Wyoming Among Top States for Homeschooling
Parents, organizations say Wyoming’s laws, homeschool community make learning at home easy
- Published In: Other News & Features
- Last Updated: Aug 18, 2023
In this Oct. 9, 2019, photo, Donya Grant, center, works on a homeschool lesson with her son Kemper, 14, as her daughter Rowyn, 11, works at right, at their home in Monroe, Washington. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
By Carrie Haderlie
Special to the Wyoming Truth
This story has been updated on August 18, 2023 to reflect the correct name and location of California-based Age of Learning as of 4:50 p.m. MT.
This story has been updated to correct references to the company Age of Learning on August 30, 2023 at noon MT.
As more families nationwide are turning to home education, Wyoming ranked seventh in the nation for its overall “homeschooling score,” tallied by a nationwide education technology organization.
“There were a few reasons that Wyoming got to the top of the list or near the top,” Cailin Sandvig, vice president of marketing for Homeschool+ for California-based Age of Learning, said in an interview with the Wyoming Truth.
“One, [Wyoming] has low restrictions. It doesn’t have no restrictions. But there are a lot of good, homeschool friendly laws in Wyoming,” she said.
Per capita, Wyoming is home to the 12th most students enrolled in a homeschool program, according to Age of Learning’s comparative analysis, which used data from LegiScan and the US Census Household Pulse Survey to rank all 50 states on a 100-point scale. Wyoming earned 76 out of 100 points, following states like Idaho, Indiana, Utah and Arkansas in the top four spots.
During the 2022-2023 school year, there were 3,917 reported homeschool students in the state’s 48 school districts, according to the Wyoming Department of Education (WDE). October 2022 enrollment figures, which include all students enrolled in any capacity at a Wyoming public school – meaning, enrolled and taking at least one class virtually or in person – show there were 91,640 K-12 students statewide. (Homeschool student counts are collected separately, in aggregate with no student-level data, and are not included in Wyoming’s public school enrollment counts.)
Wyoming also has the 16th most accommodating homeschool laws and regulations of any state, and the second most homeschool-related groups, per capita, of all 50 states.
“Homeschooling is an absolutely legitimate choice for families. You can give your child an excellent education homeschooling,” Sandvig said, adding that the impetus behind the study was less about the awareness for policymakers and more about supporting homeschool educators.
According to the WDE, a home-based educational program in Wyoming must meet the requirements of a “Basic Academic Educational Program,” as defined in state statute. Parents must provide a letter of intent and complete a district homeschool registration form, as well as submit curriculum to the local district each year.
Different paces, less stress
Karen Davies, who homeschools her children in the Big Horn area, created a hybrid model that combines private, virtual and homeschool options for her four children. Annabelle graduated high school in 2022 after being homeschooled. She is finishing an associate degree at Sheridan College and hopes to attend a four-year school. Samuel, now 12, was homeschooled for several years before attending online school last year. He will attend Valor Academy, a private school in Sheridan, where Davies, a former public school teacher, also will also teach beginning this fall.
Davies’ 15-year-old daughter Cooper will continue to attend Cowboy State Virtual Academy, learning at home, and her 17-year-old son Jackson mainly takes Sheridan College classes, also at home.
Her children, she said, report in various ways to the state. Cooper, who attends the virtual Sheridan County School District 1 program, is registered there. For Samuel, Davies would submit in writing her homeschool plan to the local school district, but now will follow Valor Academy requirements.
“It’s a really simple process,” Davies said.
Lauren Hamlet-Williams, who homeschools her four children aged 13, 10, 8 and 5, said she has found the state allows for “freedom in the homeschool community.”
“Children learn at different paces, and in other states you have to have rigorous testing throughout the school year,” Hamlet-Williams told the Wyoming Truth. “Wyoming doesn’t require that, so there is no stress on my kids. I’ve seen that with the alleviation of that stress, my kids have flourished more than when they were expected to meet certain standards.”
Davies said she did “a ton of research” to figure out how best to teach her kids at home.
“It’s unknown, so it can be scary,” she said. “But I had someone who had been through the process mentor me.”
As her children transition out of high school and into college, Davies keeps an eye on Wyoming’s Hathaway Scholarship requirements and pays for them to take standardized tests like the ACT. (She said Annabelle received one.) National organizations, such as the Home School Legal Defense Association, offer transcript templates, she said, and being aware of the tools out there is crucial to college success.
“You just have to be aware of all those tools, and know what your rights are in the state you are in,” she said. “But the benefits are having flexibility. … We are able to travel a lot, extending into winter and fall, and we see family more.”
After the pandemic, Hamlet-Williams dove into homeschooling head first, although it was something she’d considered before 2020.
“As I started sending my kids off [to school], I realized that by the time you get them on the bus at 7:30 a.m. in the morning, they’re not coming home until 3:30 p.m.,” she said. “If they have sports, it was sometimes 5 p.m. before I would see them, and I felt like I was losing my time with my kids.
“I started feeling that anxiety when my daughter was nine, when I realized I was halfway through raising her. I had to re-assess my priorities and decide how I wanted to spend my time,” Hamlet-Williams said.
She had some reservations about how organized she would need to be, but she adapted.
“I was like, I don’t think I can be that organized. But when COVID happened, and we were forced to go home anyway, that kind of told me that yes, I could do this,” she said.
The Hamlet-Williams children “peacefully wake up when we naturally wake up, we start our day cozy with books and have steamers or hot chocolate, and we are snuggling as we start the day.”
“It is not a rushing, get-this-done mentality,” Hamlet-Williams said.
She chooses curriculum materials that fit her children’s’ needs, and they attend a homeschool co-op on Thursdays with other children.
“When I think back to what I thought homeschool was, I kind of laugh,” Hamlet-Williams said. “You can certainly make it hard. You can make it rigorous, but I don’t want to teach that. We have a lot of reasons to homeschool, but one of them is to [reduce] stress.”
Sandvig, of Age of Learning’s Homeschool+, said there has been an interesting shift in attitudes around homeschooling, especially at a legislative level in recent years.
“Parental choice in education is coming into play a lot more. Homeschooling used to be subversive,” she said. “But this is emerging, especially post-pandemic, as an accepted, understood educational option for children.”
Hamlet-Williams said her family will continue to make education decisions year-by-year, although she does not foresee her children returning to public school any time soon. She advised anyone considering homeschooling to give it a try.
“It doesn’t have to be permanent,” Hamlet-Williams said. “Try it out for a year, and if it went so poorly, you lost your mind, put them back. But what if it is the best thing you ever did?”