Charter School Enrollment Surpasses 2 Million

Published January 2, 2012

More than 500 new public charter schools opened for the 2011-2012 school year, bringing the number of students enrolled in charters to more than 2 million, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools announced.

These new charters enrolled approximately 200,000 students. More than 400,000 students are on charter school waiting lists across the nation.

“Several states have made huge progress this year in terms of lifting caps, heightening accountability requirements, and aiming for quality,” said Stephanie Grisham, a NAPCS spokesman. “It is great to see state legislatures listening to the voice of parents who are demanding more for their children. There is still much work to be done, though, especially with states such as West Virginia that have no charter law at all.”

Leading States
NAPCS reports California had the most charter enrollment growth, adding 47,000 new students. It now has 983 operating charter schools.

“What I think we are seeing in California is that the broader public is becoming far more aware and supportive of charter schools,” said Jed Wallace, CEO of the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA). “That is leading [to] communities across our state coming to existing charter schools and saying, ‘Can you please do more?'”

Los Angeles County has the most charters in the state, currently operating 261 with 30 additions this school year, but “every major county in the state experienced significant growth,” according to the CCSA.

“All five states [with the most charter growth] have strong charter laws that allow for opening and replicating high-quality charter schools,” Grisham said. “Additionally, these states are among the first to have charter school laws, so that is certainly an additional reason for the number of schools and strong policy environment.”

Michigan recently passed legislation uncapping the number of charters allowed in the state and creating requirements for tests and accreditation.

Accountability Equals Improvement
California announced plans to close ten charter schools. Over the past year the state closed 34 charters, the highest number of all the states.

“We are trying in California to have a level of accountability that should be found throughout the public school system,” Wallace said. “We have too many charter schools that are persistently underperforming.”

Realistic preparation before opening is often the biggest trouble spot for charter schools, though that difficulty has eased through assistance from state authorizers and national organizations, Grisham said.

School Funding Inequality
“On average, charter schools are funded less per pupil than traditional schools,” Grisham said. “So if they had more equitable treatment, facilities, transportation, etc., the hurdles would be a bit easier to overcome in the beginning.”

While parent and community demand is a recognized factor in charter school growth, state policies are vital to improving and sustaining the schools.

“To operate a new charter school in the state, you embrace taking less money and you don’t receive your facility,” Wallace said. “In California, if we could assemble the fair funding, fair facilities, and healthy authorizing arrangements, then the charter school movement would be set up to have a level of impact that would be far, far greater.”

Continued Expansion Expected
“We’re moving from an era of assignment to an era of choice,” said James Goenner, president and CEO of National Charter Schools Institute. “They’re a vision of schools without boundaries where the money follows the kid—innovation within public education that says, ‘You can choose.'”

Grisham said charters will continue to expand in states with robust laws, such as California, Arizona, Colorado, and Minnesota. 

“We envision more replication of high-quality schools as demand continues to rise and parents continue to understand and take a more active role in their children’s education,” Grisham said.  “You’ve got a number of states that are opening up the education sector to more choice and competition. We’re going to see more and more people embracing the option to do things differently.”

Wallace said charter schools will continue to be recognized as an essential way to improve individuals’ prospects and the nation’s economy .

“American education doesn’t need incremental improvement; we need breakthrough performance,” Goenner said. “Those that can do it and replicate it will be in high demand.” 

Image by edenpictures.