New research shows charter growth slowing nationally

New research shows charter growth slowing nationally

(Calif.) The steeply increasing number of charter schools in both Los Angeles and Oakland has been a point of contention among teachers unions in recent years, but a new study shows growth in the charter sector overall appears to be leveling off.

Researchers at Bellwether Education Partners, a non-profit organization that supports school choice, found that throughout the country, the rate of growth in charters has slowed to 3 percent since 2014–down from 6 percent between 2008 and 2014, and 8 percent between 2005 and 2008.

There are now more than 7,000 charter schools in the U.S., according to the report. Although charter school growth has been concentrated in 16 states since 2005, the majority has occurred in California, Texas and Florida.

“After years of rapid growth, the number of charter schools and students is starting to level off, though school closures understate the pace of new school openings,” researchers wrote, noting that low-performing charter schools have been closed at rates of up to 6.3 percent since 2008. “Slower growth rates are largely due to fewer charter schools opening in recent years.”

In Oakland, teachers begin voting today on whether to allow their union leaders to call a strike amid a labor dispute with Oakland Unified School District.

The union has been without a contract since July 2017, and is demanding that its new contract include a 12 percent raise over three years and smaller class sizes, and that the district hire more counselors and nurses. Though union leaders haven’t specifically mentioned charter schools when discussing the potential strike, they have expressed concern regarding how local education finances are impacted by the opening of new schools.

For instance, last year, the union shared findings from a study on its website, which it said determined that “the ‘unchecked expansion’ of charter schools cost Oakland Unified School District $57.3 million for the 2016-17 school year. California law currently doesn’t allow school boards to consider how a proposed charter school may impact a district’s educational programs or fiscal health.”

The increasing number of charter schools in Los Angeles was also one of the issues raised by United Teachers Los Angeles in its recent six-day strike against the Los Angeles Unified School District. Amid already declining enrollment, charters have been considered by advocates for traditional schools to be competition for students and, in turn, school funding.

As part of the resolution to end the strike, union leaders received a commitment from the district board of education to consider a resolution calling for the state to “cap” the number of charter schools–though it’s not guaranteed the resolution will pass.

Nationwide, there are more than 7,000 charter schools with 3 million students, representing 6 percent of total public school enrollment, according to the Bellwether report. Since 2005, 40 percent of all new school growth.

More than 1,100 charter schools opened between 2005 and 2016 in California alone, followed by more than 670 in Texas and close to 630 in Florida.

Between 2005 and 2013, the number of new charter schools increased by about 300 each year–with the highest being between 2012 and 2013, when about 500 new schools opened–according to researchers. Yet just 200 charters opened in each of the following years, with only 100 opening between 2015 and 2016.

Between 2008 and 2012, researchers said that the closure rate of low-performing charters remained between 5.2 percent and 6.3 percent. Among low-performing traditional public schools during that time period, the closure rate peaked at 3.6 percent.

At the same time, more students attending charter schools are enrolled in charters run by high-performing non-profit charter management organizations. In 2009, nearly 90,000 students were enrolled in high-performing schools, compared to more than 385,000 students in 2016, researchers found.

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