recent shift; in the past, families generally home-schooled to instill “their values or their faith,” said Patchin, who helped found the Christian Homeschoolers of Idaho State in 1998, before it merged with a homeschool advocacy group to form Homeschool Idaho in 2018.

Today, the community is more diverse. “You really can’t put a face on home-schoolers anymore, because it’s everybody,” Patchin said.

“You really can’t put a face on home-schoolers anymore, because it’s everybody.” — Linda Patchin, board member, Homeschool Idaho

Nationwide, home schooling increased dramatically during the pandemic, according to Angela Watson, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University, and the research lab director for The Homeschool Hub, a research and data website. When the pandemic started to wane, there was a “drop off,” as was expected. But early data from this school year shows that in some states, there are now more home-school students than ever, or that after a slight post-COVID dip, numbers are back up. 

“That is incredible to me. It’s not what we thought would happen,” Watson said. “Something is going on.”

“Idaho is one of very few states that has pretty well no requirements.” 

On a national level, Idaho stands out because it does not regulate or monitor home-school education or require families to give notice that they’re educating their children on their own. 

That means:

  • Parents are not required to be certified teachers.
  • Students do not have to take state or national academic exams.
  • Students are not required to be immunized.
  • Parents can choose their own curriculum. 
  • Parents do not have to report attendance or grades. 
Home-school policy varies by state. Most have low regulation, but only a dozen (including Idaho) do not require parents to give notice that they’re educating students on their own. Source:

As Watson put it: “Idaho is one of very few states that has pretty well no requirements.”

Because Idaho does not require parents to give notice when they home-school, it’s impossible to fully quantify the number of students learning from parents at home. 

But there are some data points available, and all show an increase, though home-school students remain a minority of the state’s overall student population.

First, there’s exit data. When a student leaves a public school, the state collects information on why they left, such as moving out of state, transferring to another school, or home-schooling. The numbers show an increase in home schooling during the height of the pandemic, then a dip. But numbers remain higher than they were pre-pandemic. 

Then, there’s data on how many students are using public school services — like taking an elective class or participating in a sport. Those numbers have trended up as well.

Anecdotally, Patchin has noticed an uptick in home-school interest. The organization does not release membership numbers, however, out of a desire to protect members’ privacy. 

She also distinguished between home schooling and other types of home learning — like those who are enrolled in private or public online schools; or groups of parents who team up to hire a teacher to educate their children (it would then be classified as a private school). 

Home schooling: A threat to public schools, or students?

Some worry that families flocking to home schooling could have negative impacts on public schools: Enrollment declines mean decreased funding, and some lawmakers support programs that would siphon public dollars from public schools to be used for private or home school. 

But Homeschool Idaho — and groups like it across the country — are staunchly opposed to taking public dollars, fearing that accepting government money would lead to increased governmental oversight and tracking. 

In March, Homeschool Idaho lobbied against a bill that would’ve allowed home-school families to apply for state grant dollars under the Empowering Parents program. Ultimately, Sen. Lori Den Hartog, R-Meridian, pulled the language. 

Beyond funding, some worry that home-school students are not getting a quality education.

“Homeschooling parents may well be incapable of providing (an adequate) education, whether through ignorance, negligence, incompetence, or intent, yet Idaho makes no effort to find out if a homeschooled child is learning as it should,” Leonard Hitchcock, a retired educator and librarian, wrote in an opinion column for the Idaho State Journal in February. “A parent’s right to rule over his family cannot be allowed to nullify a child’s right to learn.”

Watson said some of the primary concerns about home schooling on a national level are about whether families are isolating or indoctrinating their children, or whether they are getting a quality education. She said they’re reasonable questions to ask, but answers should be based on data and evidence and not “old stereotypes that may or may not be true.”

Angela Watson, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University, is the research lab director for The Homeschool Hub, a research and data website. Photo:

“I’m not invested in whether home schooling increases or decreases, but I am invested in better understanding what is actually taking place with home schooling in the United States, using the best evidence possible,” she said.

For example, home-school students are less likely on average to earn a four-year degree, but tend to have similar adult incomes as their public school peers, Watson said.

Patchin said home-school students are well-prepared to go on and succeed in college. Her four children, for example, all have college degrees. 

Homeschool Idaho also encourages families to have their children take The Iowa Assessments test and share their results, which the organization presents to legislators as “concrete evidence … that private home schooling succeeds without government funding or oversight.”

The 2023 results from the exam, below, show that most test takers are proficient in the tested content areas. However, because Idaho public school students do not take the exam, there’s no statewide comparison.

It’s also unclear how many home-school students took the exam. EdNews emailed a representative of the group to ascertain the number, but had not received a response after more than a week.

Idaho’s unique approach: Public schools throw out a welcome mat for home-schoolers

Home schooling and public schooling shouldn’t be framed as adversaries, Watson said. “Most families move in and out of home schooling,” she said, maybe doing it for a few years and then placing their children back in public schools: “It’s not an either/or situation. It’s kind of a both/and.”

Idaho has created a unique bridge between the two realms: Its home-school students “have some of the broadest access to (public school amenities) in the country,” according to Johns Hopkins research. 

That benefits the local school and the child; the school gets extra funding, and the child gets the chance to take a ceramics class or join the football team.

Attempts to regulate and monitor home schooling have had mixed results, Watson said, due to difficulties enforcing requirements.

Idaho’s approach is unique — like laying out a public school welcome mat to home-schoolers, instead of forcing them in the doors.

“There are two ways to get things done: sticks or carrots,” she said. “You can force people to do things … or you can incentivize them to do things in another way.”

Currently, home schooling is protected by Idaho law. To ensure it stays that way, Idaho’s home-school students head to the Capitol for a day every year, with homemade pies in tow. They serve up slices, hoping to curry favor for home schooling among legislators. 

Linda Patchin wrote a book on the history of home schooling in Idaho, called “the Politics of Pie.”

In February, Sen. Scott Herndon, R-Sagle, took up the cause, proposing a constitutional amendment that would further cement Idahoans’ right to educate their children at home. The measure ultimately stalled in the Senate without a vote.

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Home schooling has conservative, Christian roots but is attracting families “across political lines” and from “every people group”

While the Idaho home-schooling movement has conservative, Christian roots, Idaho home-school students span the political spectrum and represent “every people group,” Patchin said. 

That’s true nationally, too. 

Last fall, reporters at The Washington Post conducted an in-depth analysis of home-school data and found that “home schooling has become — by a wide margin — America’s fastest-growing form of education, as families from Upper Manhattan to Eastern Kentucky embrace a largely unregulated practice once confined to the ideological fringe.”

What’s driving more families to teach kids at home?

Safety concerns “are huge with the homeschool community,” including fears about school shootings, bullying, or mental health issues, Watson said. As education has become a political battleground, home-school families also worry about what students are or are not being taught.

For example, there’s been a nationwide home-schooling increase among Black families, “who oftentimes feel that public schools have low expectations for their students or that they’re teaching curriculum that doesn’t really reflect the culture of their communities,” Watson said.

Some states have high numbers of Latino home-schoolers, whose parents worry whether their students will be allowed to learn and speak Spanish at public schools. 

“There are a variety of concerns that families have across political lines,” Watson said. “The home-school community now looks very much like the broader communities nationally.”

Idaho Education News data analyst Randy Schrader contributed to this report. 

For further reading on home schooling in Idaho, take a look at EdNews’ past coverage:

Carly Flandro

Carly Flandro

Carly Flandro reports from her hometown of Pocatello. Prior to joining EdNews, she taught English at Century High and was a reporter for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. She has won state and regional journalism awards, and her work has appeared in newspapers throughout the West. Flandro has a bachelor’s degree in print journalism and Spanish from the University of Montana, and a master’s degree in English from Idaho State University. You can email her at [email protected] or call or text her at (208) 317-4287.

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