The Charlotte Observer reported last week that enrollment in the Charlotte Mecklenburg School District had increased by only about 200 students over the previous year. According to reports, fall 2017 CMS enrollment is 147,359 students. The new numbers equate to an increase of about one-tenth of one percent, far less than 750 or so new students enrollment planners had expected.
The lower public school enrollments had been tied to the rapid expansion of charter schools in the Charlotte area which is now home to 47 charter schools that enrolled almost 17,000 students in 2016.
How the public views these changes is hard to say. However, they will have a chance to voice their opinion on November 7. That’s when Charlotte area residents will vote on a $922 million bond referendum to build 10 new schools and provide money to replace, renovate and expand others.
The largest school district in North Carolina, Wake County Public Schools (WCPSS), has not yet released fall 2017 enrollment numbers. However, like CMS, over the past decade, WCPSS has experienced significant enrollment growth. In recent years enrollment growth has slowed largely because of economic and demographic factors. In addition, fewer students are attending public schools because students have other educational options.
In Wake County the presence of more charter, private and home school options has significantly impacted the enrollment growth in WCPSS. Last year the News & Observer reported that planners adjusted their growth estimates downward from 3,000 to 2,000 additional students a year.
Like its neighbors in the Queen City, Wake County is also expected to vote either in May or November on a bond referendum ranging upwards of $1.1 billion to build new schools and renovate old ones.
Anyone who has reviewed WCPSS growth projections over the past decade has seen WCPSS has a history of overestimating student enrollment. The release of the WCPSS enrollment data will determine if these projections will also fall into that camp.
How will these changes and the growth of educational options influence voters? Will voters be willing to spend billions on schools when enrollment is flat or declining and families are choosing to enroll their children in charter or private schools? It’s an important question that voters should consider and schools be willing to address.