Top Three Takeaways from Public School Enrollment Shifts During the Pandemic

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We learned many parents voted with their feet by switching their students to charter schools during the pandemic—documented in the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools’ 2021 state level analysis of public charter school and district public school enrollment. In our 2022 analysis, “Changing Course: Public School Enrollment Shifts During the Pandemic,” the National Alliance examined enrollment data and population shifts during the 2019-20, 2020-21, and 2021-22 school years. Here are our top three takeaways.  

Students Who Left Their District School Didn’t Come Back 

The enrollment numbers in our 2022 analysis remained generally consistent with our original findings in our 2021 report. Since the beginning of the pandemic, charter schools gained approximately 240,000 students—a 7% increase. Nearly 1.5 million students (3.5%) switched out of their district school. This means families were happy with their choices and did not need to make another move.  

In our recent survey of 5,000 parents conducted by the Harris Poll, we found that 89% of parents whose children have switched school types report that they or their child experienced a positive change as a result of the switch—namely that their child is happier (57%). 

During the 2019-20 to 2021-22 school years, charter school enrollment increased in 39 out of 41 states included in our report. Only Illinois and Wyoming schools saw slightly decreased enrollment at charter schools. Conversely, district school enrollment increased slightly in only two states: Idaho and Utah.    

Public Charter School Enrollment Grew for White, Black, and Hispanic Students 

Enrollment for White, Black, and Hispanic students increased in charter schools. In 34 of 41 states, public charter school enrollment growth outpaced population growth for school-aged children. In all 41 states, enrollment in district public schools underperformed state population trends. 

Parents Want to Choose Where their Children Attend School  

Parents know what is best for their students. When given the opportunity to select a school that best fits their child’s needs, many are going to take it. Nearly 1.5 million students left schools they were zoned to attend, demonstrating the demand for more education options. Overall, it's important for all types of public schools to evolve together to meet the unique needs of our students.  


Brittnee Exum is the manager of communications and marketing at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.