Just the Facts: Charter School Statistics

With so much misinformation about charter schools in the media, we thought we’d just the facts: what charter schools are, where they are, who goes to them, and how they’re performing. Take a look!

What is a Charter School?

Charter schools are free public schools that are independent of school districts through contracts (or charters) with state or local boards.

The charter exempts the school from certain state or local rules and regulations. In return for flexibility and autonomy, the charter school must meet the accountability standards outlined in its charter.

As public schools, charter schools are open to all children, do not require entrance exams, cannot charge tuition, and must participate in state testing and federal accountability programs.

See more about “What is a Charter School?”

National Charter School Enrollment
  • Total : 2,519,065 (5% of total public school enrollment)
  • Elementary Charter Schools: 1,287,378
  • Secondary Charter Schools: 441,762
  • Combined Elementary/Secondary Charter Schools: 789,777

Where are charter schools located?

37%
of charter schools are located in the Western US
56.5%
of charter schools are in a city
10%
of charter schools are in rural areas, compared to 29% for public, non-charter schools

Are charter schools better than public schools?

We compared the performance of the different type of schools based on their Niche Grade in a few major US cities to answer this question.

Our response? It depends on where you live. Charter schools can sometimes outperform non-charter school districts, or just the opposite.

New York City

new york city charter schools

Type % Type of School in city limits
Type Charter
% Type of School in city limits 27.4%
Type District School
% Type of School in city limits 56.5%
Type Magnet
% Type of School in city limits 16.2%
Washington D.C.

washington d.c. charter schools

Type % Type of School in City Limits
Type Charter
% Type of School in City Limits 39.2%
Type District School
% Type of School in City Limits 56.6%
Type Magnet
% Type of School in City Limits 4.2%
Los Angeles

Los Angeles Charter Schools

Type % Type of School in City Limits
Type Charter
% Type of School in City Limits 27.4%
Type District School
% Type of School in City Limits 56.5%
Type Magnet
% Type of School in City Limits 16.2%

Charter School Popularity

CA
Has the largest number of students enrolled in charter schools: 513,400, representing 8% of total public school students
D.C.
Has the highest percentage of charter school students: 42%, representing 33,200 students
AZ
Has the second-highest percentage of students enrolled in charter schools: 18%

Demographics of Charter School vs. Other Public School Students

Race/Ethnicity
Race/Ethnicity At Charter Schools At Non-Charter Public Schools
Race/Ethnicity White
At Charter Schools 34.9%
At Non-Charter Public Schools 51.1%
Race/Ethnicity Black
At Charter Schools 27.1%
At Non-Charter Public Schools 15%
Race/Ethnicity Hispanic
At Charter Schools 30%
At Non-Charter Public Schools 24.6%
Race/Ethnicity Asian/Pacific Islander
At Charter Schools 4.1%
At Non-Charter Public Schools 5.2%

Between school years 2003–04 and 2013–14, the percentage of Hispanic and Asian/Pacific Islander students in charter schools has increased (Hispanic students from 21 to 30 percent, and Asian/Pacific Islander from 3 to 4 percent), better representing the demographic composition in non-charter public schools.

Percent of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch
Percent Eligible At Charter Schools At Public Schools
Percent Eligible 0-25%
At Charter Schools 19.7%
At Public Schools 20.2%
Percent Eligible 25.1-50%
At Charter Schools 18.9%
At Public Schools 27.6%
Percent Eligible 50.1-75%
At Charter Schools 21.8%
At Public Schools 27.1%
Percent Eligible More than 75%
At Charter Schools 36.7%
At Public Schools 24.2%

The highest percentage of students eligible for free or reduced lunch are at charter schools, while the distribution of students at public schools in this demographic seems to be more even.

Find Charter Schools in Your Area
Sources

National Center for Education Statistics

Author: Alex Caffee

Marketing and Business Analyst at Niche. Dessert aficionado. Found my Niche in Pittsburgh, PA!

Just the Facts: Charter School Statistics