Charter schools don’t reflect the population characteristics of the surrounding areas. That’s a frequent criticism of charter schools. But is it true? It’s a complicated question. When a charter school population does vary from local schools, oftentimes there are good reasons.
The Annual Charter Schools Report to the North Carolina General Assembly sheds light on this topic.
Beginning on page 21 of the report, demographic data is discussed:
At the individual school level, racial demographics of schools vary across the state as some charter schools accurately reflect the LEA (e.g. Piedmont Community Charter and in Gaston County or Alpha Academy located in Cumberland County) while other school’s demographics vary drastically from the LEA.
For the charter schools that are not reflective of the LEA, several schools serve a higher population of minority students. For example, The Academy of Moore County, CIS Academy in Robeson County, and Haliwa-Saponi Tribal School in Warren County serve a higher populations of American Indian students than the LEA. In addition, there are charter schools that do serve a higher population of white students. Where charter schools do not meet the demographics of the LEA, the occurrence can be somewhat explained due to the school’s design, its approved mission, location within the community, academic performance, or demand for seats that may not exist forcing an enrollment lottery.
Since charter school enrollment is often determined by lottery when the number of available seats is fewer than the amount of applications received, there are enrollment factors beyond the control of the individual schools. The school can market and recruit for all populations, but it has no control over actual applications received or the randomized nature in the legislated lottery process. The location of the school facility and the parent choice based on the school’s unique mission also affect the school’s demographics. The revised law states that the charter school “shall make efforts” to reasonably reflect that of the local administrative unit. The data reveals that there is no notable difference overall between the racial demographics of all public schools and charter schools.