by Bruce Walker
Student enrollment for Michigan charter schools increased each year during the pandemic while traditional public-school enrollments dropped.
Data compiled by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools tracked three years of enrollments during the pandemic and show Michigan’s charter schools had a 2.14% increase, or 3,147 students, between 2019 and 2022. NAPCS researchers relied on available public records for its study of 41 states, concluding charter school enrollment increased in 39 of the 41 states covered by the study during the three years of the pandemic.
Only 41 states have public charter schools.
The NAPCS study “Changing Course: Public School Enrollment Shifts During the Pandemic” also reports Michigan charter schools added 2,139 students, a 1.45% increase, during the first two years of the pandemic while traditional public-school enrollment in the state fell by 3.7% or 48,318 students. In third year impacted by the pandemic, Michigan’s charter schools added 1,008 students for an increase of 0.67% while traditional public-school enrollment in the state fell by 0.54%.
Noting Michigan charter schools educate approximately 10% of the state’s total students, Michigan Association of Public School Academies President Dan Quisenberry released a statement in which he said, “This data is fascinating, and there are a lot of lessons in these numbers. If nothing else, the pandemic showed us that parents and families need great options when it comes to their student’s education. The fact that so many families left their old school in search of new options during the pandemic says a lot. And the fact that charter public school enrollment continued to grow while other public school enrollment plummeted is evidence that charter schools continue to be an oasis of hope for so many families in Michigan.”
Quisenberry said the COVID-19 pandemic posed challenges for all schools, but he credits charter schools’ innovation, creativity and tenacity for the increase in enrollments.
“We’re just now starting to see the magnitude of the learning loss that occurred during the pandemic,” he said. “As a state, we have a lot of ground to make up, and parents are recognizing that it’s absolutely essential that they have options when it comes to finding the right school for their child. A lot of them are choosing charters.”
Thousands of students chose other school options during the pandemic, including homeschooling and private schools, while some Michigan families moved out of state. This report did not track that movement.
The National Alliance’s report shows the trend seen in Michigan is the same in most other states. Of the 41 states (and the District of Columbia) that have charter schools, only two states (Illinois and Wyoming) showed a loss of enrollment at charter schools during the pandemic.
During that same time span, only two states (Idaho and Utah) showed growth in traditional public school enrollment. The other 39 states all showed a decline.
The NAPCS study also examined the demographic shifts between 25 traditional public schools and charter schools.
“In the 25 states we examined, we found that white student enrollment in charter schools increased by nearly 30,000 students, Black student enrollment increased by nearly 35,000 students, and Hispanic student enrollment increased by slightly more than 95,000 students,” the report reads. “At the same time, the district sector lost more than 920,000 white students, nearly 180,000 Black students, and slightly more than 140,000 Hispanic students. In addition, our data seem to suggest that Hispanic students are a strong driver of charter enrollment increases in the 25 states we examined, and white students are a strong driver of district public school enrollment losses.”
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Bruce Walker is a regional editor at The Center Square. He previously worked as editor at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s MichiganScience magazine and The Heartland Institute’s InfoTech & Telecom News.