As more U.S. parents opt to homeschool their children, it's important for families to know its costs. The beginning of the 2020-21 academic year saw the number of homeschooling households climb to 11.1%. That uptick has been attributed largely to the COVID-19 pandemic, but for many families, homeschooling is the preferred choice for childhood education. Deciding whether a homeschool lifestyle is right for your family requires not just an understanding of what's involved, but also a plan for how to pay for it.
- The COVID-19 pandemic has spurred an increase in the number of families choosing to homeschool.
- Homeschooling costs can vary from family to family based on the number of children, the type of curriculum taught, and whether children participate in extracurricular activities.
- Only a handful of states offer tax breaks for families that choose to homeschool rather than have their children attend public or private school.
- Families have numerous ways to save money while homeschooling in order to bring the cost down.
Average Cost of Homeschooling
A variety of costs are involved when you choose to homeschool your children. Some of the most common expenses homeschooling families may pay for include:
- Curriculum and learning materials
- School supplies (for example, pencils, notebooks, and more)
- Field trips
- Extracurricular activities (for example, sports, art lessons, music lessons, and more)
- Cooperative fees for families who belong to a homeschool co-operative
- Testing fees, if state homeschooling guidelines mandate regular testing
The cost can easily add up, averaging $700 to $1,800 per student annually. For a family of four with two school-aged children, this means homeschooling may cost, on average, anywhere from $1,400 to $3,600 per year.
The Cost of Public School or Private School
Let's take a look at how much it costs to send a child to public or private school to see how homeschooling compares. With public school, parents' costs typically extend to things like school supplies, clothing, field trip fees, extracurricular activities, and meals. According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), the typical family spent $849 on back-to-school shopping for the 2021 school year.
Adding extracurriculars such as sports into the mix can drive school spending even higher. On average, parents spend $693 per child on sports each year, but some sports, such as field hockey or gymnastics, can come with a much higher price tag. Parents may also shell out money for music lessons, art clubs, drama, or band—to rent a musical instrument, for example, or to pay for art supplies.
Private school, meanwhile, can be even more expensive. On average, parents pay $12,350 in tuition annually for K-12 private schools. The total average cost—when items such as laptops, books, uniforms, field trips, and supplies are factored in—rises to $16,050. And parents may still have to pay for application fees, room and board, extracurriculars, or summer programs.
If you're considering homeschooling in lieu of public or private school, it's important to check your state's requirements for registration, attendance, testing, and curriculum.
Hidden Costs of Homeschooling
Compared to the cost of sending a child to private school, or even public school, homeschooling could save a family money. But it's important to keep in mind that some costs may be higher when homeschooling—or at least less obvious when planning a household budget.
Here are some of the ways homeschooling can raise costs for families:
- Curriculum: Though it's possible to find a free homeschool curriculum online or put together a curriculum yourself, some families prefer to purchase one. At the higher end, it's possible to spend $1,000-plus on a single prepackaged curriculum, which can quickly add up for families that have children at different grade levels.
- Transportation: Homeschooling doesn't mean families spend all day at home. Taking field trips, signing kids up for art classes, or joining a co-op with other homeschool families can help expand learning horizons and encourage social interaction. But it can also mean spending more on gas or transportation each month.
- Supplies: Purchasing supplies for homeschooling can involve more than just notebooks, pencils, or markers. Families may need to purchase a microscope or other equipment to complete science labs, for example. Or they may have to procure arts-and-crafts supplies to complete hands-on projects. All of that can add to the total cost of homeschooling.
- Food: Kids attending public school may be eligible for reduced or free lunch depending on their state's guidelines. On the other hand, having kids at home all day could add to families' grocery spending if it means more frequent snacking or family meals together.
There's also the income factor to consider. In a two-parent household, one parent may be the sole breadwinner while the other handles homeschooling duties. This can mean the loss of one income if the homeschooling parent previously held a job. And though homeschooling as a single parent is not impossible, it can take creativity to balance the need for income with the demands of homeschooling.
Working from home can help avoid a loss of income, but it can come with its own costs, such as outfitting an office space, paying for cloud storage, or spending more on Internet and phone service.
Tax Breaks for Homeschooling Families
You may be wondering if the federal government provides any tax benefits to help homeschooling families recoup some of their costs. Unfortunately, the answer is no. There are no federal tax credits or deductions that apply specifically to homeschoolers.
Only a few states offer tax breaks for homeschooling families. They include:
- Illinois: Illinois offers the Education Expense Credit for eligible homeschool families, which is worth up to $750 per year.
- Indiana: Indiana families may be eligible for a tax deduction of up to $1,000 per year for homeschooling expenses paid out of pocket.
- Louisiana: The state of Louisiana offers a generous tax deduction of up to $5,000 per student for homeschooling families.
- Minnesota: In Minnesota, families that homeschool may be eligible for a tax credit or a tax subtraction, either of which can help to reduce tax liability for the year.
- Iowa: Starting in 2021, a proposed rule change will extend Iowa's textbook tax credit to homeschooled students, provided that the textbook or instructional material is also required by a school in Iowa. The tax credit covers 25% of the first $2,000 of the costs of textbooks and instructional materials. The new rule takes effect on April 13, 2022.
Homeschooling doesn't allow families to opt-out of paying state and local taxes that contribute to funding for public schools.
How to Save Money on Homeschooling
Homeschooling need not take a toll on family budgets. There are numerous ways to cut homeschooling costs and save money without skimping on educational goals. Here are some of the best ways to save money on homeschooling:
- Take advantage of tax-free weekends to purchase school supplies.
- Claim state tax deductions or credits for homeschooling expenses if eligible.
- Look for free or low-cost curriculum options.
- Attend a curriculum swap or host one with other homeschooling families.
- Consider a curriculum that can be reused from student to student.
- Take advantage of free learning programs or tools at local libraries.
- Consider purchasing a season pass to local museums if they're offered at a discount.
- Use free learning resources online, such as YouTube, podcasts, or educational websites for children.
- Investigate free virtual field trips or online tours.
- Incorporate life skills (for example cooking, cleaning, changing a tire, managing a checkbook, etc.) as part of your curriculum.
- Look for free or low-cost online courses to supplement the existing curriculum.
It's helpful to plan a homeschooling budget at the beginning of each academic year. This can help with saving money year-round. You can also add a cushion for any unexpected expenses that might come up.
Can Kids Be Homeschooled for Free?
Generally, parents are not required to pay any fees to the state to homeschool children. Whether it's possible to homeschool entirely for free may depend on a family's learning goals, the number of children, and how creative the parents are with finding opportunities to save money.
Is Homeschooling Cost-Effective?
When compared to public school or private school, homeschooling can be a more cost-effective option for families. Again, individual costs of homeschooling can largely depend on the number of children and the preferred method or approach taken to learning.
Do You Get a Tax Credit for Homeschooling?
There are no federal tax credits or deductions for families that choose to homeschool. But a few states do offer tax credits or deductions for eligible homeschool families.
Do Parents Get Paid to Homeschool Their Kids?
There are no federal or state programs that pay parents to homeschool their children directly. This is an important consideration in terms of how it may affect household income if one parent leaves a paid job to handle education responsibilities.
The Bottom Line
Parents have different reasons for choosing to homeschool, but one common denominator is managing costs. It is possible to homeschool on a budget, but it does require some planning to find ways to save money. When considering homeschool options, think about what will work best in terms of your children's individual learning styles as well as what you can afford to invest in time and money for them to learn at home.