Home schooling may not be as expensive as private
school, but it's not free either. Costs can quickly mount when you
make sure that your children have state-of-the-art resources to
ensure that they can compete academically with their more formally
While some parents insist that they are spending much
less by educating their children at home, an educator who has studied
home schooling says the actual costs could be surprising. Clive
Belfield, professor of economics at Queens College, City University
of New York, estimates that the cost for parents who keep a careful
accounting is about $2,500 for a family's first child and slightly
less for the next one or two home-schooled kids.
Belfield's cost-assessment includes up-to-date textbooks
and a library of other learning materials, computing equipment,
ergonomically designed furniture, additional light, heat and air
conditioning, as well as tutors for subjects such as higher-level
science and math that parents are least likely to be able to teach.
"The public school system spends on average $8,000
per child, of which around $2,500 is spent on materials and physical
resources. Home schoolers may spend a little less than that, but
by my calculations, not much less," Belfield says.
The cost of home schooling goes much higher, Belfield
calculates, if you factor in the cost of having a parent dedicated
to teaching children at home rather than taking an outside job.
His 2001 research shows that the average home schooling parent is
a woman with a college degree. If she worked outside the home, her
average income would be $38,000 a year, not including health benefits.
"That is what the family is giving up,"
He also points out that families with more than three
children almost universally give up on home schooling and opt instead
for public schools. "This suggests that the monitoring and
supervisory costs of home schooling are not that low," he says.
Other experts pooh-pooh the notion that home schooling is that
Tim Drake, a former public school teacher and a staff
writer with the National Catholic Register, points to the experience
of his local Minnesota home-schooling group, Home Educated Youth.
These 220 families spend between $300 and $1,000 per family each
year, according to a survey of the group.
"It varies depending on the size of the family,
the amount of used materials that can be purchased or obtained at
curriculum swaps, and how much of the materials can be reused with
successive children," Drake says.
Drake and his wife home school the three oldest of
their five children, an 8-year-old son and twin 5-year-old daughters.
Last year they spent $350, most of it on books and course packages
available through vendors of home-schooling curricula. They rely
heavily on the public library for supplementary materials.
"We find creative ways to home school on a shoestring.
We take advantage of many local opportunities to see matinee performances
of plays, concerts, ballets and other cultural events (at a cost
of $5 per child), and use a nature center for science education
($2 per child)," Drake says. "I also barter my own skills
(writing and editing) with a piano teacher who has been teaching
our 8-year-old son piano."
Rewards worth the costs
Many families say home schooling offers advantages that make
the costs irrelevant.