Growing Student Waitlist for Charter Schools in North Carolina

During the 2023-24 academic year, 169 out of the state’s 210 charter schools indicated the presence of a waitlist, based on a recent report from the Department of Public Instruction (DPI).

Collectively, the waitlist encompasses over 85,000 students. Nonetheless, this figure might encompass duplicate entries of students on multiple waitlists, as stated by Ashley Baquero, the Director of the Office of Charter Schools at DPI, during the May meeting of the State Board of Education.

“We provide updates on the current status of charter schools in the previous academic year every year at this time,” Baquero informed the Board during a presentation on DPI’s annual charter school report. “In the 2022-23 school year, North Carolina charter schools accommodated over 145,000 students, constituting 10% of the total enrollment.”

Baquero noted that DPI gathers waitlist data from charter schools across the state on an annual basis.

This year, the waitlist saw a surge of more than 8,000 students from the preceding year, rising from 77,000 students.

Approximately 37 charter schools, almost one-fifth of them, had a waitlist exceeding 700 students, while close to 40% (83 schools) had waitlists in excess of 200 students.

Governor Roy Cooper designated the current week as National Charter School Week in North Carolina, emphasizing that “charter schools are crucial public institutions that enhance educational opportunities for all students, expanding parental and student choices within the public schooling framework.”

From 2019 to 2022, charter school enrollment in North Carolina rose by 19% — marking the fifth highest growth rate nationally, per DPI’s 2022 report to the General Assembly.

Simultaneously, North Carolina Republican legislators recently expanded school choice through private schools and charter schools, where the latter provides more flexibility than traditional public schools. Despite the availability of choice within the public schooling system showcased by charter schools, traditional public schools remain the primary preference for the majority of the state’s students.

In her report, Baquero highlighted the influence of recent legislation on charter schools in North Carolina.

“The charter sector has undergone notable legislative alterations since the previous year’s report,” she remarked.

Baquero first acknowledged the legislation establishing the Charter School Review Board (CSRB), granting it the exclusive authority to approve or reject charter applications, renewals, and significant modifications.

Prior to the enactment of this law, charter school applications were evaluated by the Charter School Advisory Board (CSAB), which advised the State Board of Education on which applications should be accepted or rejected. The CSAB is no longer in operation.

“This measure will enhance the application process in terms of efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and overall streamlined operations for all involved stakeholders,” stated Rep. Tricia Cotham, R-Mecklenburg, a primary proponent of the bill, regarding the legislative action.

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