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More than 6,000 charter schools now operate in the United States

The number of charter schools surpassed 6,000 at the start of the 2012-13 school year, as these schools — publicly financed, but privately run — steadily increased by 7 percent throughout the United States that year. This annual growth contributed to a 47 percent increase in the number of charter schools over the seven years since 2006-2007.

The charter school data came as part of a “first look” report of annual data collected by states and school districts for the federal government, and released by the National Center for Education Statistics on Thursday, October 30, 2014. The full 2012-13 Common Core of Data report, as it is called, is expected to be released later this year.

Still, at 6,079 schools in total, charters represented only 6 percent of the U.S. public school system of 98,454 elementary, middle and high schools.

Number of charter schools in each state during the 2012-13 school year

(Use arrows to navigate, then click on any state to see the numbers of charter schools from 2006 to 2013. Interactive map created by Jill Barshay of The Hechinger Report.)

Charters are unevenly spread throughout the country. The first interactive map above shows that California leads the country with more than a thousand charter schools. Texas is number two, with more than 600 charters, followed by Florida with more than 500.

It’s interesting that charters have often become big political issues in states where relatively few charter schools operate. For example, in Connecticut — where controversies over charters have become part of this fall’s governor’s race — there are only 17 charter schools. Eight states — Alabama, Kentucky, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont and West Virginia — don’t allow charter schools to operate. Washington State didn’t either back in 2012-13, but state lawmakers changed that and its first charter school opened this past fall in 2014.

The federal government defines a charter school loosely as any school that provides free public elementary or secondary education under a charter. Typically, charter schools receive a per-pupil allotment of funds from the state or a local school district. Many charters supplement that with private fundraising. Most charters hire non-union teachers, but some have unionized faculty. Most charters operate independently of their local school districts and aren’t required to follow many of the district rules and regulations.

Charter growth rate in each state. Annual change between 2011-12 and 2012-13


(Use arrows to navigate, then click on any state to see charter growth from 2006 to 2013. Interactive map created by Jill Barshay of The Hechinger Report.)

Growth rates also have varied widely. In some states with an established charter movement, such as California, Florida and New York, there has been double-digit annual growth. In Texas and Louisiana, by contrast, growth is slowing. The biggest one-year increase in the number of charter schools was in New Hampshire, jumping from 15 to 22 schools, a 47 percent increase.

Charter school advocates (naturally) expect to continue seeing steady growth. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools says that, when the data is released for the 2013-2014 year, it will show 600 new charter schools added that year and more than a 10 percent jump in student enrollment with 288,000 additional students attending charters. “It’s the largest increase we’ve seen in 14 years,” said Katherine Bathgate, director of communications and marketing at the advocacy group.

Bathgate says the waiting lists for seats in charter schools, which her group tracks, are growing longer even as the number of charter schools increase. If such demand continues, she predicts charter school growth will continue as well.

Growth in some states is tamped by laws that cap the number of charter schools. At the same time, other states are relaxing laws to permit more charters. For example, Mississippi recently changed laws that had made it very difficult for a charter to open. In Washington State, where charters are newly allowed, eight new charters are expected to open next fall 2015.

Additional charter school data, including the number of students enrolled, is expected to be released in November or December.

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Jill Barshay

Jill Barshay is a staff writer and editor who writes the weekly “Proof Points” column about education research and data. She taught algebra to ninth… See Archive

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