Enrollment in traditional public schools declined in 2017-18. ADM enrollment is down 3,341 students over last year according to Highlights of the North Carolina Public School Budget.
That’s a fact that probably comes as a surprise to many people who are used to hearing how every school is overcrowded. Even more interesting is that this is the second consecutive year of declining enrollment, and third decline since 2014.
What’s behind the changes? A variety of factors. One is the obvious demographic shift. People are having less children. These impacts are starting to show up at schools. They may have been masked in some of the faster growing areas of North Carolina like the Triangle. However reduced enrollments – and the tough decisions that accompany them — have already arrived in areas as different as rural North Carolina and the suburbs of Charlotte.
Another factor that might explain the enrollment drop is the growing popularity of public charter schools. In 2011 the North Carolina General Assembly gave the green light to expand the number of charter schools. North Carolina now has 173 charter schools. How fast have charters expanded? In 2014, charter school enrollment was 53,000. In 2017-18, over 101,000 students attend charter schools.
Two facts will animate discussion about public education in the coming years. Enrollment in K-12 schools will decline and parents want educational options.
Competition is good.