Public charter schools currently serve more than 3.4 million students in roughly 7,700 schools and campuses. In the 2019-20 school year, charter schools enrolled 7.2% of all public school students. Since the 2005-06 school year, the number of charter schools and campuses has more than doubled, while charter school enrollment has more than tripled.
Although the charter sector continues to grow steadily, the rate of growth for both schools and students began to slow during the 2015-16 school year, with the exception of the 2018-19 school year. Despite the slowdown in the growth rate, the number of charter schools opening remains steady across the years. The slowing down of the growth rate is the result of having more and more charter schools in operation as well as having roughly the same number of schools opening every year. Although data from the 2020-21 school year are not included here, a separate analysis in the National Alliance report “Voting with Their Feet: A State-level Analysis of Public Charter School and District Public School Enrollment Trends” reveals a shift in this pattern. During the first full school year of the pandemic, enrollment is likely to have increased by the highest percentage rate since 2015-16.
Over the last decade, the average rate of charter school closures per year is approximately 3.5%. Only 4.2% of newly opened schools close in their first year of operation, often because of facility issues or low enrollment levels. In 2021, the National Alliance conducted a preliminary analysis of the reasons charter schools close. With 69% of recent closures accounted for, the main reasons for school closings appear to be low academic performance, low enrollment, or financial issues, which are often closely related to enrollment. The National Alliance will continue to collect these data and aim to produce a more comprehensive analysis next year.
Table 1.1: Number of Charter Students and Schools From 2005-06 Through 2019-20
|Year||Charter Students||Percent Change||Charter Schools||Percent Change||Closed||Open||Open/Closed Same Year||Share of Public Students|
According to the 2019-20 school year data covering the United States, 43 states, as well as the District of Columbia (DC), Puerto Rico (PR), and Guam (GU) have charter schools, while forty-four states (plus DC, PR, GU) have charter school laws (West Virginia is the only state that currently has laws but no charter schools). Between the 2018-19 and 2019-20 school years, the number of charter schools and campuses increased in 19 states and Washington D.C., decreased in 16 states, and remained the same in eight states, Guam, and Puerto Rico.
As of the 2019-20 school year, California far surpasses all other states in the number of charter schools and campuses (1,336). The number of school openings in 2019-20 remained at a similar level. There were many more school openings in 2019-20, as California, New York, Pennsylvania, and Texas accounted for almost half of all school openings. Texas had the second highest number of school closures—33—in 2018-19, but also the highest number of new schools opening—126—the following year.
Table 1.2: Total Number of Charter Schools and Campuses by State 2018-19 to 2019-20
|State||2018-19 Schools||2018-19 Closures||2019-20 Openings||2019-20 Schools||2019-20 Enrollment|
A handful of states again dominate the charter sector when it comes to student enrollment. Five states—California, Texas, Florida, Arizona, and New York—account for more than half of all charter school enrollment nationwide. California has the largest charter school sector—almost 1 in 5 charter school students in the United States attend a school in California. Arizona, however, is the state with the largest share of charter school enrollment relative to its overall population. Nearly 1 in 5 public school students in Arizona attend a charter school. Nevada and Oklahoma both grew their share of charter school enrollment relative to overall enrollment by 1% during the 2019-20 school year, more than any other states, and increased the number of charter school students in their states by 10.3% and 19.7%, respectively.
Table 1.3: States with the Largest Charter School Enrollment
|State||2019-20 Enrollment||Share of Total Charter Sector Enrollment||Share of State Public School Enrollment|
As a reporting standard, the National Alliance typically uses the nuanced “schools and campuses” language to capture the on-the-ground experiences of students, families, and educators more accurately. This language allows us to depict the growing charter community more accurately. When calculating new or closed schools, it can be helpful to include new or closed campuses to fully capture the growth or contraction in the charter movement, but it may also complicate the true accounting of schools. To understand why this might be the case, please check out the 2020 Charter School Campus Report. For full transparency, below are the new and closed numbers for just charter schools:
Table 1.4 New And Closed Charter Schools Over Time