It’s School Choice Week in the nation and here in North Carolina one of those choices, charter schools, have seen enrollments surpass 100,000 students for the first time in the 2018-18 school year.
According to figures from the state Department of Public Instruction (DPI), 100,866 students have enrolled in charter schools this year, increasing from 91,160 in 2016-17.
For the last few years charter school enrollment has been expanding in the state, increasing steadily, while traditional public school numbers have been decreasing. And while some pan this as a problem, school choice advocates praise the expansion of options North Carolina families have when it comes to educating their children.
Dr. Bob Luebke, director of policy for the Civitas Institute, said that the beauty of school choice is that it gives parents a choice in what form of education is best for their child, whether it be traditional public school, public charter schools, home school, or private schools.
“The attraction of school choice for parents is they allow parents to access an education option that is appropriate for their child,” Luebke said. “What charters allow is they allow schools to be developed around a set of ideas. Charter schools allow parents and educators to explore certain curricular themes. If the parent wants their child to go to a school that emphasizes the arts or languages or a classic education, they provide an avenue for kids to experience things in that type of environment.”
Luebke said school choice also fosters more engagement in schools by parents and that by giving parents a choice, whether they choose charter schools, homeschooling or their traditional public school, the act of choosing that school fosters more engagement from the parents.
“When you choose to go to a school, parents are actually more invested in the school, so you automatically have more buy-in from the parents,” Luebke said. “When you have a parents that are invested that is half the battle won.”
Public school enrollment has decreased from 1.45 million students in the 2016-17 school year to 1.43 million students in the current school year.
Charter schools are making up more of the market share of total student education. In the 2015-16 school year, charter school students made up 5 percent of total public school enrollment.
In the 2016-17 school year that increased to 5.9 percent, and in the current school year charter school students make up 6.5 percent of public school students.
While Wake County and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools district lead the state in raw numbers of students enrolled in charter schools, taking a look at what percentage of students are enrolled in charter schools by county school systems provides a different look at how communities utilize charter schools.
In fiscal year 2017, eight counties had between 12 and 25 percent of their public school students placed in charter schools, with Halifax County leading at 25.2 percent.
Halifax County is joined by Pamlico, Northampton, Edgecombe, Vance, Granville, Person and Durham counties in leading the state in percentage of students enrolled in charter schools.
Looking back to the 2011-12 school year shows that only Person and Pamlico counties had concentrations of charter students over 12 percent with most other counties in the state having little to no charter students. However, the most recent numbers show that almost every county in the state has students utilizing charter schools.
The growth of charter schools in the state seems to not be slowing down any time soon with more and more schools opening each year and waiting lists in the thousands for the ones that already exist.
Across the nation during the week more than 32,000 celebrations were set to take place as part of School Choice Week.