Charter School Demographics Similar to Public Schools

Published July 1, 1999

A new U.S. Department of Education survey of some 600 charter schools operating in the 1997-98 school year reveals that, nationwide, students in charter schools have similar demographic characteristics to students in all public schools. In some states, however, charter schools serve significantly higher percentages of minority or economically disadvantaged youth.

“Our data contain no evidence that charter schools disproportionately serve white and economically advantaged students,” conclude the authors of The State of Charter Schools 1999, a third-year report from the Office of Educational Research and Improvement in the U.S. Department of Education. In fact, in six states–Connecticut, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina and Texas–charter schools serve a much higher percentage of students of color than do public schools in their districts.

The estimated percentage of charter school students with Limited English Proficiency is 10.1 percent, compared to 10.7 percent for the public schools in the charter school states surveyed. The reported percentage of students with disabilities at charter schools is 8 percent, somewhat lower than the 11 percent for public schools in the states surveyed.

Other major findings in the report include:

  • Demand for charter schools remains high, with 7 of 10 schools reporting a waiting list.
  • New charter schools are newly created and small, with approximately 132 students per school versus 486 in comparable district schools.
  • Most charter schools aim to realize an alternative vision of schooling.
  • Many private schools that converted to charter status sought public funds to stabilize finances and attract students.
  • Nearly all charter schools–including those that were conversions from public schools–have had to overcome major obstacles during their development.
  • Charter schools have considerable autonomy, especially newly created schools as compared to public school conversions.
  • Although most schools are monitored for financial accountability and student achievement, states vary greatly in their approach to accountability.

The full text of The State of Charter Schools 1999 is available on the Internet at the U.S. Department of Education’s home page,, or by calling 1-877-4-ED-PUBS.