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The number of home-schooled students in Northwest Arkansas grew at three times the rate as the rest of the state in 2016.

The Arkansas Department of Education recently released its Home School Annual Report for the 2016 school year. It shows 19,520 students were home-schooled in the state.

Northwest Arkansas' 3,842 home-schooled students was up from 2,778 in the 2006 school year, a 38 percent increase in 10 years. There was an increase of 166 students, a 4.5 percent increase, from 2015 to 2016, far exceeding the state's growth rate of 1.5 percent.

The Bentonville School District had 1,010, the most of all the state's 235 school districts. That represents an 8.4 percent increase from 2015 and nearly double the number from 10 years ago.

The local surge in home-schooling hasn't hurt the district's enrollment, which has grown about 40 percent in the past decade, requiring construction of several new schools.

"We are definitely supportive of school choice and we certainly want parents making great decisions for their families," said Jennifer Morrow, Bentonville's director of secondary education.

Act 173 of last year's legislative session permitted school districts to allow home-schooled and private-school students to attend academic courses at a public school in the district where they live.

The Bentonville School Board is set to consider a policy at its meeting Monday that would allow those students to take up to two online high school courses per semester. Enrollment may be denied if additional students would require adding staff or space, according to the proposed policy.

The Gravette School District had the most percentage of home-schooled students compared to enrollment. Gravette had 196, equal to 10.6 percent of the district's enrollment in 2016. The average across the region was 4.7 percent.

Siloam Springs showed a decrease from 330 to 292, an 11.5 percent drop. The district reported a modest enrollment increase of 73 students, or 1.8 percent, from 2015.

Ken Ramey, Siloam Springs' superintendent, said he wasn't aware of anything that could explain the drop. The number of home-schooled students in his district this year is back up to 320, he said. That's equal to about 7.5 percent of the district's enrollment.

"There's a strong home-school network here," Ramey said. "I've met some home-schooled kids we would love to be serving on a regular basis."

The district always has tried to accommodate families that wish to engage in district arts and athletic programs, he said.

Home-schooling numbers fluctuate from year to year in many districts. Decatur's number, for example, was 37 for 2014. It sank to 23 in 2015 and shot back up to 33 in 2016.

Parents who choose to home school their children must submit forms notifying their local school districts of their intentions. School districts in turn must submit those forms to the state Department of Education.

The number of home-schooled students in the United States more than doubled from 850,000 in 1999 to about 1.8 million in 2012, according to a 2016 report by the National Center for Education Statistics. Most home-schooled students were white (83 percent) and not poor (89 percent) as of 2012. Students were considered poor if they were living in households with incomes below the poverty threshold.

NW News on 02/19/2018

Print Headline: Home-schooling continues to increase in Northwest Arkansas

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