N.C. charter school enrollments surge during pandemic

Students wearing commemorative scarves celebrate National School Choice Week. (Image courtesy of National School Choice Week website)

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  • Since the pandemic, the sizable growth of public charter schools in North Carolina shows that parents want different choices for their children's education.
  • The popularity comes as the Biden Administration pushes to restrict these types of schools.

New figures show that public charter school enrollments have grown nearly 20% in North Carolina since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, enrollments in traditional public schools remain stalled from their pre-pandemic levels.

Data published by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction show that charter enrollments grew by 6.4% between 2021 and 2022 and 19.2% between 2019 and 2022.

The N.C. Coalition for Charter Schools issued a press release celebrating the numbers.

“That charter schools saw yet another sizeable increase in enrollment this year hammers home the fact that parents both want and deserve options in public schooling,” said coalition executive director Lindalyn Kakadelis. “The reality is children have a better chance of reaching their full potential in a school environment that best suits their unique gifts. Sometimes that’s a district school, and sometimes that’s a public charter school.”

According to the DPI stats, enrollment across all public school districts remains 3.2% below their pre-pandemic levels.

“Parents want more educational options for their children,” said Dr. Bob Luebke, director of the Center for Effective Education at the John Locke Foundation. “That’s one of the lasting lessons of the pandemic. The growth in charter school enrollment in North Carolina validates that sentiment. Our state has a healthy and growing charter school population. That’s something parents, students, and anyone concerned about quality public schools should celebrate.”

The growth in charters comes even as the Biden administration has pushed to further restrict these types of schools. A coalition of charter-school advocacy organizations has filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to block new restrictions on charter schools authored by the U.S. Department of Education.

Among others, the new rules require charters to demonstrate over-enrollment in existing schools before receiving grant funds, establish collaboration with local school districts, and mirror racial balance compared to their local public school district.