The Impact of Charter Schools on Public and Private School Enrollment

This Cato Institute analysis—conducted by RAND economist Richard Buddin—conveys a stark message: “Charter schools took approximately 190,000 students from private schools between 2000 and 2008.” Cato’s Adam Schaeffer said of the findings: The shift is “wreaking havoc on private education” while only marginally improving public schools. Overall, Buddin found that 8 percent of elementary pupils in charter schools and 11 percent of middle and high school students came to their charters from private schools. The numbers were bigger in urban areas, where 32 percent of the elementary-charter enrollment was drawn from the private sector (and 23 and 15 percent of middle and high school enrollments, respectively). And they were worse still for urban Catholic schools (though enrollment in Catholics started declining before the first charters appeared). Interestingly, the effect of charter schools on private-school enrollment is much stronger in states with strong charter laws (as gauged by the Center for Education Reform). Urban charters in states with strong laws, for example, draw 34 percent of their elementary enrollment from private schools. In states with weak laws, that percentage drops to 7. Overall, Buddin concludes that this private-to-charter school shift left taxpayers with a $1.8 billion larger education bill annually from 2000 to 2008. From the parents’ standpoint, however, charters are obviously cheaper. Hence Cato’s Schaeffer would like states to make more tax-credit scholarships available. Such programs have been growing, however, even without his advice: Publicly funded private-school options today enroll 210,000 students nationwide, a number that has increased by 25 percent over the last five years and which exceeds the number that private schools bled to charters in the time frame Buddin reviewed.

A version of this analysis appeared on the Choice Words blog.

SOURCE: Richard Buddin, The Impact of Charter Schools on Public and Private School Enrollment (Washington, D.C.: Cato Institute, August 28, 2012).

More By Author

Related Articles