Monday numbers: A closer look at charter schools in North Carolina

By: - April 19, 2021 6:00 am

The charter school movement began in earnest in North Carolina in 1997 when 34 schools opened across the state. There are now 200 charter schools in operation. 

The 1996 Charter School Act established the system of tuition-free, public schools that are not bound by many of the rules as traditional public schools. The act was sponsored by Sen. Wib Gulley, a Democrat from Durham, and Rep. Steve Wood, a Guilford County Republican. 

These days there’s less bipartisanship about charter schools, although Democrats are more likely not to support them than are Republicans. 

Conservatives tout charters as school choice options that help families flee low-performing schools. Progressives say they siphon money and resources from traditional public schools, and have an advantage because they don’t have to follow the same rules as traditional public schools 

What conservatives and progressives can agree on is that charters schools are likely here to stay for the foreseeable future. 

Here’s a by the numbers look at North Carolina’s charter schools according to the most recent data:

200 – number of charters operating in North Carolina as of Oct. 1, 2020

126,165 – number of students enrolled in North Carolina charter schools

8.4% –  percentage of North Carolina’s 1.5 million school children enrolled in charter schools

76,000 – official number of names on lists waiting to get into state charter schools (see this Policy Watch story about why that number, is significantly inflated  

47 – number of schools identified as either low-performing or continually low-performing during the 2018-19 school year

$10.37 billion – amount North Carolina spent on public education in the most recent annual budget

$734.7 million – amount it allotted for charter schools 

108 – number of the charter schools that provide bus transportation, or a little over half

65 – number that provide “coordinated” carpools to transport students to schools

24 – number that don’t provide transportation

73 – number of charter schools that participate in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). 

80 – number that provide reduced-priced lunches

30 – number that do not provide school lunches

3 – number that “self-fund” a school lunch program 

7 –  number of new charters that opened for the 2020-21 school year

10 – number scheduled to open in Fall 2021

33 – average number of charter school applications the Office of Charter Schools have received each year since 1996

25.28% – percentage of yearly charter school applications approved by the State Board of Education since 1997

48 – number of charters schools that have relinquished charters since 1998. 

17 – number that have had charters revoked since 1998

10 – number of charters not renewed by the State Board of Education. 

1 – number of charters assumed by another charter operator

Source: The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction’s 2020 Annual Charter Schools Report

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Greg Childress
Greg Childress

Education Reporter Greg Childress covers all aspects of public education in North Carolina, including debates over school funding, curricula, privatization, and teacher pay and licensing.