The Pandemic’s Effect on Demand for Public Schools, Homeschooling, and Private Schools

Authors: Tareena Musaddiq, Kevin Stange, Andrew Bacher-Hicks, & Joshua Goodman

This reflects joint work with colleagues at the Education Policy Initiative at the University of Michigan’s Ford School of Public Policy. Additional information on their website here

Project Summary

The COVID-19 pandemic drastically disrupted the functioning of U.S. public schools, potentially changing the relative appeal of alternatives such as homeschooling and private schools. Using student-level administrative data from Michigan and nationally representative data from the Census Household Pulse Survey, the authors show how the pandemic affected families’ choices of school sector.

Key Findings

The study finds four central facts:

  • Public school enrollment declined noticeably in fall 2020.
  • Homeschooling rates jumped substantially in the fall of 2020, driven largely by families with children in elementary school.
  • Homeschooling increased more where schools provided in-person instruction while private schooling increased more where instruction was remote, suggesting important differences across families in their concerns about children’s physical health and instructional quality.
  • Kindergarten enrollment declines were concentrated among low income and Black students, while the smaller declines in other grades and for incumbent students were disproportionately among higher income and White students.

Implications and Recommendations

As the nation mobilizes for a return to school amidst the continuing pandemic, the findings from this study have several critical implications. Changes in enrollment may continue based on decision education leaders are making now about the public options they provide to families. Re-engagement of families, particularly those from low-income or black households may be particularly important to consider. Finally, these patterns may have long-term consequences for funding allocations as well as school and grade-level composition