(The Center Square) – Student enrollment at charter schools has been trending upward across Mississippi as counts in traditional public schools has been declining, a new study reveals.
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.”
The analysis combed through enrollment data from the past three completed school years – 2019-20, 2020-21 and 2021-22 – which began when pandemic-induced lockdowns prompted school closures and culminated as most schools resumed full-time in-person learning.
According to the organization’s findings, Mississippi’s charter school student enrollment rose 37.2% across the three-year period, while traditional public school enrollment fell 5.26%.
While the majority of Mississippi students still attend traditional public schools, the analysis does note a shift that occurred as parents evaluated where they were sending their children throughout the pandemic.
In the report, alliance analysts said charters reported a 25.66% increase in enrollment in the 2020-21 school year – 2,674 students at the end of 2021, compared to 2,128 in 2020, as the onset of COVID-19 occurred.
Mississippi’s charter schools gained an additional 9.24% in enrollment in the most recent completed school year, with 2,921 reported in the 2021-22 school year.
By contrast, traditional public school enrollment across the state fell 5.09% in the 2020-21 school year. There were 463,466 students attending a Mississippi public school in the 2019-20 school year, and 439,861 students in 2020-21.
Student enrollment in public schools continued to fall in the 2021-22 school year, with 439,067 enrollees on record, representing a 0.18% decrease.
According to the alliance, Mississippi 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 clearly 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 senior director of policy, research and evaluation with the alliance, while Veney is 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 amid pandemic protocols that prompted some parents to reconsider where they are sending their children for an education.
In the newest report, Jacobs and Veney acknowledged each state contends with a variety of unique and specific factors, including overall population shifts.
“We find the charter sector outperforming population changes in many states,” Jacobs and Veney wrote. “No matter how you examine the data, families from all walks of life are making different choices for their children following the pandemic and many of them are choosing charter schools.”
According to Mississippi First, a public policy organization, the state has eight public charter schools in operation. The Mississippi Charter School Authorizer Board, which oversees charters, has authorized a ninth one.
Mississippi’s charters are currently clustered Clarksdale, Leflore and Jackson counties.