The NCES Fast Facts Tool provides quick answers to many education questions (National Center for Education Statistics) (2024)

Fast Facts


Charter schools

Question:
What are charter schools? How common are they and whom do they serve?

Response:

A public charter school is a publicly funded school that is typically governed by a group or organization under a legislative contract—a charter—with the state, the district, or another entity. The charter exempts the school from certain state or local rules and regulations. In return for flexibility and autonomy, the charter school must meet the accountability standards outlined in its charter. A school’s charter is reviewed periodically by the entity that granted it and can be revoked if the conditions of the charter are not met.1 Between school years 2010–11 and 2021–22, the number of public charter schools in the United States (defined in this Fast Fact as the 50 states and the District of Columbia) increased from approximately 5,300 to 7,800. Meanwhile, the number of traditional public schools decreased from 93,500 to 91,400. Accordingly, the percentage of all public schools that were charter schools increased from 5 to 8 percent.

Between fall 2010 and fall 2021, public charter school enrollment more than doubled, from 1.8 million to 3.7 million students—an overall increase of 1.9 million students.2 In contrast, the number of students attending traditional public schools decreased by 4 percent, or 2.0 million students, over the same period (from 47.4 million to 45.4 million students). Accordingly, between fall 2010 and fall 2021, the percentage of all public school students who attended public charter schools increased from 4 to 7 percent.

The first law allowing the establishment of public charter schools was passed in Minnesota in 1991.3 Forty-five states and the District of Columbia had passed public charter legislation as of fall 2021 (the exceptions were Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Vermont).4

Of the 46 states/jurisdictions with legislative approval for public charter schools as of fall 2021, the District of Columbia had the highest percentage of public school students enrolled in charter schools (45 percent), followed by Arizona (20 percent). In an additional eight states—Colorado, Nevada, Florida, Louisiana, Delaware, California, Utah, and Michigan—from 10 to 15 percent of public school students were enrolled in charter schools. Seven states, however, had less than 1 percent of their public school students enrolled in public charter schools in fall 2021. These states were Wyoming, Mississippi, Kansas, Alabama, Washington, Virginia, and Iowa.5 Kentucky and West Virginia had no charter schools in 2021.

Between fall 2010 and fall 2021, trends in the demographic composition of public charter schools were similar to those seen in public schools overall (for more information, see the indicator Racial/Ethnic Enrollment in Public Schools). Between the two years, the percentages of public charter school students who were

  • Hispanic increased (from 27 to 36 percent);
  • of Two or more races increased (from 3 to 5 percent);
  • Asian increased (from 3 to 4 percent);
  • White decreased (from 36 to 29 percent);
  • Black decreased (from 29 to 24 percent);
  • American Indian/Alaska Native decreased (from 0.9 to 0.7 percent); and
  • Pacific Islander decreased (from 0.5 to 0.4 percent).

1 Rafa, A., Erwin, B., Kelly, B., and Wixom, M.A. (2020). 50-State Comparison: Charter School Policies. Denver, CO: Education Commission of the States. Retrieved November 30, 2022, from https://www.ecs.org/charter-school-policies/.2 In this Fast Fact, data on public charter school enrollment are collected at the school level, in the Common Core of Data (CCD) Public Elementary/Secondary School Universe Survey. Enrollment is reported for “October 1 or the closest school day to October 1.”3 Finnigan, K., Adelman, N., Anderson, L., Cotton, L., Donnelly, M.B., and Price, T. (2004). Evaluation of the Public Charter Schools Program: Final Report. U.S. Department of Education, Office of the Deputy Secretary. Washington, DC: Policy and Program Studies Service. Retrieved November 30, 2022, from https://www2.ed.gov/rschstat/eval/choice/pcsp-final/finalreport.pdf.4 Rafa, A., Erwin, B., Kelly, B., and Wixom, M. A. (2020). 50-State Comparison: Charter School Policies. Denver, CO: Education Commission of the States. Retrieved December 19, 2022, from https://www.ecs.org/charter-school-policies/.5 Although Kentucky and West Virginia had passed public charter school legislation as of fall 2021, these states did not report any charter schools or charter school enrollment in 2021.

SOURCE: National Center for Education Statistics. (2023). Public Charter School Enrollment. Condition of Education. U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences. Retrieved June 21, 2023, from https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator/cgb.

Numbers in figure titles reflect original numeration from source Condition of Education indicators.

Related Tables and Figures:(Listed by Release Date)

  • 2023, Digest of Education Statistics 2022, Table 216.20. Enrollment of public elementary and secondary schools, by school level, type, and charter, magnet, and virtual status: School years 2010-11 through 2021-22
  • 2023, Digest of Education Statistics 2022, Table 216.30. Number and percentage distribution of public elementary and secondary students and schools, by traditional or charter school status and selected characteristics: School years 2011-12 and 2021-22
  • 2023, Digest of Education Statistics 2022, Table 216.90. Public elementary and secondary charter schools and enrollment, and charter schools and enrollment as a percentage of total public schools and total enrollment in public schools, by state: Selected school years, 2000-01 through 2021-22
  • 2022, Common Core of Data, Table 3. Number of operating public elementary and secondary schools, by school type, charter, magnet, Title I, Title I schoolwide status, and state or jurisdiction: School year 2021–22
  • 2022, Digest of Education Statistics 2021, Table 216.70. Public elementary and secondary schools, by level, type, and state or jurisdiction: 1990–91, 2000–01, 2009–10, and 2019–20
  • 2022, Digest of Education Statistics 2021, Table 216.90a. Percentage distribution of enrollment in traditional public and public charter schools and percentage of schools, by race/ethnicity, racial/ethnic concentration, and state: Fall 2019
  • 2022, Digest of Education Statistics 2021, Table 216.90b. Percentage distribution of traditional public and public charter school enrollment and schools, by school's level of free or reduced-price lunch eligibility and state: Fall 2019
  • 2022, Digest of Education Statistics 2021, Table 216.90c. Percentage distribution of traditional public and public charter schools, by school level, school size, and state: Fall 2019
  • 2022, The Condition of Education 2022: Characteristics of Elementary and Secondary Schools
  • 2020, Digest of Education Statistics 2019, Table 216.90d.Percentage distribution of public traditional and charter schools, by school locale and state: Fall 2017

Other Resources:(Listed by Release Date)

  • 2023, Common Core of Data (CCD)
  • 2023, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP):This site provides access to publications and data on the reading, mathematics, science, writing, U.S. history, civics, geography, TEL, and arts achievement of U.S. 4th-,8th-, and 12th-grade students.
  • 2023, National Household Education Surveys Program (NHES): This site provides data on the educational activities of children and families in the United States.
  • 2023, National Teacher and Principal Survey (NTPS): This site features extensive data on American public and private elementary and secondary schools.
  • 2022, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP): Charter School Pilot Study
  • 2022, NCES Blog: Public Charter School Expenditures by School Level
  • 2019, NCES Blog: New Report on School Choice in the United States
  • 2019, School Choice in the United States: 2019
  • 2018, Common Core of Data School and Agency Reports: These totals include: schools and their characteristics (Type; Magnet, Charter, and Title I status; Urbanicity; Size).
  • 2018, NCES Blog: A Closer Look at Charter School Characteristics

The NCES Fast Facts Tool provides quick answers to many education questions (National Center for Education Statistics) (2024)

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