EdChoice just released its latest survey on K-12 education, parent experiences, and school choice and one thing is clear – parent demand for charter schools continues to exceed the supply. According to this survey, if they could select any type of school, 16 percent of parents would select a charter school in order to obtain the best education for their child. (Bear in mind, that just six percent of public school students currently attend a charter school.) Of course, there are plenty of other interesting takeaways from this survey, but this is the one that catches my eye.
At the National Alliance, we continually try to assess the unmet demand for charter schools. Some years ago, we added up whatever information we could find about the number of students on charter school wait lists and determined that there were about one million names, representing about 600 thousand unique students, who were still waiting for a spot in a charter school. But this doesn’t capture parents in school districts with no charter schools and it doesn’t capture parents who don’t apply because they are disheartened by the difficulty of navigating a system and then winding up on a wait list. And, to be honest, it doesn’t accurately capture the fact that some schools – those with outstanding reputations – will just always have long wait lists.
So, in the spring of 2016, we surveyed 1,000 parents of school-age children, and 10 percent of them indicated that a charter school was their number one choice. Earlier this fall, Phi Delta Kappan’s 49th Annual Poll found that 17 percent of parents would pick a charter school for their student. The latest EdChoice poll confirms that, if they were widely available and transportation were not an issue, enrollment in charter schools would be at least double, if not triple, what it is currently. Further, in the last five EdChoice surveys, parent preference for charter schools has increased from 7 percent in 2013 to 16 percent in 2017. And the preference is highest among the youngest parents – 17 percent of Millennials surveyed by EdChoice prefer a charter school for their child – a leading indicator that demand is likely on the upswing.
The political environment has certainly been volatile recently and general public support for charter schools seems to have declined. However, that decline is not reflected in the preferences of those who matter most – parents of school-age children. These are the people on the front line of public education and they deserve to have access to the schools that they believe will provide the best education for their child.