Superintendent Mary Alice McLean discussed the increased number of students whose parents have placed them in homeschooling this year with Regional School Unit 71’s Board of Directors at its Nov. 23 meeting.

Parents of 50 students decided to homeschool their children this year because of coronavirus concerns, McLean said. This is a dramatic increase from previous years, and could have an impact on how much the state subsidizes the school district for the 2021-22 school year.

RSU 71 Director of Finance Chandra Hodgdon estimates the district is poised to lose about $350,000 in state subsidy, based on the number of students enrolled in the district. She is still in the process of developing a budget for the next school year with board members and said she is unsure how the district will cover the loss.

Maine Department of Education Communications Director Kelli Deveaux said school districts statewide are seeing an increased rate of families opting for homeschooling. At least 3,000 more students are being homeschooled this year than last year, bringing the number of students in homeschooling statewide to about 10,000 this year.

Some superintendents are seeing homeschooled students returning since the beginning of the school year, but none of them told Deveaux that they are surprised to see an increased number of homeschooled students, she said.

Some parents chose homeschooling because they wanted more control over the schooling schedule, while others made the decision out of concern for health issues, she said.

Deveaux said the department is still discussing options to help decrease the effects of financial loss on districts. She expects that most of the homeschooled students will return to school next year. But it is too early to determine whether districts will have funding available for a high number of returning students next school year.

RSU 71 offers a remote learning course for students whose parents are reluctant to send them back to school during the coronavirus pandemic. As of November, there were 215 students enrolled in remote learning, according to McLean

There were 237 students in remote learning at the beginning of the school year, which means 22 students have returned to in-person instruction.

The district also gives parents the option to use MOOSE learning modules, which were developed by the Maine Department of Education to supplement student learning when they cannot access classroom instruction. Two students are currently using the MOOSE program.

McLean said she expects many of the homeschooled kids to return for the next school year and welcomes any students back this year whose parents wish to reenter them into the district.