Education Minister Nancy Allan has her bureaucrats scrambling to find out why there's been a large growth in students being schooled at home by their parents.
Home-schooling grew by 32.1 per cent over the past year -- by 583 children, or more than the growth in public and private schools combined.
"We haven't done an in-depth analysis," Allan said. "It's about parental choice."
Home-schooling has more than doubled in the past decade, from 1,050 in 2002 to 2,399 on Sept. 30, 2012, when the official head count was taken.
Allan pointed out the province gave home-schooling families an extra month this past year to report, but couldn't explain how that might affect year-to-year results so dramatically.
There is anecdotal evidence some immigrants with strong religious beliefs are choosing to school their children at home.
"Sometimes it's a reaction to what's happening in the public and private schools," said Ian Mogilevsky, president of the Manitoba Association of Christian Home Schools.
"It's not surprising that home-schooling has grown," Mogilevsky said.
"Home-schooling is growing in every segment of Manitoba -- we're certainly getting more home-schoolers in Winnipeg," said the River Heights resident, who has seven children. A home-schooled daughter is now in university, he has one preschooler and five being taught at home.
"The ability to instil values important to them as a family is key," Mogilevsky said.
The anti-bullying Bill 18, which requires any funded public or private school to accommodate a student who asks to form a gay-straight alliance in the school, may lead to more home-schooling, said Mogilevsky: "It certainly may encourage parents to take a closer look at home-schooling."
Having such extensive online resources available helps parents teach at home, he said. "Parents are learning right beside them. Individualized attention and individualized programming that they're able to provide to their kids is really excellent."
Monique Turner, president of the Manitoba Association for Schooling at Home, echoed Mogilevsky on growth: "We've been seeing growth in our membership. People want to be home with their kids -- they enjoy teaching their kids," she said.
Where faith is not a factor, parents may keep their kids at home because of bullying or because they can give their kids individual attention without the distractions in a regular classroom, Turner said.
Overall, enrolment is up in every type of Manitoba school, and it is up in public schools for the third year, by 0.2 per cent -- marginal, certainly, but those three years of growth follow 16 years of steady decline.
"There's no question; some of it will be because of immigration," said Allan.
This is also the second year Manitoba has required students who would previously have dropped out to stay in school until 18, unless they graduate first. There is, however, no penalty being enforced on those who don't comply.
Enrolment in funded private schools is up 0.9 per cent, and in private schools that don't accept provincial funding it's up by 7.5 per cent -- however, the province does not require those often-tiny schools to report annually, and several have reported for the first time in two or three years, said the minister.
The province's largest high schools continue to grow ever larger. Sisler High, for decades Manitoba's largest school, has hit 1,884 and shows no signs of slowing down. Nor does second-place Maples Collegiate, which has grown by 481 students in the past decade.
Kelvin High, long the runner-up to Sisler, has dropped to fifth while holding steady. Garden City Collegiate has reached third place, having added 485 students in the past decade.
Allan said she's aware Sisler, Maples and Garden City are generally clustered in Winnipeg's northwest, and Seven Oaks and Winnipeg school divisions have talked about sharing a new high school in that sector.
But a high school costs upwards of $40 million these days, and "We're in difficult economic times," said Allan.
There are calls for new schools from Seven Oaks, Brandon, Beautiful Plains SD in Neepawa and Western SD in Morden.
Allan said the throne speech promised the first school will be built in each of the two mega-suburbs, Sage Creek in the southeast corner of Winnipeg and Waverley West in the city's southwest.
"We'll make an announcement soon about what's happening in Waverley West," she said.
Off to school they go
ENROLMENT in Manitoba schools as of Sept. 30, 2012, with gains and losses from 2011 in brackets:
Total nursery to Grade 12: 199,229 (+1,129)
Public schools and First Nations schools administered by public school divisions: 181,374 (+405)
Independent schools accepting public funding: 13,894 (+57)
Independent schools declining public funding: 1,202 (+84)
Home-schooling: 2,399 (+583)
MANITOBA'S biggest schools, with gains and losses from 2011 in brackets:
Sisler 1,884 (+39)
Maples 1,684 (+81)
Garden City 1,404 (+68)
Steinbach Regional 1,394 (+51)
Kelvin 1,358 (-15)
Sturgeon Heights 1,326 (-46)
Garden Valley 1,295 (+24)
Kildonan East 1,284 (+17)
Lord Selkirk 1,258 (-12)
Vincent Massey (Wpg.) 1,247 (-31)
Tec Voc 1,244 (+20)
Crocus Plains 1,217 (+1)
Glenlawn 1,216 (-30)
Grant Park 1,206 (+18)
Daniel McIntyre 1,200 (-37)
Dakota 1,180 (-53)
Helen Betty Osborne 1,164 (+24)
Miles Macdonell 1,154 (-72)
WINNIPEG'S smallest schools, with gains or losses from 2011 in brackets:
Chapman 72 (-3)
Sherwood 106 (+13)
Dr. D.W. Penner 113 (-5)
Parc La Salle 121 (+9)
Tuxedo Park 123 (-3)
Ralph Maybank 126 (+6)
Lord Wolseley 127 (+4)
Westgrove 129 (+1)
Collicutt 131 (+6)
Marion 133 (+5)
Polson 133 (-19)
Governor Semple 138 (-1)
Fort Rouge 139 (+10)
La Barriere Crossings 140 (+8)
Archwood 141 (+27)
-- source: department of education; report at: www.edu.gov.mb.ca/k12/finance/sch_enrol/enrolment_2012.pdf