New Data Show Charter Enrollment Increased During Pandemic
One of the dominant stories in American education over the past year and a half has been the exodus from traditional public schools during the coronavirus pandemic. In June of this year, the federal government released data showing a three percent drop in enrollment from the 2019–20 to 2020–21 school years. Missouri’s numbers looked like the nation’s, with a similar three percent drop during that time period.
But a new analysis by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NACPS) argues that not all schools saw drops in enrollment. In fact, across the country and in Missouri, charter schools actually saw increases in attendance.
The report’s authors worked with state data (and state education agencies) to examine enrollment trends in both traditional public and public charter schools. For the nation, they found a 3.3 percent decline from 2019–20 to 2020–21 in enrollment in traditional public schools, a similar trend to what the federal government’s data wonks found. But for charter schools, they found a 7.08 percent increase during that time period, representing some 237,311 students newly enrolled in charter schools.
In Missouri, while only finding a 0.1 percent decrease in enrollment in traditional public schools, the authors found a 3.5 percent increase in charter school enrollment.
Now, caveats are in order. Data on school enrollment is fluid right now. Sources conflict (as we see in the differences between what the feds counted in Missouri and what NAPCS did). Online learning, in both the traditional public and charter sectors, messes with the numbers as students move between modalities. I will be much more confident with another year of data.
That said, what NAPCS reported does align with a lot of what we’re hearing anecdotally. Lots of families were frustrated during the pandemic and were looking for other options. Charter schools are one of them. Especially in places where charter schools found ways to either be open in person or to provide a quality virtual option while their neighboring traditional public schools did neither, charter schools were an attractive option. We shouldn’t be surprised if families took advantage of it.