Enrollment rises at NC charter, private, home schools; traditional public schools see decline

Posted July 21


— 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.


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  • Michael Bawden Jul 24, 9:16 p.m.
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    A large blame of public school problems goes to lawsuits that find in favor of A SINGLE student. The public schools have become all thing to all people and it is costly. Then comes the notion EVERY kid should earn some type of diploma. I believe there are FOUR TYPES of diplomas for WCPSS. At the expense of the 80 percent students. There to achieve and follow the rules. Public schools cater to the lower 20 percent to make sure drop out rates dont increase. Big complaint from Public school employees is they HAVE to take kids that have little or no chance of being functioning adults. For whatever reason. Achievers migrate to alternative educational institutions that cater to the top 80 percent of students. It is called voting with their feet. When Tata was superintendent, the trend was the OPPOSITE.

  • Gia Momoa Jul 22, 7:59 a.m.
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    My children go to a charter school and though it's not perfect it's my choice and frankly none of anyone's business. I work hard and pay my taxes volunteer for my community and I'm raising three respectful young men all of whom I am very proud of. So as far as I'm concerned we are contributing to society not being leaches.

  • Elisa Barnes Jul 21, 10:43 p.m.
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    Pete, you might have misunderstood me. Your tax dollars do not support my decision to utilize private school. I pay a pretty penny for my son to be there, IN ADDITION to the taxes I pay for the public school I'm NOT using. There are some excellent WCPS, and there are lousy ones. I'm choosing not to subject my kid to a lousy one out of duty or principle.

  • Pete Knowles Jul 21, 1:10 p.m.
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    Elise, that's all well and good, but I should have a choice where my tax dollars go. When I was young, if you wanted to send your child to private school, you had to be either rich, get a loan or a grant. I don't want my tax dollars to go for private school education, I want my tax dollars to go to public education. I'm glad you made the decision that suits you best. What I don't like is my tax dollars supporting your decision. James Marley has a problem with the way WCPSs are operated. I understand his pain, but you can thank our GA for raping the funds that would normally go to WCPs and are sent to voucher schools. I think there should either be a public referendum, or a box on your state tax form delineating whether you prefer your tax dollars go to public or private schools.

  • Elisa Barnes Jul 21, 12:39 p.m.
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    We took a tour of my son's Wake County elementary school option. I decided then and there that my child would never set foot in that school. It's a financial sacrifice, and I know it's not an option for everyone, but private school has been by far the best decision we ever made.

  • James Marley Jul 21, 12:18 p.m.
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    This should not be a surprise to anyone. As a parent who has experienced WCPS, there is a night and day difference between public schools and charter schools. Now that our children are in charter schools we will never go back to public. The way some of these public schools are being operated is horrific.