ADRIA BISHOP, 36, a Sebastopol, Calif., homeschooling mother of three, last year left the Christian co-op she was a part of to join Summit Academy, a homeschool charter program that had recently opened a Sonoma County location. Enrolling was easy: She had to provide her children’s birth certificates and a recent utility bill.
“Homeschooling can be really expensive,” says Bishop: “We already forgo one income and pay for all our curriculum.” The Bishops received $2,800 per child—$8,400 for all three. With those funds, they purchased an iPad, math curriculum, an Oakland Zoo membership, and in-home guitar lessons for one son. They also paid for field trips to Alcatraz Island and Safari West.
The Bishops’ approach illustrates one of the main appeals of homeschool charters: It’s a way to get something back from all the taxes they pay toward education. California allows enrolled families to receive up to $3,200 per child, which they can spend on anything as long as it’s on their charter school’s list of approved vendors. Almost anything goes—except for faith-based curriculum and resources. But parents can still buy religious curriculum with their own dollars.
Nationwide, only 21 percent of parents in 2012 cited religious or moral instruction as their reason for homeschooling, down from 36 percent in 2007.
Those funds make a big difference for some families. Approved vendors offer books, curriculum, STEM kits with science equipment, tutoring services, educational toys, gymnastics classes, zoo and museum passes, music and horseback riding lessons—as well as less conventional educational enterprises like tickets for Disneyland. Charters require parents to return non-consumable items, like laptops, iPads, and microscopes when their children withdraw from the program.
Homeschool charters differ from virtual charters, hybrid schools, and independent study schools that assign specific curriculum and often offer in-person classes at resource centers. Most homeschool charters let parents pick their own books and coursework. Some offer a set curriculum for those who want it.