(The Center Square) – A recent study reveals that the number of Maryland students enrolling in charter schools is rising as pupil counts in traditional public schools across the state are trending downward.

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit trade association, recently released “Changing Course: Public School Enrollment Shifts During the Pandemic.”

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According to the organization’s findings, Maryland has been amid a gradual shift in the past three years, including the 2019-20 school year. The pandemic-induced cessation of in-person learning capped off that. The report also examined enrollment counts in the 2020-21 and 2021-22 school years.

In Maryland, charter enrollment increases have outpaced declines in traditional public schools. Charters are schools that receive government funding but operate autonomously of established state school systems.

According to the NAPCS findings, Maryland’s public charter schools recorded 22,290 enrollees in the 2019-20 school year. The following year, charter counts increased by 4.83% to 23,366 students.

The trend continued upward in the most recently completed school year – 2021-22 – with 24,104 students enrolled in a charter school, representing a 3.16% increase.

At the pandemic’s start, student enrollment in traditional public schools stood at 887,124. In the 2020-21 school year, the figure declined by 3.15% to 859,172 students.

While some states recorded a rebound in student attendance in traditional public schools in the most recent school year, Maryland continued its descent, with 857,367 students enrolled, a 0.21% decrease.

According to the alliance, Maryland is part of a larger statistical shift across much of the U.S. that has shown erosion in traditional public schools as public charters have notched continued gains.

“Our analysis demonstrates that enrollment gains in charter schools have persisted while enrollment losses for district public schools have remained,” representatives Drew Jacobs and Debbie Veney wrote in the report.

Jacobs is the director of policy, research, and evaluation with the alliance; Veney is the senior vice president of communications and marketing.

“Our examination of data for white, Black, and Hispanic students reveals interesting information about white students driving district enrollment losses and Hispanic students bolstering charter growth,” Jacobs and Veney wrote.

In the fall of 2021, the alliance issued a similar report, “Voting With Their Feet,” which recorded a nationwide increase of 240,000 students in charter schools as public schools on the whole shed students. Pandemic protocols prompted some parents to reconsider where to send their children for an education.

In the newest report, Jacobs and Veney acknowledged that each state contends with various unique and specific factors, including overall population shifts.

David Fidlin

The Center Square contributor

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