(The Center Square) – The number of children homeschooled in North Carolina jumped nearly 21% during the pandemic, a recent state report shows.

The North Carolina Department of Administration said 179,900 students were homeschooled during the 2020-21 school year, reflecting a 20.6% increase over the previous school year. The number of students homeschooled was 10% more than the population of the state’s largest school district.

Previous data showed 149,173 students were homeschooled during the 2019-20 school year.

Gov. Roy Cooper ordered all public schools to transition to virtual learning in early March 2020 to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. As the science behind the coronavirus developed, some school districts were able to resume smaller in-person classrooms. Cooper restored full in-person learning in March, a year after closing schools.

“Gov. Roy Cooper and Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. Mandy Cohen put forward a public school reopening plan that ignored the educational needs of children,” said Terry Stoops, director of the Center for Effective Education at the John Locke Foundation. “So, it is no surprise that so many parents embarked on home education during the pandemic.”

State officials gathered data from July 1, 2020, through June 30. The biggest increase was among first-graders. Homeschooled students among 6-year-olds increased by 41%.

The Wake County Public School System had the largest homeschool student population in the state at 16,347, which was a 20% increase from the previous school year. 

Mecklenburg came in second with 13,279 students, followed by Union County with 6,716 students. 

The NCDOA report also showed a significant jump in new homeschools. There were 19,294 new homeschools launched during the 2020-21 school year, reflecting a 104% increase from the previous school year. There was a total of 112,614 homeschools during the 2020-21 school year, representing a 19% increase from the 2019-20 school year.

“Last year’s massive increase in homeschool enrollment added to the phenomenal growth of home education in North Carolina over the last three decades,” Stoops said. “North Carolina remains the nation’s premier homeschooling state and a leader in the school-choice movement.”

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