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Monday numbers: A closer look charter schools in North Carolina

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After 25 years, NC charter schools continue to provoke controversy – Image: AdobeStock

Save for school vouchers and the state’s long-running Leandro school funding lawsuit, few issues spark debate in North Carolina’s education circles like charter schools.

Supporters, many of whom are conservative voters, see charters as “school choice” options that help families looking to flee low-performing schools. They tout several highly successful charter schools, promote the idea of competition among schools, and regularly call on lawmakers to expand the number of (and funding for) charters.

Meanwhile, many progressives say charters siphon money and resources from traditional public schools and have an unfair advantage because they don’t have to follow the same rules as traditional public schools. They also lament the fact that many charters serve to exacerbate racial and economic segregation. They question the management of charters by for-profit companies. And they complain that charter school proponents’ initial promise that the schools would serve as “incubators of innovation” — also benefitting traditional schools — has never come to fruition.

Especially during the last decade of conservative Republican dominance at the General Assembly, it has been the proponents who have generally prevailed in these debates. Today, the number of charter schools in North Carolina, which now exceeds 200, and their total enrollment, continues to grow.

Here’s a “by the numbers” look at North Carolina’s charter schools according to the 2021 Charter Schools Annual Report [2]:

25 — As of fall 2022, the number of years since the first charter schools opened their doors in North Carolina

203 — Number of charter schools operating in North Carolina; the report shows 204 but the State Board of Education closed Three Rivers Academy in Bertie County on April 8

130,000 — Number of students enrolled in North Carolina’s charter schools for the 2021-2022 school year — 4,000 more than the previous school year

6 — Number of new charter schools that opened in 2021

8 — Number of charter schools scheduled to open in fall 2022

76 — Number of schools that are part of the National School Lunch program

8.6% — Percentage of the state’s nearly 1.5 million public school students attending charter schools

73% — Percentage of charter schools that report having a waitlist

83 –Number of charters terminated since 1998

21 — Number of charter school applications received in 2021

33 — Average number of charter school applications the Office of Charter Schools has received between 1996 and 2021.

25.28% — Average percentage of applications approved by the State Board of Education from 1997 top 2020

10% — Percentage of charter school students who have learning disabilities

22.58% — Percentage of charter school students who are economically disadvantaged

26% — Percentage of charter school students who are Black

50.3% — Percentage of charter school students who are white

$817.9 million — Amount of money the state spent on students, based on average daily membership or enrollment, to attend charter schools in 2020-2021; the amount increased to $910 million for the current school year