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Philly ranks high among districts with biggest share of charter students

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Among school districts with more than 100,000 students, Philadelphia ranks second in the nation — behind only Detroit — in the percentage of students who are enrolled in charter schools.

According to the latest report from the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools, an advocacy group, slightly more than one in four students attending publicly funded schools in Philadelphia were in charters last year. In Detroit, half the students attended charter schools.

Among all districts in the country, Philadelphia ranks in the top 10, tied with Dayton and Indianapolis at 28 percent. The Dayton district has a total of about 22,000 students, and Indianapolis has about 42,000. The district with the highest proportion of students in charters is New Orleans, with 79 percent, or four in five students, attending charters last year out of about 46,000 students total.

Among the largest school districts in the country, Los Angeles had 18 percent, New York City 6 percent, Chicago 12 percent, Miami-Dade 13 percent, and Houston 19 percent.

Nationwide, nearly one in 20 public school students enrolled in a charter last school year.

Even though charter enrollment increased by 80 percent nationwide over the last five years, mostly in urban areas, the overwhelming majority of public school students, 95 percent, still attend traditional schools, the report found.

Philadelphia’s share of charter school students grew by 5 percent from 2011-12 to 2012-13, to a total of about 55,000. The report collected data from state education department databases, but did not count virtual education students, which number about 6,000 in Philadelphia. Between those years, the number of public charter schools in the city rose from 79 to 83.

A large portion of the growth in 2012-13, about 3,000 students, came from four new Renaissance charters. These are District schools deemed underperforming whose management was transferred to charter operators: Grover Cleveland (Mastery), Memphis Street Academy (American Paradigm), Universal Creighton Charter School, and H.R. Edmunds (String Theory).

This year, the School District says more than 60,000 students are in brick-and-mortar charters — with 6,300 more in cyber charter schools. That means overall about a third of all students who attend publicly funded schools in Philadelphia are in charters. To counter the migration to cyber charters, the District created its own Virtual Academy, which opened this September with many fewer students than projected.

Trying to regulate the costly growth of charters while providing parents with appealing options for neighborhood schools has been a priority for the District, even as it grapples with a funding crisis that has deprived its schools of many resources.

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