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Reports: Traditional school enrollment down in N.C., charters and private school enrollment up

Multiple North Carolina news outlets have reported this interesting tidbit of the day: According to state data, enrollment in the state’s traditional public schools declined in 2017, while charter and private school populations surged.

It’s the latest indicator of the growing influence of school choice in the state, which has seen a rapid expansion of charters and private schools under Republican leadership in the N.C. General Assembly.

From a Friday report on WRAL:

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.

The news comes after roughly a decade of advances for the school choice movement in the state. State lawmakers lifted the 100-school cap on charters in 2009, and today the state counts more than 170 charters.

While advocates say charters can offer an alternative to parents, critics argue their expansion in North Carolina is part of an effort to defund the traditional public school system, which continues to teach the vast majority of North Carolina students.

Lawmakers’ launch of a controversial private school voucher program seems to also contribute to the surge. The program provides scholarships for low-income children to attend private schools, although most North Carolina private schools are religious in nature, and lack the same accountability measures imposed on traditional schools.

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