As of the 2020-21 school year, charter schools are open in 43* states, Guam, Puerto Rico, and Washington, D.C. They are found within the geographic confines of 13.3% of local school districts.
*Charter school laws exist in 45 states. “West Virginia enacted a charter school law but did not have any schools in the 2020-21 school year. The first cohort of charter schools in West Virginia opened in fall 2022. Kentucky recently passed a charter school funding bill in 2022, which will allow charter schools to open in the future.
CHARTER SCHOOL LANDSCAPE–LOCALE
According to our most recent data (2020-21 school year), most charter schools and campuses were located in urban areas (58.2%; see Table 3.1), and they enrolled 57.4% of charter students nationwide.
Table 3.1: 2020-21 Charter School Enrollment and School and Campuses Count by Locale
|Locale||Number of Charter School and Campus||Percentage of Schools and Campuses||Charter Enrollment||Percentage of Enrollment|
Data from the 2020-21 school year further reveals differences in charter school enrollment demographics across locales (Table 3.2). In general, Black and Hispanic students are more likely to be enrolled in urban charter schools than charter schools in other locales, while White students are more likely to be enrolled in rural and town charter schools. Specifically, 55.2% of charter school students in rural communities and 53.4% of students in towns were White, while 73.8% of charter school students in urban areas were Black or Hispanic. Additionally, charter school students who are of other ethnicities (Native American, Pacific Islander, or Two or More Races) are more likely to attend charter schools in towns and rural areas. This may be linked to the presence of charter schools in rural indigenous communities. For more information on rural charter schools, check out this paper published in the Journal of School Choice.
Table 3.2: 2020-21 Charter School Demographics and FRPL by Locale
Table 3.2 also shows that, in the 2020-21 school year, 69.2% of charter school students in urban areas were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch (FRPL). By comparison, 43.3% of rural charter students received FRPL. Town and suburban charter schools had similar levels of FRPL students, at approximately 55.4% and 51.6%, respectively.
CHARTER SCHOOL LANDSCAPE—GEOGRAPHIC SCHOOL DISTRICT
As we state in the Methodology section, the Common Core of Data (CCD) is one of the National Alliance’s primary data sources. In CCD, many charter schools across the country are coded as their own independent school district, since they operate autonomously from the local educational agency (LEA), also referred to as a “school district,” in their area. This can make district-level analysis difficult when trying to understand how a charter school impacts its local school district. For the purposes of including charter schools, the National Alliance proposed a new variable called “geographic school districts,” which is the geographic boundary of the school district in which a charter school is physically located. We identify the geographic school districts for all public schools by mapping coordinates of schools onto the NCES school district shapefile using ArcGIS.
Since 2005, there has been steady growth in the number of LEAs with at least one charter school within their boundary. Between the 2005-06 school year and the 2020-21 school year, the number of LEAs with at least one charter school in their geographic district rose from 1087 to 1513 (see Table 3.3).
Table 3.3: Districts with Charter Schools in Their Geographic Area
|Year||Total Districts||Districts With 1 or More Charters||Percentage of Districts With 1 or More Charters|
The National Alliance reports charter school enrollment levels in two ways: absolute enrollment number and percentage of charter school students within the total public school student population in a given geographic area. The absolute number of charter school students enrolled in a given jurisdiction may be high even when they compose a low percentage of the overall public school population. In the tables below, we list the top ten 2020-21 LEA geographic school districts by charter school enrollment, percentage of charter school enrollment, charter school enrollment increase between 2019-20 and 2020-21, and percentage of charter school enrollment increase between 2019-20 and 2020-21.
The Los Angeles Unified School District and New York City Public Schools have the highest charter school enrollments within their geographic boundaries, while the Orleans Parish School Board (Louisiana) boasts by far the largest percentage of charter school enrollment nationwide, at 98.8%. In terms of growth, the New York City Public Schools had the greatest overall increase in enrollment between 2019-20 and 2020-21, while Lexington 05 School District (South Carolina) had the greatest increase in the percentage of charter school enrollment (see Tables 3.4-3.7).
Table 3.4: Top 10 Districts for Charter School Total Enrollment 2020-21
|1||CA||Los Angeles Unified School District||156,633|
|2||NY||New York City Public Schools||138,257|
|3||FL||Dade County School District||73,018|
|4||PA||Philadelphia City School District||67,908|
|5||IL||City of Chicago School District 299||57,305|
|6||TX||Houston Independent School District||51,459|
|7||NV||Clark County School District||50,809|
|8||FL||Broward County School District||48,705|
|9||LA||Orleans Parish School Board||47,677|
|10||DC||District of Columbia Public Schools||39,311|
Table 3.5: Top 10 Districts for Percentage of Charter School Enrollment 2020-21
|1||LA||Orleans Parish School Board||98.8%|
|2||TX||San Antonio Independent School District||54.2%|
|3||MO||Kansas City 33 School District||49.0%|
|4||IN||Indianapolis Public Schools||47.0%|
|5||DC||District of Columbia Public Schools||44.3%|
|6||MI||Detroit Public Schools Community District||40.7%|
|7||AZ||Queen Creek Unified District||38.9%|
|8||MO||St. Louis City||38.1%|
|9||AZ||Higley Unified District||37.8%|
|10||CA||Porterville Unified School District (9-12)||37.3%|
Table 3.6: Top 10 Districts for Charter School Enrollment Increase From 2019-20 to 2020-21
|1||NY||New York City Public Schools||9,150|
|2||SC||Lexington 05 School District||6,293|
|3||NV||Clark County School District||5,653|
|4||AZ||Mesa Unified District||3,547|
|6||FL||Dade County School District||2,981|
|7||IN||Indianapolis Public Schools||2,658|
|10||TX||San Antonio Independent School District||1,808|
Table 3.7: Top 10 Districts for Percentage of Charter School Enrollment Increase From 2019-20 to 2020-21
|1||SC||Lexington 05 School District||26.6%|
|2||MI||Troy School District||9.4%|
|3||IN||Indianapolis Public Schools||6.9%|
|4||TX||Crowley Independent School District||6.1%|
|5||TX||East Central Independent School District||5.6%|
|6||TX||San Antonio Independent School District||5.3%|
|7||TX||Midland Independent School District||5.1%|
|8||AZ||Mesa Unified District||5.1%|
|9||AZ||Amphitheater Unified District||4.8%|
|10||CO||Poudre R-1 School District||4.6%|
Note: For all analyses looking at districts, cities, or locales, known virtual schools were excluded. Learn more about our methodology here.