Around 85,551 students are on waitlists to join a public charter school for the 2023-2024 school year, according to a new draft report assembled by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. In addition, 80% of charters have a waitlist.

The report notes that 210 charter schools now operate in the Tar Heel State. Eighty-three charter schools report having a waitlist of 200 or more students, and 37 of those have a waitlist of 700 or more.

For the 2022-2023 school year, charters had enrollments of 145,075 students, representing 10% of the total state enrollment in K-12 schools.

“I believe parents deserve options for their children’s schooling, and the more options the better,” said Lindalyn Kakadelis, executive director of the NC Coalition for Charter Schools, in a statement to Carolina Journal. “Charter schools—which are free, public, and open to all—offer innovative teaching methods and often specialize in particular areas like STEM or the arts. They’re clearly doing something right: Parents keep choosing public charter schools, and the waitlist seems to get larger every year.”

The DPI report did note that waitlist figures could include duplicates since some students are waitlisted at multiple charter schools.

Charter enrollments have grown by around 25% since the start of the pandemic. There were 115,869 students in charters in 2019 compared to 146,626 in 2023.

Anti-school choice advocates often ding charter schools for lacking racial and socioeconomic diversity, but the figures from DPI show a different picture. As of June 2023, “charter schools enrolled 52,333 economically disadvantaged students, or 37.88% of charter students,” the report said. “This is a nearly 99% increase from the 2020 headcount number of 26,299 EDS students enrolled in charter schools within North Carolina.”

Charters also have a slightly higher percentage of black students and multi-racial students compared to traditional public schools, while traditional public schools have a higher rate of Hispanic students.

As for performance, around 28% of charters received a School Performance Grade of an A or a B, while roughly 40% received a C. Approximately 71% of charters met or exceeded growth for the 2022-2023 school year.

“While the sector continues to expand, so do the complexities of operating schools,” the report concluded. “Challenges seen over the last few years include the rising cost of transportation programs, staffing challenges, and difficulties finding and funding facilities for new schools, and for improving and expanding operating schools. Addressing these challenges requires collaborative efforts among stakeholders, policymakers, educators, and community members.”

In April 2023, an estimated 77,000 students were on charter waitlists. In December, a report from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools showed that North Carolina’s charter growth was third most in the nation during the pandemic.