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A new study by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools shows that charter school enrollment in Michigan grew during each year of the pandemic, while traditional public school enrollment plummeted.
This is the first study that’s looked at enrollment trends for all three school years of the pandemic – from 2019-2020 through 2021-2022.
The study showed that from 2019 to 2022, charter school enrollment in Michigan increased from 147,339 to 150,486. That’s an increase of 3,147 students, or 2.14%. About 10% of all students in Michigan attend a charter school.
During that same three-year span, enrollment in Michigan’s traditional public schools fell from 1,304,599 to 1,249,500. That’s a decline of 55,099 students, or 4.22%.
During the first two years of the pandemic – 2019-2020 to 2020-2021 – charter school enrollment in Michigan grew by 2,139 students, of 1.45%. Traditional public school enrollment dropped by 48,318 students, or 3.70%.
The trend continued the following year – from 2020-2021 to 2021-2022. Charter school enrollment grew by 1,008 students (0.67%) while traditional public school enrollment dropped by 6,781 students (0.54%).
“This data is fascinating, and there are a lot of lessons in these numbers,” said Dan Quisenberry, President of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies (MAPSA), the state charter school association. “If nothing else, the pandemic showed us that parents and families need great options when it comes to their student’s education. The fact that so many families left their old school in search of new options during the pandemic says a lot. And the fact that charter public school enrollment continued to grow while other public school enrollment plummeted is evidence that charter schools continue to be an oasis of hope for so many families in Michigan.”
Quisenberry noted that despite the unprecedented challenges the pandemic posed for all schools, charters continued to use innovation, creativity and tenacity to make sure that teaching and learning never stopped.
“We’re just now starting to see the magnitude of the learning loss that occurred during the pandemic,” he said. “As a state, we have a lot of ground to make up, and parents are recognizing that it’s absolutely essential that they have options when it comes to finding the right school for their child. A lot of them are choosing charters.”
Thousands of students chose other school options during the pandemic, including homeschooling and private schools, while some Michigan families moved out of state. This report did not track that movement.
The National Alliance’s report shows that the trend seen in Michigan is the same in most other states. Of the 41 states (and the District of Columbia) that have charter schools, only two states (Illinois and Wyoming) showed a loss of enrollment at charter schools during the pandemic. Thirty-nine states showed growth in charter enrollment.
During that same time span, only two states (Idaho and Utah) showed growth in traditional public school enrollment. The other 39 states all showed a decline.
“That’s called ‘voting with your feet,’ ” Quisenberry said.