Charter Schools Saw Enrollment Growth as 1.4 Million Students Left Public Schools: Report

By GQ Pan
GQ Pan
GQ Pan
September 23, 2021 Updated: September 26, 2021

Charter schools across the United States took in hundreds of thousands of new students, as families sought alternatives to public schools during the first full school year of the COVID-19 pandemic, a new report reveals.

Publicly funded, privately managed charters schools in 39 states saw an additional 240,000 students during the 2020-2021 school year, according to the latest “Voting with Their Feet” report (pdf) by the pro-school choice organization National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS). That translates to a 7 percent growth—the highest they’ve seen in half a decade.

Of the 42 states covered in the report, only Illinois, Iowa and Wyoming saw modest decreases in charter enrollment. Oklahoma (35,751), Texas (29,030), and Pennsylvania (22,696) top the list of states with the highest number of new students. In terms of percentages of increase in charter enrollment, the top three states are Oklahoma (78 percent), Alabama (65 percent), and Idaho (24 percent).

The changes took place at the same time that district public schools lost over 1.4 million students. The report acknowledges that many parents who pulled their children out of public schools chose options other than charters, such as home schooling or private schools.

“But the unmistakable message is that something wasn’t working for more than one million parents,” the report’s authors wrote. “They voted with their feet and chose options that are a better fit for their children.”

Public schools moving classes to online during pandemic lockdowns wasn’t the only reason parents switched to charters, according to the report. In a few states, such as Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Utah, charter school enrollment increases were primarily driven by charter schools that offered full-time online instruction.

The authors also provided some additional context from a few states, including Arizona and California. Both states saw increased charter school enrollment from nearly every racial and ethnic group, with California’s district public schools seeing a particularly large decrease in white and black students. In Arizona, 20 percent of public school students now attend charter schools.

While it’s possible that some parents have sent their children back to public schools for the ongoing 2021-2022 school year, NAPCS President and CEO Nina Rees believes that scenario is very unlikely.

“Families are sending a clear message. They want more public school options,” said Rees in a press release. “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,” she continued. “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.”

GQ Pan