Even as families explore other forms of school choice, charter schools remain a popular public education option
Today, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools released Believing in Public Education: A Demographic and State-level Analysis of Public Charter School and District Public School Enrollment Trends, a new data analysis of public school enrollment during the last four school years (2019-2023).
In the most recent school year, from 2022 to 2023, charter school enrollment grew 2%, while district school enrollment remained flat. In practical terms, this means charter school enrollment increased by 72,241 students (or 2.02%) while district public school enrollment increased by only 7,458 students (or 0.02%) nationwide. Looking at raw numbers, charter schools enrolled nearly 10 times the number of new students as district schools in the last school year. This represents meaningful growth for charter schools, especially considering that these unique public schools only serve 7.5% of the nation’s public school students.
Over the last four school years (2019-20 to 2022-23), charter schools gained more than 300,000 new students, an increase of 9%. Meanwhile, district public schools lost 1.5 million students at the beginning of the pandemic and enrollment has not rebounded over the past three years, creating a net loss of 3.5%.
“Public charter schools remain a popular choice for families across the nation,” says Nina Rees, President and CEO of the National Alliance. “Free, public, and open to all, charter schools deliver a high-quality choice in education and parents are demanding greater access to these unique public schools year after year.”
“Charter schools are the only piece of public education that is steadily growing. Where there is space, families want seats in charter schools. And when a good public school option is not available, families are leaving public education altogether. This trend should serve as a rallying cry to anyone who believes we can keep telling parents to just accept whatever is given to them,” says Debbie Veney, Senior Vice President, Communications and Marketing at the National Alliance and report co-author. “Families have discovered choice, and they like it. We must do more to ensure they have public school options that meet their needs.”
“Enrollment data is an indicator worth examining—these data clearly show how national K-12 public school enrollment is shifting and it is clear that charter schools in many states are growing vibrantly following the COVID pandemic, while the same is not true for district public schools,” says Drew Jacobs, Senior Director, Policy, Research, and Evaluation at the National Alliance and report co-author. “Families seized the opportunity to select educational options that work better for their students, including charter schools. The result of continued charter enrollment growth and district enrollment loss has held steady over several years.”
Nearly every state gained charter students between the 2019-20 and 2022-23 school years. Over the past four years, 40 of 42 states included in this analysis saw an increase in students enrolling in charter schools. These enrollment increases range from 35 students in Virginia and Wyoming to 67,148 students in Texas.
The report also examined data for White, Black, and Hispanic students in 26 of 42 states included in the analysis. All three groups are continuing to choose charter schools—and, in some cases, charter school enrollment growth is even outpacing expected numbers based on population growth trends.
- Hispanic students account for half of charter school enrollment growth and are the fastest-growing demographic, increasing by almost 14% since 2019. Based on our subpopulation analysis of 26 states, the overall number of Hispanic students in charter schools increased by 13.92%, or 150,134 students, from 2019-20 to 2022-23.
- Charter school enrollment for Black students has continued to grow since 2019. Most states, 18 of 26 studied, gained Black students in the charter sector—a total of 40,658 students, or 6.26%.
- White students are the most likely to leave public education entirely. While the number of White charter school students in our 26-state subgroup increased by 15,229, or 1.66%, from 2019-20 to 2022-23, almost 1.2 million White students have left district schools since 2019—a loss of 7.76%, or 1,141,788 students. This translates to nearly three quarters of the total enrollment loss—1.5 million students—across all 42 states in our study.
The public charter sector is an important part of public education. Further, charter schools are the only part of public education that is neither stagnant nor shrinking—and, in some cases, growing more rapidly than population growth trends can explain. Parents have shown they are willing to do whatever it takes to ensure their children are in educational environments where they are safe, supported, and thriving academically. The challenge in the public education space is to better understand what makes families want to select a particular type of school and to create learning environments that meet their needs. It’s clear that, for many families, the type of public education that fits their family’s needs can be found at a charter school.
In July and August 2023, the National Alliance contacted State Educational Agency (SEA) officials in all states and territories with charter schools to collect enrollment data for charter schools and other public, non-charter schools. As of the writing of this report, 42 states have been identified where there was data from the SEA to make a clear determination about the total statewide enrollment figures for charter schools compared to district public schools during the 2019-20, 2020-21, 2021-22, and 2022-23 school years. At the time of this report, data was unavailable or incomplete for Alabama, Guam, Kansas, Puerto Rico, and Tennessee. West Virginia opened its first charter schools in 2022-23, so charter data is included for that year and district public data is included for 2019-20 to 2022-23.
This enrollment report is a follow-up to the National Alliance’s 2021 and 2022 major reports, Voting With Their Feet and Changing Course. For more information, view Believing in Public Education: A Demographic and State-level Analysis of Public Charter School and District Public School Enrollment Trends. To speak with an expert, please email Alanna Klein at email@example.com.