Public school enrollment Archives - North Carolina Coalition for Charter Schools

NBC News Analyzes Declining Public School Enrollment Nationwide

By News

NBC News has published a 10-year analysis of public school enrollment, showing public schools are losing K-12 market share across the nation. Between 2012-2022, for instance, public school enrollment dropped in every state except Delaware and Rhode Island, with the enrollment downturn occurring despite population growth. NBC ties the shift to the national proliferation of school choice programs and initiatives, including charter schools. However, NBC inaccurately and unfortunately positions charter schools as an “alternative” to “public schools.” In fact, charter schools are public schools. They are not private schools, so they are not part of education “privatization” efforts–and they are open to all students, just like district public schools.

Here are some key takeaways from NBC’s report:

Between 2012-2022, the share of children ages 5-17 attending public schools nationwide declined by nearly 4%, from 90.7% to 87%. Some states, including North Carolina, experienced much larger “public school” enrollment decreases during this 10-year timeframe. Here are the states experiencing the largest declines:

  • Kentucky: -7.73%
  • South Carolina: -7.35%
  • Alaska: -6.88%
  • Mississippi: -6.78%
  • Florida: -6.53%
  • Idaho: -6%
  • West Virginia: -5.75%
  • Montana: -5.72%
  • North Carolina: -5.64%
  • Alabama: -5.6%

North Carolina’s changing K-12 sector

NBC does not report enrollment trends in the one public schooling sector in North Carolina that has grown dramatically: public charter schools. Between 2012-2022, the same timeframe NBC News studied, N.C. public charter enrollment shot up 175%. More recently, between 2019-2022, public charter enrollment in North Carolina increased 19%, as the state’s Office of Charter Schools has noted.

A shift in what parents want in education

The report makes clear what other previous studies have affirmed, which is that parent preferences have changed–with education sectors outside district public schools scooping up K-12 market share, as we have noted before. Notably, however, parents are leaving public schools even in states without a robust school choice environment. For example, Kentucky, which has the largest share in the nation of students exiting public schools, does not provide families with publicly-funded school choice programs. Lawmakers have sought to create such opportunities, but legislation creating a way to fund charter schools was struck down in December; in addition, the state Supreme Court has ruled against education tax credits. Instead, parents are leaving Kentucky public schools for home or private schools, which account for around 15% of the state’s K-12 population, according to a 2022 report from EdChoice Kentucky.

NBC’s map of public school enrollment declines nationwide:

Read the full report on NBC News.