CHARLOTTE, N.C. — During the start of the pandemic, charter schools in the Carolinas saw a big jump in enrollment.
A recent report by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools shows this enrollment continues to increase.
“This is not a fluke,” Debbie Veney, the National Alliance senior vice president of communications and marketing, said. “It's a wake up call and we all need to listen to that. Listen to parents and do better."
The public charter advocacy group gathered data from state education departments which showed public charter schools in the Carolinas continue to outpace the growth of traditional public schools.
In the on-set of the pandemic, the 2019-20 school year, the report shows North Carolina charter school enrollment increased by 7.19%. Traditional public-school enrollment increased in comparison by 3.59%.
In South Carolina, for the 2020-21 school year, the report shows charter school enrollment increased by 20.67%. Traditional public-school enrolment increased in comparison by 3.8%.
The percent of increase slowed the following school year for both states, but still remained higher than traditional public schools’ enrollment.
Charter schools are funded, ran, and governed differently than traditional public schools.
It’s a critique many education advocates have about the schools, but this flexibility is what attracts many parents to the concept.
“They've got the flexibility to get their own textbooks, they got the flexibility to have longer school days, longer school years, to have more instructional time on a given subject,” Veney said.
The report also shows North Carolina saw the nation’s fifth highest charter school enrollment gain during the pandemic. This translates to an additional for a total of 14,312 new students enrolled in North Carolina charters during the pandemic.
During the same period, traditional district schools in North Carolina lost 48,283 students.
It's a sign that families aren’t only going to charter schools but also alternatives like private and home school.
“The mass exodus from public schools is a lot bigger problem than charter schools,” Veney said.
North Carolina’s traditional district enrollment loss was the ninth largest in the nation.
"Parents did not keep their kids into something that they knew was not working. They said, 'I'll just try to educate them myself if nothing else works,'" Veney said. “When you cut off the supply of high educational options for families, it does not lock them into something that does not work and makes them leave public education altogether."
Charter schools also continue to attract Black and Hispanic students who may feel left out or left behind in traditional classrooms.
“The reality is that these are outstanding schools that serve Black and brown children very well and they're not just serving them very well," Veney said. "They're being educated by Black and brown educators."
The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools report shows North Carolina gained 14% more Black students in the last two school years and South Carolina gained 40%. Hispanic students in charter schools increased by more than 23% percent in North Carolina and 32% in South Carolina.
Comparing public and charter school scores is not completely apples to apples.
Charter schools, unlike traditional public schools, are not governed by elected officials. Also unlike traditional public schools, they can be managed by for-profit companies.
There is also a difference in program flexibility, pay scale grades for teachers, and funding sources for some public charter schools.
Charter school advocates say if traditional public school isn’t working for students, they need options.
“Where the school that the kid is zoned to attend is meeting their needs -- perfect, that's great," Veney said. "And where it's not, you have a need for something that is different, and it's going to meet the needs of the kids."