Enrollment rises at NC charter, private, home schools; traditional public schools see decline
Posted July 21
Raleigh, N.C. — Enrollment in charter, private and home schools in North Carolina is on the rise. Meanwhile, traditional public schools' numbers have declined, according to data posted by the state.
Traditional public schools, which still educate the majority of students in North Carolina, saw enrollment fall by 5,562 students, down to 1,454,290, from 2016 to 2017.
Charter schools saw the greatest jump, with 11,437 new students in 2017, followed by home schools, with 9,579 new students, and private schools, with 2,864 more students in 2017, according to state data, which was first reported by The News & Observer.
Charter schools were created in North Carolina two decades ago and now enroll nearly 90,000 students in more than 170 schools. The state funding has grown from about $16.5 million in 1997, when there were 33 schools, to more than $444 million in 2016-17.
According to the latest survey of the state's charter schools, more than 37,000 students were on wait lists to get into the schools. However, it's difficult to verify the accuracy of those numbers because some students may be on wait lists at multiple schools. Also, only 103 of the state's charter schools reported their wait-list numbers.
Enrollment has also changed at private schools. The earliest data available show more than 17,000 students enrolled in 166 private schools in North Carolina in 1961. Now, more than 100,000 students are enrolled in more than 750 schools in the state.
In 2013, state lawmakers created the Opportunity Scholarships program, known as school vouchers, which gives low-income families up to $4,200 in taxpayer funds annually to spend at private schools. Supporters say it allows low-income families to leave struggling public schools and attend private schools that offer a better education. But critics say it takes money from the public school system and lacks transparency because of the private nature of the schools.
The majority of North Carolina's private schools – nearly 70 percent – are religious-based. The remainder are categorized as independent private schools.
Home schools were officially legalized in North Carolina in 1985 as a result of a decision by the state Supreme Court. In 1988, the North Carolina General Assembly enacted legislation defining a home school and making specific legal requirements for them. The 1985–86 school year was the first school year during which home schools were legally recognized as non-public schools.
North Carolina's home school population has surged from about 800 children in the mid-1980s to more than 127,000 in 2017.