Public charter schools experienced enrollment gains amid historic decline in overall public school enrollment
Hundreds of thousands of families switched to charter schools during the first full year of the COVID pandemic, signaling strong demand for new public school options. Charter school enrollment has not grown this much in a single year in half a decade. Conversely, district enrollment dropped precipitously during the same period.
According to Voting with Their Feet: A State-level Analysis of Public Charter School and District Public School Enrollment Trends, a new report by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, charter school enrollment increased 7% during the 2020-2021 school year. In all, nearly 240,000 new students enrolled in these unique public schools, while 1.4 million students left their district public schools. Charter schools are an important part of the public school ecosystem. Without them, overall public school enrollment declines would have been far worse, and many families would have suffered even more during this time of unprecedented challenge.
An analysis of available data in 42 states (including the District of Columbia) reveals charter school growth in all types of communities – rural, suburban, and urban. Oklahoma, Texas, and Pennsylvania top the list of states with the highest number of new students. California and Arizona saw increased charter school enrollment from nearly every racial and ethnic group, with California’s public charter schools experiencing particularly large increases of Asian, Filipino, Hispanic, and multi-racial students. In Arizona, public charter schools saw increases of Black and white students.
“Families are sending a clear message,” said Nina Rees, President and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. “They want more public school options. From the Pacific Northwest to the Deep South, the pandemic forced families to rethink where and how education could be delivered to their children. And now that they know what’s available, why would they go back to an option that never really worked for them in the first place? Families are voting with their feet and finding the best fit for their children. It is gratifying to see the data prove what I hear from families of charter school students everyday: Public charter schools work for them, and they want more.”
Nearly every state with public charter schools saw enrollment increases – and this trend is not likely to reverse. For example, charter school enrollment in Georgia grew 9% during the reporting period and recent polling released by the Georgia Charter Schools Association shows 65% of registered voters in Georgia hold favorable views of public charter schools. Similarly, in its annual poll, California Charter Schools Association found more than three in four California voters believe parents have the right to choose a charter school if they think it is better for their child.
Illinois, Iowa, and Wyoming are the only states in this report that saw even a modest decrease in charter school enrollment during this period, and in those states district school enrollment loss was significantly higher. Nationally, charter schools are the only part of the public education sector to grow during the COVID pandemic. Data was unavailable from Tennessee, Kansas, Puerto Rico, and Guam. These states and territories are not included in the report. The report also does not include data from states that do not have charter schools.
To view data from 42 states, read Voting with Their Feet: A State-level Analysis of Public Charter School and District Public School Enrollment Trends.
National Alliance experts are available for interview and comment. Please reach out to Jennifer Diaz at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions and to schedule an interview.