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Adding up the cost of home schooling

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 schooled peers.

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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," Belfield says.

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.

Cost-effective teaching
Other experts pooh-pooh the notion that home schooling is that expensive.

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.

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