Charter schools exist in 43 states, Guam, Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C. Since charter schools have autonomy from the school districts they are often categorized as their own district. To better understand the local context of the charter school, we have geocoded every charter school to show the traditional school district in which they reside. Since 2005 there has been both steady growth in districts having at least one charter school located within their boundaries and districts with multiple charters located within their boundaries.

Some of the major location differences involve locale. 58% of charter school students are enrolled in an urban school, compared to just 28% in the traditional sector. Charters are less prevalent in rural communities, where 8.7% of charter students goes to a rural school, as opposed to 19.7% of traditional students who attends a rural school.

Since a large portion of charter students attend an urban school, we have also demarcated charter enrollment at the city level. While the school district has ultimate administrative authority over education, city policies can affect a range of outcomes involved in student success, such as transportation, safety, housing, and access to healthcare. This is also an important factor as charter schools can enroll students from across traditional school district boundaries and city boundaries are not always conterminous with school district boundaries. For these reasons we have also analyzed city enrollment share and growth.

Charter schools often serve different populations of students than their traditional school counterparts, which means that location plays an important role in the sector. Understanding the characteristics of the neighborhoods in which charters schools are located can help us better understand school contexts. Accordingly, we also map charter schools onto census tracts as a way of analyzing the poverty levels around the school. Here, we find that charter schools are much more likely to be located in high-poverty census tracts (43.8%) compared to the share of traditional school counterparts (24.2%).

Table 5: Districts with Charter Schools

  • There was growth in the number of districts with their first charter school, and districts with a growing charter sector.
  • The number of districts with at least one charter school increased by almost a third from 2006 through 2019.
  • The number of districts with five or more charter schools almost doubled from 2006 through 2019.

Table 6: 2018-19 District and Charter Enrollment by Locale

  • Charter schools are more likely to be in urban areas.
  • Charter schools are less likely to be in rural areas.
  • See here for locale by state.

Table 7: 2018-19 Charter School Locale by Race and FRPL 

  • White students are more likely to be enrolled in rural charter schools than charters in other locales.
  • Black and Hispanic students are more likely to be enrolled in urban charter schools than in charters in other locales.

Table 8A: Top 10 Cities for Charter School Total Enrollment

Table 8B: Top 10 Cities for Charter School Total Enrollment Share

Table 8C: Top 10 Cities for Charter School Enrollment Increase

Table 8D: Top 10 Cities for Charter School Enrollment Share Increase

Note: Increases are measured from 2017-18 to 2018-19. Note: Authors’ calculation from the 2017-18 and 2018-19 Common Core of Data. See here for details.

  • See here for the full list of cities

Table 9A: Top 10 Districts for Charter School Total Enrollment

Table 9B: Top 10 Districts for Charter School Enrollment Share

Table 9C: Top 10 Districts for Charter School Enrollment Increase

Table 9D: Top 10 Districts for Charter School Enrollment Share Increase

Note: Increases are measured from 2017-18 to 2018-19. Note: Authors’ calculation from the 2017-18 and 2018-19 Common Core of Data. See here for details.

  • See here for the full list of cities

Table 10: Charter Schools and Students in High-Poverty Areas

Note: Based on authors’ calculations. See here for details. See here for school level comparisons and underlying data.

  • In 39 states, charter schools are more likely to be located in high poverty areas than are district schools. In 24 states, this difference is more than 20 percentage points.
  • Almost 42% of all charter school students attend schools located in high poverty areas.

About the Authors

Adam Gerstenfeld
Adam Gerstenfeld

Manager, Data and Research

Before joining the team, Adam was a 1st-grade teacher at Lenora B. Smith Elementary in Miami, Florida where he taught reading, writing, math, science, and social studies. Adam received his bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Florida, where he was a radio and television producer for the local NPR and PBS stations. He is currently pursuing his master’s degree in government analytics from Johns Hopkins University.

Cynthia Xu
Yueting Xu

Data and Research Specialist

Yueting (Cynthia) worked as an ESL teacher and education consultant in Philadelphia prior to joining the research team at the National Alliance. During her undergraduate years at Sun Yat-sen University, she studied English language & literature and Economics, served as a research fellow in the university writing center, and conducted research on educational opportunities for underserved youth. She received her master’s degree from University of Pennsylvania with dual majors in ESL education and statistical measurement & research.