Homeschooling reached a milestone in North Carolina in the 2014-15 school year. The number of students enrolled in homeschools in the state topped 100,000.

Officially, the N.C. Division of Non-Public Education lists 106,853 students in homeschools, up from 98,172 the previous year, or a 9 percent increase. In 1985-86, the first year homeschooling was legal in North Carolina, 809 students were educated at home.

Of the 67,804 homeschools in the state, 41,522 are considered religious while another 26,282 are deemed independent.

“It’s no longer a fringe movement; homeschooling is mainstream, and families from a variety of backgrounds choose to homeschool their children,” said Terry Stoops, director of research and education studies at the John Locke Foundation. “That’s a big change. In the past homeschooling was primarily practiced by white, middle-class evangelicals. Now you will find [among homeschoolers] liberals, folks from every socioeconomic rung, and a variety of religious rules.”

Homeschool enrollment also is higher than the enrollment in North Carolina private schools, listed at 97,259 students.

“Really it’s a symbolic milestone, because homeschoolers have always been politically influential, and exceeding 100,000 students doesn’t necessarily make them even more so,” Stoops said.

With 6,359 homeschoolers, Wake County has the largest home school population in the state. Tyrrell County has the fewest number of homeschoolers — 28.

Some homeschool advocates argue that the Division of Non-Public Education underestimates the number of homeschoolers, Stoops said. They claim the state actually passed the 100,000 threshold years ago.

“The North Carolinians for Home School Education estimate that there are 170,000 homeschoolers in North Carolina,” Stoops said.

He said that the organization argues that the formula the state uses for estimating homeschooling students of around 1.5 children per homeschool understates actual enrollment. The advocacy group says the number of students per school should be closer to two.

Stoops noted that while schools are required to register with the division, students are not.

Stoops also said a law passed in the 2013 session of the General Assembly made it much easier to homeschool.

“That law allowed homeschoolers to receive outside instruction, whereas in the past they were not allowed to,” Stoops said. “The change was really brought on because of online education. Homeschool parents wanted to take advantage of the wealth of resources that are available on the Internet.”

The previous definition had required instruction to come from parents or guardians.

One student helped by that change is 16-year-old Shane Jenkins, who will enter the 11th grade this fall at the Jenkins School of Learning in Vance County, where his mother is the teacher. Jenkins was homeschooled in the sixth and seventh grades, but tried going to public school in the eighth grade.

“I was a new kid and everyone wanted to pick on me,” Jenkins said. “I’m not good with bullying. I had a lot of people try to push me around, and I don’t like to be pushed around.”

So after a half a year at a public middle school, he returned home.

Jenkins, along with about 60 other students, attends tutoring sessions on Mondays and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. His tutor assigns homework on Mondays, and his mother helps him at home with his schoolwork on other days, Jenkins said.

Jenkins said that being able to attend homeschool works for him and his family. He said the schedule allows him to help around the house with his father, who has a disability, and to assist his mother.

He said his grades are average in most subjects, except math, which were “way above average.”

Jenkins also noted that even though he’s homeschooled, he still has to take end-of-grade tests.

As for socialization with other kids, Jenkins said there are nine students his age at the tutoring sessions. He also plays on a recreation league baseball team and is a junior volunteer firefighter.

Firefighting appears to be Jenkins’ career goal.

“When I turn 18, I want to go into the fire academy and become a professional,” Jenkins said.

Barry Smith (@Barry_Smith) is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.