School & District Management

Charters’ District Enrollment Shares Rising, Report Finds

By Andrew Ujifusa — November 14, 2012 3 min read

School districts in Las Vegas, Tampa, Fla., and Dallas oversaw some of the biggest growth rates in charter school enrollment over the past year, although nationwide, New Orleans public schools still have the highest “market share” of student enrollment in charters, according to a recent report from a national charter school advocacy group.

In the 2012 report from the Washington-based National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, “A Growing Movement: America’s Largest Charter School Communities,” the group also reported that, for the first time, more than 100 districts—it lists 110—have at least 10 percent of their students enrolled in charters. Nationwide, according to the report, over 2 million students, or nearly 5 percent of total public school enrollment, are in charter schools. The report, published Nov. 14, is the seventh time NAPCS has studied charter school enrollment in districts on a nationwide basis.

There was a lot of turnover among the districts with the highest growth rate of charter students, compared with the NAPCS report from 2011 report on charter growth. Only three of the highest-charter-growth districts (Los Angeles Unified, New York City, and Memphis, Tenn.) made the list for both the 2010-11 and 2011-12 school years. Both lists drew from the 50 districts with the most charter students enrolled.

The district with the biggest growth by percentage in charter enrollment in 2010-11, Orange County Public Schools in Florida, which serves Orlando, does not even appear among the top 10 districts for charter growth for 2011-12. Neither do districts in Baltimore, New Orleans, San Antonio, or Philadelphia.

Among the report’s findings:

• Clark County School District, serving Las Vegas, topped the most recent growth list with a 64 percent increase, growing from 4,400 students enrolled in the 2010-11 school year to 7,271 students in the 2011-12 year, when the district had a total enrollment of 308,000.

• In second place was Hillsborough County schools, serving Tampa, with a 52 percent growth rate up to 3,200 students, out of a total enrollment of 197,000 in 2011-12.

• The Dallas Independent School District, which had a total enrollment of 177,700 in the 2011-12 school year, came in third with a 33 percent growth rate, up to 5,200 students. The Phoenix Union High School District had the same growth rate as Dallas, but had a smaller total population of charter students, about 1,900, out of a total enrollment of 33,400 in 2011-12.

• New York City and L.A. Unified, the nation’s two largest school districts with total enrollments of 1.1 million and 661,000, respectively, both had a 24 percent growth rate, increasing to 48,100 in New York’s case and 98,600 charter students in Los Angeles.

Tipping Point

Nina Rees, the president of NACPS, said a 20 percent charter school enrollment rate in a district has traditionally been the threshold for when a district starts reacting by changing its own traditional public schools. Right now, 25 school districts have at least 20 percent of their students in charters, the report said.

“The growth is a good sign, and hopefully over time it will continue to grow,” said Ms. Rees. “We would like to see a far greater sense of urgency and a greater pace.”

She cited the existence of caps on the number of charter schools as one impediment to growth in some states.

Although charter schools are typically associated with large urban environments, Ms. Rees said, the fact that high charter enrollment rates also exist in places like Duluth, Minn., (where 13 percent of students were enrolled in charters out of a total enrollment of 10,500) and Youngstown, Ohio, (25 percent of an enrollment of 10,200) shows that charters can succeed in different types of environments.

A major part of the reason for charter school growth is that each school’s enrollment now mirrors what is typical in non-charter public schools, said Gary Miron, a policy fellow at the Boulder, Colo.-based National Education Policy Center, which has been skeptical of charters. He also said the increasing involvement of outside charter management organizations has also boosted enrollment over time.

“Charters used to be small, locally run, and innovative. Now they tend to look more like traditional public schools,” Mr. Miron said.

A version of this article appeared in the December 05, 2012 edition of Education Week

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