Takeaways from the latest annual report on North Carolina charter schools

This coming fall marks 25 years since charter schools first began opening in North Carolina during the 1997-1998 school year.

While enrollment at traditional public schools fell during the pandemic, the percentage of North Carolina students attending charter schools grew.

Charter schools now serve 8.8% of all public school students and account for $9.1 million of the state education budget, said Ashley Baquero with the Office of Charter Schools.

This week, Baquero presented an annual report on charter schools to the North Carolina state board of education that will be submitted to the General Assembly. Here are five details from the report.

1. The total number of charter schools has doubled since the General Assembly lifted the state’s cap on charter schools in 2011.

Before the cap was lifted in state law, only 100 charter schools were allowed. There are now 203, with eight more slated to open this fall. The Office of Charter Schools at the Department of Public Instruction is requesting funding to hire more full-time staff to meet the demands of serving the schools and assisting new schools applying to open.

North Carolina Department of Public Instruction

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2. 21 charter schools have had their charters revoked by the state board of education.

The state board of education voted Thursday to close Torchlight Academy in Raleigh in June for issues with fiscal mismanagement and inability to serve the needs of special education students. It is the 21st charter school to have its charter revoked by the state board.

Including Torchlight Academy, a total of 84 charter schools have closed or had their charter terminated; most of those were voluntarily relinquished because of difficulty opening, said Ashley Baquero of the Office of Charter Schools.

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North Carolina Department of Public Instruction

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3. Charter schools serve a smaller percentage of English language learners, students with disabilities and economically disadvantaged students compared to traditional public schools.

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North Carolina Department of Public Instruction

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In October, 2021, charter schools enrolled 4,702 English learners (or 3.6% of their student population) and traditional district schools enrolled 116,744 English learners (or 7.7% of their student population), according to a federal headcount.

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North Carolina Department of Public Instruction

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In October 2021, about 10 percent of charter school students were students with disabilities, compared to about 12 percent of traditional public school students.

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North Carolina Department of Public Instruction

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In June, 2021, charter schools enrolled 28,507 economically disadvantaged students (or about 23% of their student population) and traditional public schools enrolled 545,416 economically disadvantaged students (or about 38% of their student population), according to the 2021 annual report on charter schools.

4. Ethnic and racial demographics at charter schools are similar to the general public school population, except for Hispanic students.

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North Carolina Department of Public Instruction

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Charter schools enroll a slightly higher proportion of white, Black and multiracial children than traditional public schools, but a significantly smaller proportion of Hispanic students.

5. A grant program is helping charter schools become more diverse.

With the help of a $36.6 million Public Charter Schools Program grant from the US Department of Education, the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction is in its fourth year of implementing a grant program to help charter schools become more diverse.

The ACCESS grant program has distributed sub-grants to 61 charter schools in 28 counties to help them better serve economically disadvantaged students. The program requires recipients to use weighted lotteries to give an admissions advantage to students who are economically disadvantaged. As a result, more charter schools in North Carolina now use weighted lotteries.

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North Carolina Department of Public Instruction

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Number of Charter Schools Approved to Utilize a Weighted Lottery, 2013-2022, from 2021 annual report on charter schools

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