As each year comes to a close, we look back at how charter school stories came to life in the news. We work closely with the dedicated and hard-working education journalists across the country – those who cover federal and state policy, community triumphs, and trends in public education education – to share the stories of students, teachers, leaders, parents, activists, and electeds who make the charter school movement what it is.
To get a close look at what happened in the charter school sector in 2023, as told by the media, take a look below at a few highlights!
Getting the Facts Right
More than 30 years into charter schools’ existence, there is still widespread confusion about what a charter school actually IS.? Folks might think charter schools are private or exclusive when in reality, charter schools are always free, public, and open to all.
Washington Post, Charter schools are public schools. Period.: “Charter schools are public schools. Period. They were undoubtedly conceived as such, and every state with a charter law explicitly affirms the public nature of these unique schools… As public schools, they are bound by certain laws, and their students are entitled to certain constitutional protections, including freedom from discrimination. This should not be up for debate. This nuanced dispute cuts at the very core of what charter schools are charged with doing: educating all public school students with certain freedoms in exchange for accountability.” –Opinion piece written by Nina Rees, President & CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools
USA Today, Here’s what ‘Abbott Elementary’ and Quinta Brunson get wrong about charter schools: “Charter schools are neither villain nor panacea. And neither are district schools. Both are part of the larger public education community, and they both need our love and support… It stings for one of the most popular sitcoms to portray the work of charter schools in a way that doesn’t reflect who we are or what we do.” – Opinion piece written by Debbie Veney, Senior Vice President, Communications and Marketing at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools
Trends in Public School Enrollment
Wall Street Journal, Public Schools Lost More Than One Million Students During Pandemic: “Public schools in the U.S. have lost more than a million students since the start of the pandemic, prompting some districts across the country to close buildings because they don’t have enough pupils or funding to keep them open… Declining birthrates, a rise in home schooling and growing competition from private and charter schools are contributing to the decline in traditional public-school enrollment, according to school officials.
“Nationwide, public-school enrollment fell by more than 1.4 million students to 49.4 million between fall 2019 and fall 2020—a decline of roughly 3%, according to data from the U.S. Education Department. The following school year, enrollment failed to return to prepandemic levels and remained roughly flat… Charter-school enrollment rose more than 7% from the 2019-20 school year to the 2020-21 school year, and then fell slightly in the 2021-22 school year to about 3.7 million students, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.”
USA TODAY, School choice is still on parents’ minds following COVID closures. Where are students going?: “Families are moving kids from their neighborhood public schools and enrolling them in charter schools, other public schools in their cities, private or parochial schools or homeschooling programs. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools found that charter school enrollment held steady from the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years for the 2021-22 school year, hanging onto about 240,000 students who shifted to charters early in the pandemic.
“The adjustment … appears to be a new normal,’ instead of a temporary reaction to turbulent times,” the group said.”
USA Today, Why parents who moved kids to alternative schools amid pandemic are keeping them there: “Public school enrollment dipped nearly 3% nationwide from 2019 to 2020 and hasn’t rebounded, though declining birthrates and immigration patterns were projected to cut into this population long before the pandemic… Charter schools gained and retained hundreds of thousands of students.
“Reeve Mora, a mom of three children from New Mexico, decided during the pandemic that a charter school was right for her family. Two of her kids attend Corrales International School in Albuquerque, which focuses on international studies. Compared with the public school her kids attended before the pandemic, Mora said the charter her kids go to now has smaller class sizes, and the teachers there are able to work more closely with her family because of it.”
New York Times, A Campus With a Smokestack: Converting Old Factories Into Schools: “Charter schools reported significant growth during the early years of the pandemic. Enrollment rose 7 percent, or more than 240,000 students, in the 2020-21 school year from the previous school year, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Enrollment has since waned slightly, though the number of facilities continues to increase. Since 2000, public schools have lost about 1.2 million students.
“There’s still a need for schools, and the market has picked up again after stalling out a bit,” said Amanda Whitaker of ANF Architects, which focuses on education projects, including a charter high school in Crosstown Concourse, a former Sears warehouse in Memphis that was converted into a vertical village. “In the charter school realm, and lower-income, inner-city area, the ability to find a vacant lot to build a school just isn’t there,” she said.”
Defending Charter Schools As Public Schools
In mid-2023, Oklahoma attempted to create a religious charter school when an authorizing body approved a charter contract for a religious charter school. However, public education advocates stood fiercly with the Oklahoma Attorney General in the fight against the constititutionality of this school’s right to exist. Public charter schools are required to follow state and federal law, are prohibited from teaching religion, and must accept all students who seek to attend.
Washington Post, Oklahoma Catholics could open the door for religious charter schools: “By opening the charter school, the archdiocese hopes to fill a need for rural students who want a Catholic education but do not live close enough to a bricks-and-mortar one to attend. But it also hopes to force the question of whether a charter school can be religious, and it expects that its efforts will invite litigation…
“This movement was never about private education. It was about public schools and making them better by making them more responsive to the needs of families,” said Nina Rees, president of the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools.””
FOX News, Catholic charter schools? Oklahoma City tests the waters: “Oklahoma’s proposed virtual Catholic charter – St. Isidore of Seville – would have about 500 students according to Farley. Charter school advocates, however, say that it’s the message they’re the most concerned about. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools said a Catholic charter school goes against some of the main principles of a charter school, namely that it’s a public school.
“All charter schools are public schools,” said Nina Rees, the group’s president. “And in that sense, they cannot teach religion. They have to abide by the First Amendment or the establishment clause of the First Amendment.””
New York Times, Oklahoma Approves First Religious Charter School in the U.S.: “Oklahoma approved what would be the nation’s first religious charter school on Monday, handing a victory to Christian conservatives but opening the door to a constitutional battle over whether taxpayer dollars can directly fund religious schools.
“The Archdiocese of Oklahoma City is trying to make charter schools into something they are not,” said Nina Rees, the chief executive of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
“Since they arose in the 1990s, charter schools have been public schools funded with taxpayer money. They are meant to offer innovation and flexibility; students can enroll from any school zone, for example. In 2020, about 8 percent of public schools in the United States were charter schools.”
And One More…
Wall Street Journal, Why Does New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy Hate Charter Schools?: “Do students matter to politicians, or do they only care about the adults in unions who finance their campaigns? That’s the question for New Jersey Democrats, especially Gov. Phil Murphy, who has to be willfully blind to ignore the evidence that charter schools in his state are improving education performance for his state’s neediest children… Overall, charter students are 43% more likely to be at grade level in English and 47% more likely to be at grade level in math than district students, the [New Jersery] charter school association calculates. With this kind of disparity, you’d think anyone in public office would be calling for more charter applications to teach more students. But this is New Jersey, where Democrats are led by the New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union.
“The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools reports that New Jersey charters gained more than 3,000 students during the pandemic years, while district schools lost nearly 40,000. Some 28,000 students are on charter wait lists. About 13 charters have applied for some 2,700 more seats this year, the New Jersey Children’s Foundation estimates.”
Alanna Klein is the senior manager of media strategy at the National Alliance for Public Charter School.