Charter school growth examined

bus-schoolDemand for charter schools continues to overwhelm the existing resources, even with growth of the number of schools. Demand continues to rise above supply, with the average charter school waiting list rising from 233 in 2009 to 277 in 2012.

In 2012, the United States had 6,004 charter schools. Charter school growth has remained steady over the last 17 years, with an average growth of 340 new schools per year. New York City, for example, has 50,000 students on waiting lists.

Supporters of charter schools say that if state policies were more supportive of charter schools, like Arizona for example in 2013 had 602 charter schools with 184,400 students enrolled. the students on waiting lists would benefit.

Unsurprisingly, charter school growth is higher in states that have laws that encourage such schools through strong charter laws that grant the schools autonomy, use independent authorizers, and do not place limits on expansion. In the 2012-2013 school year, 335 schools were established in states that the Center for Education Reform rated as having “A” or “B” grade policies, while only 13 campuses opened in states with “D” or “F” ratings.

Additionally, the use of independent charter authorizers, meaning, entities other than local school boards that authorize the establishment of charter programs have generally produced schools that are more academically and operationally successful. More than 60 percent of charter schools today have been authorized by these independent bodies.

Interestingly, charters also serve large populations of disadvantaged students. In fact, 61 percent of charter schools have a student body of which the majority (more than 60 percent) qualifies for the federal Free or Reduced Lunch Program on the basis of low family income.

Furthermore, despite functioning with limited funding (as charters tend to receive 36 percent less revenue per student than do traditional public schools), more and more charter schools offer students extended instructional time. In 2012, 48 percent of charters offered longer school days, up from 23 percent in 2009.

Charters could play a much more significant role in students’ education if more states would implement reforms that encourage the establishment of charter schools. The competition will have an additional benefit, public schools will be forced to upgrade the quality of education offered or their enrollment will drop to a point where they will not survive. Remember competition generally drives innovation and product improvement.

Source: Ted Rebarber and Alison Consoletti Zgainer, “2014 Survey of America’s Charter Schools,” Center for Education Reform, January 24, 2014.

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