Sep 22, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Charter schools boomed during the pandemic

Charter schools picked off hundreds of thousands of public school students across the U.S. during the pandemic, according to a new analysis from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Why it matters: The pandemic has weakened America's public education system, as Zoom classes, teacher fatigue and student disengagement take their toll. And that hobbled system is shedding students to charter schools, private schools and homeschooling.

  • Those dynamics are exacerbating inequities in American education, as it's typically wealthier and white students who make the switch.

By the numbers: Charter school enrollment increased by 7.1% in the U.S. between the 2019-20 school year and the 2020-21 school year, per the analysis. That's a jump of about 240,000 students.

  • During the same period, non-charter public school enrollment dropped 3.3%, which is a whopping 1.5 million students.

In certain states, charter schools have picked up an even greater share of students:

  • Charter enrollment is up 65% in Alabama and 78% in Oklahoma.
  • Bigger states that have seen a significant jump include Texas (9%), New York (7%) and Ohio (11%).

What to watch: School funding follows students, says Jon Hale, a professor of education at the University of Illinois. So he says to expect public schools to lose resources and teachers as students continue to flock to other types of schools.

  • Public schools that waffle over mask policies or delay the return to in-person learning will frustrate even more parents, who'll pull their kids out and choose independent schools or homeschooling.
  • That's a serious problem for the millions of American students who continue to rely on the public education system.
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