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Here's how much private and homeschooling in WA has jumped since the pandemic

caption: Kate Ford, a teacher at Villa Academy, teaches first-grade students about vowels on Tuesday, April 20, 2021, at the school in Seattle.
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Kate Ford, a teacher at Villa Academy, teaches first-grade students about vowels on Tuesday, April 20, 2021, at the school in Seattle.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Washington state has seen one of the largest spikes in private school enrollment in the country since the pandemic.

A new analysis by the Associated Press, Big Local News, and Stanford University economist Thomas Dee finds the number of Washington students enrolled in private school has jumped by 26% between the 2019-20 and 2022-23 school years.

That’s significantly higher than the national rate showing private schooling grew by 8%. Only two other states — Tennessee and Rhode Island — had larger private schooling jumps than Washington.

The AP analysis included 34 states, plus Washington, D.C., that had self-reported school data available. Private school enrollment is notoriously difficult to track because schools in many states, including Washington, aren’t required to disclose the data to the state.

The AP also found homeschooling saw a big increase — by 43% — in the Evergreen State. This rate was also higher than the national average of 27%, based on another AP analysis of 31 states and Washington, D.C.

In total, homeschooling enrollment in Washington state climbed by about 9,000 students. Private school enrollment jumped by nearly 17,000 students.

The analyses don’t point to one specific reason private and homeschooling have become more popular. But the findings are an indication parents are continuing to rethink their kids’ school options, even after the pandemic.

Eliza Evans is one of those parents. When the pandemic hit, her son was in fifth grade at Suquamish Elementary in North Kitsap County.

Even early in the year, he was struggling. He was in a class of 30 students, who Evans said were all in vastly different places academically. Throughout the year, her son’s math scores were getting worse, and he was grappling with anxiety, too.

“One teacher cannot be expected to meet all of those needs,” Evans said. “And for me, my son was one of those students whose needs were not met.”

When school went online due to Covid, Evans knew it wouldn’t work for her son. So, she considered an idea she’d never before — she began homeschooling him.

Evans considers herself a “huge advocate” of the public school system and said it was a tough choice to leave, but resources were too limited, despite educators’ best efforts.

Shifts like these have caused enrollment declines in public schools across Washington, including in Seattle, Bellevue, and Shoreline, among others. And because schools are funded based on enrollment, many districts are grappling with huge budget shortfalls and are mulling school closures and other cost-cutting measures.

The next year, Evans’ son switched to West Sound Academy, a private International Baccalaureate school in Poulsbo. Evans liked that the school had smaller class sizes and stronger Covid protocols.

Her son is now a ninth-grader there and he’s thriving, both academically and socially. Evans especially credited her son’s math teacher, who’s been supportive and encouraging.

“He’s doing better across the board,” Evans said. “I feel like my son could go off to college tomorrow and he would be fine.”

In fact, Evans feels her son is doing so well that they’re considering another educational shift: returning to his local school.

“He’s now to a point where he’s ready and he would really like to experience the regular public high school,” Evans said.

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