CABOT, Ark. – More than 20,000 Arkansas students learn in the comfort of their own home.
A new state law requires public school districts to develop policies for these home-schoolers to enroll in individual classes.
The legislature passed it to strengthen a 2017 law, which allows home-schooled and private-school students to take courses in their local school districts. Lawmakers found some of the state’s largest districts lacked participation, including the Cabot School Disrict where nearly 600 kids learn at home, according to the Arkansas Department of Education’s 2017-2018 report.
“We chose to home-school because it’s best for our lifestyle,” said Becky Williams. “This is what’s right for our family because when they do struggle in an area, I’m able to stop and focus on that and give them the help that they need.”
During a school day in the Williams household, the students don’t raise their hand and the teacher doesn’t write on the chalkboard, but together they learn math, writing, history and science on their kitchen table.
“Reading is their favorite,” Williams said.
The military wife, small business owner and nonprofit leader develops the curriculum for each subject for 12-year-old Abigail and 11-year-old Thomas.
“We finish one book and go to the next one,” Williams said.
Her children also get plenty of time beyond the textbook at home. One example is the family’s 3D printer that was hard at work Thursday creating a dinosaur.
“That’s our newest little toy,” Williams said.
Her students get hands-on experience away from home as well through various programs in Little Rock. Their most recent adventure was a six-week trades workshop, which included construction, plumbing, electrical and welding.
“That gave them another perspective,” Williams said. “Something outside of mom.”
One perspective Abigail and Thomas haven’t had is public school. The new state law would allow them to take certain classes in the Cabot School District, but their teacher is somewhat skeptical.
“You’re letting them in with the kids who have been held to these specific criteria,” Williams said. “So how do you mesh those two and allow that?”
However, when her students become high-school age, Williams would like them to have access to things like chemistry and biology labs, which she said is currently only available to them in the capital city.
“That is my goal to make Cabot a place that I never have to leave so that everything is here,” Williams said.
In the meantime, her household will power through Algebra and Division in hopes of breaking for the summer soon.
“We’ll probably be going with math until the middle of June, but all of our other subjects we should be done with by the end of May,” Williams said.
The new law requires school districts to adopt a policy on this that the school board approves, but it does allow for several exemptions. Districts could request a waiver or limit enrollment if the additional students would cause them to lose money. Those that accept home-schooled and private-school students receive one-sixth of the foundation funding amount provided by the state per student for each course they take.