Oct 8, 2021 - News

Charter school enrollment soars in pandemic

Change in charter school enrollment, by state
Data: National Alliance for Public Charter Schools; Map: Sara Wise/Axios

Texas' charter school enrollment was up nearly 9% for the 2020–2021 school year, from the previous school year.

But, but but: Public school enrollment dropped 3%, according to a recent report 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 have taken their toll. And that hobbled system is shedding students to charter schools, private schools and homeschooling, Axios' Erica Pandey writes.

  • Charter proponents say the schools provide more options for students, leading to healthy competition and better academic performance.
  • Charter schools are publicly funded but privately operated. Open-enrollment charters are required to report information on the number of students enrolled, their enrollment capacity and the number of students on the waiting list by grade level.

Zoom in: This isn't new for the Lone Star State. Charter schools have boomed in Central Texas and statewide in recent years.

  • During the 2020-21 academic year, Austin ISD enrollment fell by 5,000 students, dropping from 80,000, according to district spokeswoman Cristina Nguyen. AISD estimates it lost $147 million for the year.
  • Some of the 2020 enrollment slumps can be linked to COVID, Nguyen said: "We've seen declines in enrollment, especially in our youngest grades like Pre-K and kindergarten where families may opt to keep their children home or opt to continue private daycare. Districts across the state have seen similar declines due to COVID."

Yes, but: It's more than just the pandemic and charter school enrollment causing public school enrollment declines.

  • "There are also affordability challenges, private schools and home schools," the spokesperson said.

What to watch: School funding follows students, Jon Hale, a professor of education at the University of Illinois, told Axios. As students shift to alternative forms of education, public schools may lose resources and teachers.

  • Public schools that waffle over mask policies or delay the return to in-person learning will frustrate more parents, who may 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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