NYC charter school enrollment continues to steadily grow amid COVID pandemic

Michael Elsen-Rooney, New York Daily News
·2 min read

Enrollment at New York City charter schools has steadily grown during the pandemic, while public school enrollment saw its biggest drop in over a decade.

Charter enrollment jumped by around 10,000 students from last school year to this year, according to state attendance data — bringing the sector’s total enrollment to nearly 140,000 students.

The enrollment growth was in line with patterns over the past few years, which have seen charter student numbers grow from roughly 94,000 in the 2015-16 school year to the current 138,000.

Meanwhile, enrollment in city public preschools has been steadily declining for years, but dropped precipitously this school year amid the pandemic. Total enrollment in Department of Education-run schools dropped by 43,000, or about 4%, with the losses concentrated among kindergarten and preschool students.

More than 90% of charter school students are Black and Hispanic, but the growth in the sector this year disproportionately came from white and Asian students — whose numbers grew by 11% and 16% this year, respectively, compared to a 7% enrollment growth overall.

James Merriman, the CEO of the New York City Charter Center, a group that advocates on behalf of the publicly-funded, privately-run schools, said the enrollment growth “reflect[s] the extraordinary work the City’s public charter schools have done under extraordinary circumstances to educate students and support families.”

Many charter schools have struggled to offer in-person classes during the pandemic. The city’s largest charter network, Success Academy, recently announced it would stay remote through the end of the school year, choosing the stability of all-remote learning over the likelihood of frequent closures with schools open.

Some charter networks said their exclusion from the DOE’s weekly COVID testing program has made it much more difficult to open in-person classes.

Others, like Comp Sci High in the Bronx, have offered in-person classes even while DOE high schools remain fully remote.

Comp Sci principal David Noah said his school this year saw a roughly 25% jump in applications over previous years. He said the school recruited extensively before the pandemic and may have attracted some families overwhelmed by the complicated DOE high school admissions process, which requires families to rank 12 schools and navigate varying admissions rules.