Analysis: California’s charter school Renaissance continues, while public non-charter school enrollment continues to shrink

By Brandon Ristoff
May 6, 2021

Recent news has not been favorable to public schools in California. More and more students are leaving these institutions, according to data from the California Department of Education. 

Over the past six years, California public school enrollment fell by 4%. This is part of a continual decline in K-12 enrollment that began in the 2004-05 school year, according to EdSource. While this decline has warranted much attention in recent weeks, other, less publicized numbers put the public school exodus into context.

While district (non-charter) public schools are freaking out about the loss of enrollment, charter schools have been giddy. Over the past six years, there has been a net gain in charter school enrollment of 145,677 students. How did the non-charter public schools do during this time? They lost 378,674 students. 

The pattern continues when you look at the county-level data. Los Angeles County’s traditional public schools have lost 173,121 students over the past seven years. Meanwhile, enrollment in its charter schools increased 24,203 students or 13% for Los Angeles County. 

San Francisco’s public school enrollment numbers increased 1%. But the breakdown showed why that stable public school enrollment is misleading. Charter school enrollment for San Francisco County had an increase of 1,697 students (a 30% increase), while enrollment in non-charter public schools lost 1,304 students. 

Some counties have been growing charter schools at a rapid pace. Orange County has seen a 74% increase in charter school enrollment. El Dorado has increased its charter school enrollment numbers by 252%, and Contra Costa County also had a 114% increase during this same time period. 

But not every county is having this renaissance. Napa, Mono, and Inyo counties had significant decreases in the number of charter schools.

The COVID-19 school closures have continued the trend over the past several years of the desire for school choice in California. With school barely opening in the state, we have come to a reckoning point for our district public schools. The alternatives are out there and parents in the end will always choose the best option for their kids.

The data from this article can be found HERE.