Charter schools see a 7% boost in enrollment during COVID, supporters say
About 240,000 students switched to public charter schools during the heavily disrupted 2020-21 school year, accounting for a 7% boost in enrollment, according to a new report by a leading charter school advocacy organization.
Overall, about 1.4 million students left district public schools while charter schools saw their sharpest enrollment growth in about five years in rural, suburban and urban communities, according to the “Voting With Their Feet” report by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
“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.”
Nearly every state with public charter schools saw enrollment increases, with the biggest gains recorded in Oklahoma, Texas, and Pennsylvania. In Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Utah, the enrollment growth was driven by virtual charter schools.
In California and Arizona, overall charter enrollment grew for nearly every racial and ethnic group, the report says. California’s public charter schools experienced particularly large increases of Asian, Filipino, Hispanic and multiracial students. In Arizona, more Black students enrolled in public charters.
In Georgia, charter school enrollment increased by 9%, and a survey by the Georgia Charter Schools Association showed that 65% of registered voters in the state have favorable views of public charter schools. And an annual California Charter Schools Association poll found that more than three in four voters there believe parents should have the right to choose a charter school.
Charter enrollment dropped modestly in Illinois, Iowa, and Wyoming, where public district schools suffered significantly higher enrollment losses, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools says.
The authors of the report note that public school enrollment began to decline in many cities prior to the pandemic.
“It is premature to draw any conclusions about why charter school enrollment grew while enrollment in district public schools declined,” they wrote. “The pandemic merely exacerbated and accelerated what was already happening in many communities.”