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Although enrollment in D.C. Public Schools has steadily risen over the past five years, enrollment in the District’s public charter schools has significantly outpaced that rate of growth, according to a new report.
The D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute looked at the District’s changing education landscape since the 2005-2006 academic year. This school year, the report finds, only about 9,000 students separate enrollment in DCPS (48,000) from enrollment in DCPCS (39,000): A decade ago, the difference was closer to 37,000, such that public charter schools had roughly one third (18,000) of traditional public schools’ enrollment (55,000). A result of DCPCS’ almost linear growth in enrollment is that public charter school students now compose 45 percent of all D.C.’s students, as compared to composing 25 percent of all D.C.’s students just ten years ago.
Still, “the growth rates of traditional public schools and public charter schools have narrowed greatly in recent years,” author Peter Tuths explains. “From 2005-06 to 2010-11, public charter enrollment grew 65 percent while DCPS enrollment fell 17 percent. In the most recent five years, by contrast, the charter sector grew 32 percent compared with 6 percent for DCPS.”
The findings, based on data from the Office of the State Superintendent of Education and DCPCS, mirror numbers released earlier this year showing steady cross-sector increases in student enrollment. But the report delves into the rate of change in enrollment both in traditional public and public charter schools. It notes that in the 2015-2016 academic year, the number of DCPS and DCPCS students grew by two and three percent, respectively—with projected growth rates of three and five percent for the 2016-2017 year.
The report also examines DCPS and DCPCS enrollment by ward. For example, it finds that public charter school enrollment appears to be growing the fastest in Wards 5 and 8—at about 50 percent each from the 2011-2012 academic year to the current academic year. However, public charter schools in Ward 1 saw a 16 percent drop in enrollment while those in Ward 7 saw anemic growth—one percent—over the same period:
(For the above chart, the Tuths notes: “In the 2011-12 school year, only one public charter school, Mundo Verde Bilingual PCS, was located in Ward 2. This school has since moved to Ward 5. Today, the only school operating in Ward 2 is BASIS PCS, with 599 students. There are no public charter schools in Ward 3.”)
In addition, the report finds that currently, the majority of public charter school students in Wards 7 and 8 are considered “at-risk,” meaning students families’ receive welfare or food stamps; or the students themselves are homeless, in the foster-care system, or “over-age” while in high school. “By contrast, almost no charter schools located in Wards 1 and 4 had a majority at-risk student body,” the report explains, adding that about 43,000 students in both DCPS and DCPCS schools are identified as “at-risk” this year.
Read the full report here.
Screenshots via DCFPI