Many Americans have had to help educate their children at home this year as school buildings close for in-person learning due to COVID-19. And liberal areas have been more likely to go remote. But other Americans have long been truly homeschooling their kids outside of the public education system. Their movement was tied to a conservative success. Heath Brown finds that homeschoolers are an important and highly successful grassroots conservative constituency group, having helped build and fuse the broader Christian and Libertarian Right. Leslie Finger has been researching the latest school district decisions to educate kids from home, finding that Democratic-voting areas and those with strong teachers unions have been less likely to provide in-person learning. They both see implications for school politics and political polarization. 

Guests: Heath Brown, John Jay College; Leslie Finger, University of North Texas

Studies: Homeschooling the Right; “Politics, Markets, and Pandemics.”


Matt Grossmann: The politics of school from home this week on the science of politics. For the Niskanen Center, I’m Matt Grossman. Many Americans have had to help educate their children at home this year as school buildings closed for in-person learning due to COVID-19. And it turns out school reopening decisions have a lot to do with local democratic politics. But other Americans have long been truly homeschooling their kids outside of the public education system. For them homeschool was a hard one right tied to a conservative political movement. This week, I talk with Heath Brown of John Jay College about his new Columbia book, Homeschooling the Right.

He finds that homeschoolers are an important and highly successful grassroots conservative constituency group. Having won rights in every state and helped build and fuse that broader Christian and libertarian right. I also talk with Leslie Finger of the University of North Texas about her timely new paper with Michael Hartney, Politics, Markets, and Pandemics. She finds that democratic leaning areas and those with strong teachers unions have been less likely to provide in-person learning during COVID-19. Politics has been driving school policy, but here it is the liberal interests aiming to learn from home. They both see implications for how school politics has fused with wider political polarization. Brown’s book tracks the long story of homeschooling as a conservative success.

Heath Brown: And the book is narrowly about the relationship between homeschooling policy and politics, but more broadly about the conservative movement and public policy. And I try to weave together in the book the very earliest days of the rise of the religious right and the choice and freedom movements with this story of homeschooling, which in definitional terms is when states and localities allow parents to remove their children from formal public or private schools and educate them in the home in some fashion. This was once illegal. It is now legal and on the rise nationwide.

And homeschooling really emerges in the very earliest days of the conservative movement as a front in the culture wars and in a battle that conservatives actually won and didn’t stop winning. I argue in the book, in fact homeschooling policy has never really been overturned. It has gotten consistently less regulated by states. Parents are regularly given more freedom, and really any state legislator that even dips a toe in the pool of more regulations can expect hundreds of phone calls, emails, and angry office visits within days, very simply nobody messes with homeschooling. And this is not because the policy is backed by well-resourced interest groups giving large campaign donations. This really has been a conservative grassroots success story. And I try to tell that story throughout the book.

Matt Grossmann: Finger and Hartney had been looking at which districts opened and closed during the pandemic and why.

Leslie Finger: In this paper my co-author, Michael Hartney, and I find… Well, we look at whether… What were the factors that shaped school reopening decisions, whether schools decided to reopen in person, or go fully online. And we find that politics mattered more than the severity of the pandemic. Specifically, our most important finding was that the share of the vote won by Trump in a school district’s county is strongly related to whether a school district reopened in person or not. So meaning districts with a higher, more support for Trump tended to be more likely to open in person than those without. And we also found that districts with stronger teacher’s unions were more likely to be remote. And then finally, our third interesting finding here was that districts with a higher number of Catholic schools nearby were more likely to remain open, which suggests to us that private schools might have been exerting some competitive pressures. So the biggest finding here, like the big take home point is that politics both, meaning the Trump vote share and the teacher’s union strength, politics mattered more than public health in determining school district opening decisions.

Matt Grossmann: Brown says the latest debates have made the historical story timely. Now everyone can relate.

Heath Brown: When I started the project, I had to explain to many people what homeschooling was. Five years later, it’s really hard to find anyone, especially parents, who don’t have an incredibly strong view on this topic. We’ll talk a little bit more about this, the reason for that, but I think it’s what makes it an incredibly timely book that wasn’t written originally to be timely. All of a sudden in our pandemic world has become a central point of discussion inside and outside politics. And is really ultimately what made it satisfying to wrap this book up during such a difficult time.

Matt Grossmann: Homeschooling is a significant movement, but it’s still a small minority of students.

Heath Brown: If you thought counting homeschooling families was difficult before this year, it’s become even more difficult now. But before, so let’s just say last year, nationwide there was somewhere between 1.5 and 2 million students homeschooled. The numbers are fuzzy. And the US Department of Education estimates somewhere around 1.7. There’s some advocacy organizations who believe that’s an under count. And the count is closer to 2 million. It’s somewhere in there, around 3% of school-aged children were homeschooled last year. And in some states, this is a considerable portion of the school-aged children. In Florida, for example, 80,000 students last year were homeschooled. In North Carolina, 100,000, really a large portion of education. But there are other states, like Michigan, where we really truly have no idea how many students are homeschooled because the state doesn’t require parents to notify education officials of the choice to homeschool.

So counting in Michigan is largely speculative. And this is in part by design. We’ll be talking about the how homeschooling works and its impact on politics. But homeschooling laws are written fundamentally about giving families, not just the freedom to educate in the home, but all sorts of exemptions from rules, including on data collection. And so in writing the book, this posed a real challenge because simply counting up how many people are homeschooled in a county is difficult. The actual evidence we have on homeschooling outcomes as a result is a mixed bag.

Because we don’t know the things that we know about public schools or really even private schools. The studies that have been done, some of them that are good studies really do find that at homeschool, students do no better or worse in things like high school completion or college attendance or even civic participation. One of the reasons for this is that typically homeschool students, they’re not chosen at random. And they’re not terribly representative of students overall. They tend to come from relatively affluent families, often white, a large portion Christian, and are likely to live in suburban and rural parts of the country. That had been the tradition. This is changing of late, even before the pandemic with much more diversity in who homeschools, especially by race and ethnicity.

Matt Grossmann: Finger says this year lots of large districts are remaining remote.

Leslie Finger: In our data, we have over 10,000 districts. And so that’s not all districts in the country. There are a little over 16,000 school districts in the US, but it’s a lot. Right? So we can definitely get a good idea from that. And of the districts in our data, 24% of them chose to have fully remote instruction in the fall. And so we don’t actually look at how long districts remained closed, but we can know that because a lot of this data has been updated over time. And so I did take a look at that.

And it basically the share of districts that remain remote is about the same in December as it was in September. Now this doesn’t mean that all districts are just staying remote. Some are going more hybrid and then some of the more hybrid and in-person ones are becoming remote. So they’re switching around a little bit. However of the districts that started remote, seven out of 10 remained remote. So it is a lot that are just sticking with their guns. And to just give you a sense of the magnitude of this, most of these districts that are fully remote are big, urban. They’re the largest districts. So that means close to 50% of all children didn’t go back to in-person school in the fall. So the magnitude is quite large.

Matt Grossmann: Of course, there are big differences between homeschooling and what’s happening now, but it may have opened some parents’ eyes.

Heath Brown: I was finishing off the manuscript of this book in March of 2020 right as my hometown, Brooklyn, New York, was witnessing catastrophic loss of life because of COVID. Schools closed, and millions of students began their days in a type of at-home school, not really a homeschool as such but functioning in that way as the best as families could do. And this is what happened all across the country. And so everyone either is homeschooling their children, or has been homeschooling their children, or knows somebody who’s been homeschooling the children. This is very different than even last year at this time. There’s this new report from Chalkbeat, an educational news outlet that has studied this and tried to see whether we see exit from the public school system, because much of the at-home learning that has been going on hasn’t been a formal homeschooling.

Many families may have been doing the education in their living room, but they haven’t been actually dropping out of the public schools. And so Chalkbeat wanted to figure this out. And what they found is precipitous declines in public school enrollment in many states, some large portion, not all of it, likely homeschooling. So for example, in Michigan, Chalkbeat finds a 3% decline in public school enrollment this fall. New Hampshire, 4%. In Mississippi, 5%. Now the data here is tricky and we don’t know exactly what’s happening with the people who show up in those declines, but I suspect when the pandemic is over, it’s going to be difficult for public and private schools to get all of those families back.

Matt Grossmann: So now that we’re seeing a rise in schooling at home that might expand true homeschooling, let’s review the political backstory. Homeschooling became an important organizational force in conservatism, according to Brown.

Heath Brown: Michael Farris founded the most prominent conservative interest group advocating for homeschooling, which is the Homeschool Legal Defense Association, the HSLDA is the acronym, is another very important and prominent figure of the religious right involved in most of the major organizations that have been involved in advocating for the full array of the agenda of the conservative right. And Tom Edsall in his book from 2007 writes about Michael Farris and interviews him. And I think really significant quote that I think that explained a lot to me about some of the vision of this powerful interest group. And so Farris tells Tom Edsall, “We will know that our homeschooling has been successful when we see real life victories from our children.” He writes, “We believe that someday homeschooled young people will help reverse Roe V. Wade, stop same-sex marriage, and help reestablish a strong view of the freedoms established by our founding fathers.”

I think this encapsulates the role that people like Michael Farris saw for homeschooling. Homeschooling was going to be an effective educational tool, but it would also help to prepare conservative activists and prepare them with a pedagogy that was disconnected from what students were learning in public schools, and even in private schools. And by gaining control over the education of these students, they were able to prepare a political generation that was ready to challenge, not just homeschooling policy, but array of other conservative policies. And so we see these people that Michael Farris describe then become later involved in political campaigns.

They are very involved in George W Bush’s campaign in 2000. George W. Bush actually credits homeschool volunteers for helping to mobilize voters in support of him. Mike Huckabee does the same thing in 2008 when he wins the Iowa caucus, credits homeschool families for turning out to help get him elected. Countless Republican candidates for the presidency have looked to the homeschool community, not to advocate for education, but to join them in trying to get elected. Ted Cruz was the latest one who based much of his strategy to get elected in 2016, unsuccessful ultimately, on mobilizing homeschool organizations and homeschool families to do get out the vote work for him. So they have, especially the conservative wing of the homeschool world has been integral in Republican politics at the state level, but as importantly at the national level as well.

Matt Grossmann: And now homeschoolers are mostly conservative and especially untrusting and politically active group.

Heath Brown: The American National Election study of the previous two waves included a question about parents who homeschool. And what I found is probably not surprising. Around two thirds of homeschool parents voted for Donald Trump in 2016. We don’t know 2020. About the same proportion that voted for John McCain and Mitt Romney previously. But if we look within those, what I described as conservative homeschoolers, which is the majority, but not all homeschoolers, and compare them to other conservatives, we see some striking patterns about what they believe. Eight in 10 conservative homeschool parents do not trust Washington to do what’s right, and that’s significantly more than conservatives overall. And compared to conservatives overall, homeschool parents are more likely to volunteer, more likely to donate to a charity, and to participate in a protest. So in short, conservative homeschool parents, even though they have been relatively small in number are civically engaged, but cynical about government. And this has an impact on the larger politics that goes on around homeschooling, and also the ways that they impact politics outside of homeschooling policy.

Matt Grossmann: Homeschooling politics had been different than the charter schools and choice debates that came afterwards.

Heath Brown: When you listen to presidential candidates talk about homeschooling they often include it in a bundle with vouchers, charter schools, and homeschooling, and Donald Trump sort of famously linked the three together as part of a common and undifferentiated educational agenda. It hasn’t always worked exactly like this and much of the book is a comparison between charter schooling and homeschooling and the politics around them. And while they might seem like they would be very similar, they’re actually quite quite different. And, for one thing, homeschooling laws and policies were adopted across the 1980s, nearly all before even the first charter school was adopted in Minnesota in 1991 or so.

So we have this sort of temporal effect where homeschooling precedes charter schooling in many states by nearly a decade. For a long time, the number of students who were homeschooled far outpaced the number of students in localities and states that were charter schooled. Now that has changed over time, but this was a phenomenon that proceeded charter schooling. And part of this is one of the theoretical claims that I make in the book, that the design of these two seemingly similar choice-based policies is actually quite different. And the difference is where the two policies are implemented.

And I make the argument that, that ultimately charter schools, while they have been talked about as radical and sort of a private solution to a public problem, ultimately have been implemented and are embedded in existing public institutions. Charter schools are funded publicly. They abide by many standard assessment policies, health safety regulations are nearly identical across charter schools and most public schools. And so while they do offer some version of choice and freedom for parents, they’re not nearly designed in the same way that homeschools have been. Homeschool families receive no public support. They abide by few regulations about assessment or testing. Rules on vaccination, for example, are largely absent from homeschooling. Whereas a student who is at a charter school would abide by basically the same health and safety regulations as a student at a public school. And so part of the argument that I make is that this is distinct from charter schools.

And that, as a consequence of that, the political coalitions that have formed are very different. Charter schooling has generated a staunch opposition in states and localities, whereas homeschooling really hasn’t. And as a consequence of that charter schools, and charter school policies have tended to be restricted. And even the most unregulated, over time are changed. And the status quo ultimately brings back charter schooling to the more norm. And we see this in restrictions on the number of charter schools that are allowed to be opened, the amount of funding that is given to charter schools. We don’t see that kind of give and take in homeschooling policy. There are very few organized opponents to homeschooling so that when we look at across the country at homeschool laws, they almost never go backwards. There are scant few examples of when homeschoolers have lost political battles.

Matt Grossmann: It’s instead part of a broader agenda of leaving the state.

Heath Brown: I see the phenomena of homeschooling policy has more in common with the politics and policies around gun rights than charter schooling. That there is a libertarian agenda that has taken the form of opting out of public services rather than opting into public services. And a family that decides to homeschool is taking advantage of a policy that is designed to allow them to provide educational services on their own. And this means that the politics of it, that results from that, I think is pretty dramatic. And one of the ways that I studied this in the book is to look at what happens when a family opts out. Whether that opting out results in them moving into a gated community and leaving the conventional neighborhoods that many of us live in or opting out of a public school system and deciding to educate at home, or maybe even to opt out of the conventional public safety and security provided by local police and deciding to protect one’s home with a firearm. In each case, the person is deciding to provide for their needs on their own.

Now for homeschooling policy, for homeschooling families, I argue that this has had a major effect and the effect that this has had has been a very rich civil society that has been created as the result of these needs. So if you decide to educate your children at home, you still have incredible needs for pedagogy, for a curriculum, for textbook material, for mentoring in how to teach, for extracurricular activities for your family. None of those will be provided typically by the public school system or really any other public services.

You’re not going to get textbooks from the school district when you decide to homeschool. So in communities across the country, small grassroots organizations have cropped up over the last 30 to 35 years. Those organizations provide the help that homeschool families need. They do this because they are often detached from the services they would typically get from the state or the locality. Now these organizations that were formed often typically to provide help with how to teach math or how to teach french over time have often become politicized. And they have become instrumental in not just providing for the educational needs of homeschool families, but also the political and legal needs.

Matt Grossmann: That makes it an ironic backstory to the latest debates where conservatives led by President Trump have wanted in person schools reopened, and liberals have been more favorable to home education. The union role in these decisions is an old one, Finger says, but the role of partisanship might be new in local school politics.

Our finding about teachers unions, the strength of teacher’s unions impacting reopening is not new. So traditional school politics have been localized and dominated by interest groups, namely teacher’s unions and school boards and other local actors, but what is different here, and what we find that’s different is the role of partisanship. So first it’s important to underscore that what has been nationalizing here is politics, not policy. So school policy has been nationalizing over time in terms of increasing spending coming from states and the federal government and states and the federal government becoming involved in what happens in schools, think of testing and accountability, Common Core, et cetera. But what we find that’s different here is the politics, the partisanship aspect of it. So most of what I described, things like testing, accountability, and spending, all these things coming from states and the federal government, they involve battles at the state or national levels. Right?

Those things are sort of, policies are made and they are sent down to school districts. What’s different here is that the battle itself, and the way it’s aligning with partisanship is falling at the school district. So traditionally, what happens at school districts is really the result of bargaining with teacher’s unions or decisions among school boards. And so things like the length of the school years, well actually sometimes those come from the state, but things like teacher salaries, the length of the school day, maybe discipline policies, these are all things that are being figured out with local actors. Now, of course, there are exceptions here. Right? There have been moments of more national actors coming in. Right? We’ve seen education reform groups and big foundations get involved in certain school districts, especially in school board races.

And there have been moments where there have been issues at the school district level that get nationalized. So you might think of battles over teaching evolution, or you might think of during the Obama administration, they enacted some rules intended to impact discipline policies. They advised against school discipline that resulted in disproportionate punishment for students of color, but what we’re finding in our paper that’s distinct is that, number one, most decisions that’s most things that happen in school districts are not decisions made nationally, number one.

And number two, they’re not usually around partisan cleavages. So things like backlash to the Common Core and the opt-out movement. I mean, these aren’t really partisan issues. You saw interesting, different, the opt-out movement and Common Core backlash where this alliance between people on the left and the right. So what’s unusual here is the battle over this like very routine thing, whether to reopen schools is being shaped by the partisanship of the district. And this is happening everywhere at once. It’s sort of this simultaneous battle over this really mundane thing that like people normally don’t care about outside of the school board and the school district. And how people are behaving is falling along partisan lines.

Matt Grossmann: Finger and Hartney look nationally, and at four states with better data.

Leslie Finger: So we’re using data from this company called MCH Strategic Data. They’ve been serving school districts on reopening plans since at least this past September, and they update it regularly. And they’re serving literally every single school district in the US and then this information is just public, which is amazing. So, if any of your listeners want to seek it out, it’s there for the taking and they provide information like whether teaching is hybrid or online. And they also provide information about other policies that I’m sure other researchers are looking at like whether staff have to wear masks, whether students are participating in sports, et cetera. Now, of course, they haven’t been able to get every single district to respond. So that’s why we don’t have all 16,000 some school districts in the US. So one might be worried that because we’re missing some districts that this could affect our results.

We might be worried that some districts are systematically different in a way that could impact our results. So we also are looking within four states where we actually have the full universe of districts. So those are Massachusetts, Ohio, Washington, and Virginia. There are results hold within those states. And then what we do is for those states, we use what we have from the actual states and then put it with the MCH data, so that’s the data we’re using. But you’re right that we’re looking at just one decision at one point in time. This is a cross-sectional study. What we can say is that Trump vote share impacted school reopening in the fall. But we can’t say that Trump vote share has impacted decisions over time. So for example, we don’t know if a district becomes more pro-Trump, would this mean the school district would be more likely to open? We can’t look at that longitudinally.

Matt Grossmann: They find consistent partisan differences, but don’t know whether democratic areas have elected officials or constituents that lead to differences in policy.

Leslie Finger: The effect of Trump vote share is small, but it’s there and it’s very robust. So if you go from a district with, let’s say… So let’s think about like borderline districts. So if you went from a school district where 49% of people voted for Trump to one where 51% voted, right, so that’s like, well, you know, that’s the difference between winning or losing. But that’s fairly kind of a marginal change. The probability of the district opening and person with that two percentage point increase goes up about one percentage point. Okay? So that’s one more percentage point likely that the school district would open. So it’s not a huge impact. Where you see the biggest difference is in comparing places that are very anti-Trump to places that are very pro-Trump. So if we think of a district where say like 40% of people support Trump compared to an identical district where 60% of people support Trump, that district is nine percentage points more likely to be fully open.

So that’s a much bigger effect there. We can’t say for sure what’s happening here. I mean, it could be that this is just actually democracy working in a way. Constituents are conservative and they’re pressuring their school board members to open because they perceive that that’s the conservative stance or they genuinely believe that it should be open, and in that way, so it could be responsiveness. Right? It could be constituents believe this is the way it should be. And therefore the school board is opening. It seems clear, whatever the precise mechanism, it seems clear that Trump politicized this issue. You can’t think about this without thinking about how this summer Trump came out really forcefully threatening schools to withhold funding if they didn’t open up. So whether that’s coming through constituents or it could also be school board members themselves are… Maybe some of these people plan to run for office later and they perceive that this is the stance they’re supposed to espouse. We can’t say what the mechanism is, but that’s a really important and interesting question.

Matt Grossmann: They have two measures for the effects of unions.

Leslie Finger: District size as a proxy for union strength. And we’ve gotten some flack for this on Twitter and elsewhere. And clearly this is an imperfect measure. So district size could be capturing other things, though we do control for urbanicity, which should capture much of the size related factors we might worry about with the district size variable. So things like the complexity of just a large bureaucracy might have trouble opening as nimbly. However, there is some research that suggests that that size is a good proxy for strength, but okay. What we would prefer is just to have a better measure.

And so we do also carry out an analysis of whether the teacher’s union engages in collective bargaining. Unfortunately, we only have this first small segment of our districts. We only have it for about 1,500 districts, but our results hold there. We also are currently looking at adding some new parts to bolster this part of the paper. So for example, we have a really great measure for Washington State. For every single school district, we have the share of teachers that contributed to the teacher’s union pack. So we use that as a measure of union strength and we find similar results. And then additionally, other scholars have found a similar relationship to what we have found where the strength of the teacher’s union is related to likelihood of remaining remote. So we feel pretty confident about this result, even though we don’t have the perfect measure.

Matt Grossmann: Officials claim they’re making decisions based on public health data, but they’ve found very limited relationships between their decisions, and COVID severity.

Leslie Finger: We find that COVID case rates have a weak effect when our COVID measure is case rates. Its case rates per 10,000 people, as opposed to total deaths or total cases. So we look at all three things, total deaths, total cases, and case rates. So we do find an effect, but it’s a weak effect. It’s only for case rates. We do not find an effect when we look at total deaths and total cases. And what’s really important here to note is the relationship is way smaller than what we’re finding for partisanship or union strength. Right now, we’re trying to look for additional measures because we recognize that the COVID data is imperfect. And so right now we’re trying to look at hospitalizations. That information is available via Carnegie Mellon. The thinking here is hospitalizations might be more reflective of what is actually happening on the ground rather than… Case rates perhaps are not as reflective of the actual experience of being in a place. That’s where we are with that.

Matt Grossmann: Catholic school competition, however, may lead districts to offer in-person learning.

Leslie Finger: The Catholic school effect is weaker than the partisanship or union strength effect, but it’s still there. So going from having no Catholic schools in district to, let’s say, two Catholic schools per 10,000 people increases the probability of the regular public school district opening in person two percentage points. So this suggests that more Catholic schools exert competitive pressures. We do also look at secular private schools. We include those in the models and we don’t see any effect there. We don’t look at charters, however, but that’s a really interesting idea. That would be a good thing to add. The reason why Catholic schools didn’t follow the same dynamics as other kinds of private schools, is that because we think they’re cheaper. They’re the most popular kind of private schools. So our theory here is Catholic schools are more accessible for people who are thinking of leaving the public school system and as to why they’re able to remain open when the district is closed, well, they’re private schools so they don’t have to follow the same rules.

And I guess what the implications of this are, I mean, I’m sure people who support school choice are happy with these results, because one of the arguments for things like vouchers and schools is that they’ll affect public schools one way or another. The idea is they’ll improve achievement in public schools if public schools have to compete for kids. And certainly that’s, I mean, we can’t say anything about achievement, but we’re certainly finding that there are pressures exerted where public schools will have to fight to keep their kids if they’re surrounded by a lot of other options.

Matt Grossmann: Brown says all this might open an opportunity to change what homeschooling will look like.

Heath Brown: Even pre-pandemic, those who homeschooled had begun to change, and the reasons for homeschooling has changed. And so in sort of very brief terms over the last, let’s say, five years, maybe even 10 years, the homeschooling families have become more racially and ethnically diverse than they once were. Families who homeschool with the aid of technology has opened this up to families who would never have considered it in the past. If you think about what it means to homeschool, it almost always in the past has meant one parent or caregiver providing, serving as the teacher. That has almost always meant that the family has to have the personal, has to have the income in order to pay for just having a single parent working. Technology has changed this. And I think the pandemic has really accelerated this.

And while many families decry the ineffectiveness of virtual learning, for other families who have the resources to form educational pods, who are able to afford educational pod tutors, this alternative, I think, has become something that they will grow [inaudible 00:34:19] of in the future. Now, as the community of who homeschools grows and diversifies, I think what you will get is some of what we’ve seen, which is a greater diversity of voices advocating for homeschooling, pooling the argument I would suspect towards the middle. I would suspect ironically, what that will mean is greater support within the homeschooling world for vouchers and other financial supports. We’ve already seen some of the walls that have existed between homeschooling and public schools come down. So it was once the case, if you were a homeschool athlete, you wouldn’t be able to compete against or with public school or private school students.

Thanks in part to Tim Tebow and the so-called Tim Tebow laws, many states’ homeschooled students are able to compete on their local public school athletic team. And this has meant that a world that had been quite distinct from many of the public institutions like public schools are now much more integrated in with public libraries and public schools in a way that they weren’t in the past. And I suspect this will have a moderating effect on the politics of homeschooling, and it’s going to more closely resemble politics of charter schooling, including more opposition, because as these connections grow and as financial support and other resources go directly to homeschool families, we create some political losers. And in that case, mobilized opposition, I would suspect, will rise. That has never been there in the past. And so I suspect in the future, homeschooling politics is going to much more closely resemble charter schooling politics in a way that in the 1980s and much in the 90s, it really didn’t.

Matt Grossmann: Finger expects some escape to private schools, but not much permanent homeschooling.

Leslie Finger: I think public school is considered a pretty foundational liberal thing to support your public schools. It ties into all these social justice equity kinds of issues and supporting public goods. So I would guess that once the pandemic is over and things go back to normal that people who have opted out of the system because they formed pandemic pods or they went to homeschooling or whatever, I think they’re going to join again. I think it’s a different story for people who send their kids to private school. I mean, they’re like fixed costs there. Your kid is getting to know the teachers, in a new institution, and all this stuff. I think those people may be lost to the public school system.

Matt Grossmann: But she agrees it could change the politics of the choice agenda in schools.

Leslie Finger: I’ll be curious to see how school choice proponents rhetorically use this moment to possibly appeal to families. I mean, there is potentially an argument about when we have a crisis, how does the public school respond? It’s not nimble. Look at these private schools and charter schools that we’re able to manage. So, it could, I suppose they could change the politics of choice somewhat.

Matt Grossmann: There’s a lot more to learn. The Science of Politics is available biweekly from the Niskanen Center. I’m your host, Matt Grossman. Thanks to Heath Brown and Leslie Finger for joining me. Please check out Politics, Markets, and Pandemics and Homeschooling the Right. And then listen in next time.