NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The Impact of Charter Schools on Public and Private School Enrollments

September 5, 2012

Charter schools are an increasingly attractive option for educating students. These schools are publicly funded but have immense autonomy to develop their own curriculum and make hiring decisions. But the rise in enrollment for charter schools has implications for the wider public and private school enrollment numbers, says Richard Buddin, an education policy expert and a former senior economist at the RAND Corporation.

  • Between 2000 and 2008 the share of students in public schools grew from 89.5 percent to 90.8 percent.
  • However, the primary growth in public school enrollments has been in charter schools, which grew about 17 percent per year since 2000.
  • Furthermore, private school enrollments have fallen from 10.5 percent to 9.2 percent between 2000 and 2008.
  • Eight percent of charter elementary students were drawn from private schools while 11 percent of middle and high school students in charter schools came from private schools.
  • Enrollment in charter schools was often higher in urban districts than non-urban districts.

Opponents typically argue that students perform worse in charter schools than in private schools or traditional public schools. However, the studies don't show a statistically significant change in the performance of students. But when broken down by the type of district, students in urban districts that went to charter schools were more likely to do well.

Studies on charter schools also focus on the competitive effects on traditional public schools. As traditional public schools lose students to charter schools, there is an incentive to make reforms and improvements to retain students. Studies conducted in most states didn't show strong evidence that there is a competitive effect on traditional public schools.

The study of enrollment patterns is important for all taxpayers to consider. Taxpayer funding will have to be funneled into charter schools as more students are enrolled.  Even more money from the state will be required as students leave private schools, which don't affect the taxpayer, and enter charter schools. Funding for educational costs must come from tax increases or reduced spending in portions of the budget.

Source: Richard Buddin, "The Impact of Charter Schools on Public and Private School Enrollments," Cato Institute, August 28, 2012.


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