DC Public Schools Record Enrollment Declines, Charters Rise

While the overall school enrollment has fallen in Washington, D.C. by 1 percent, the district's charter schools have seen an 8 percent boost, shows an audit released this week.

The city saw a population surge of around 16,000 residents from April 2010 to July 2011, yet there was a 1 percent decrease in the number of students attending D.C. public schools, writes Tom Howell Jr. at The Washington Times.

However, the District's Office of the State Superintendent for Education confirmed that the public charter schools in the district have recorded the opposite — with enrollment increasing by 8 percent.

In response to the audit's findings, DC Mayor Vincent C. Gray has said that he would like to discuss how this might have happened with Chancellor Kaya Henderson.

Mayor Gray said:

"The new enrollment numbers clearly show that parents have confidence in District schools.

"I am hopeful that as we continue to make improvements in our schools, the numbers will continue to grow."

In the year previous, enrollment increased by 2 percent for the city's public schools, where charter school enrollment increased by 3.5 percent.

D.C. State Superintendent of Education Hosanna Mahaley said that auditors verified 31,562 students in the independently operated charter schools as of fall 2011, up from 29,356 in the fall of 2010, writes The Washington Post.

Scott Pearson, the board's executive director said:

"While much of the growth is in the younger grades, we also saw 4 percent growth [overall].

"Parents are choosing charter schools because they have confidence in the overall performance of the sector."

Mayor Gray acknowledged the emphasis put on early childhood education and the district's unique universal pre-K offering. But he was quick to note that, for him, it didn't matter where the children were being taught – in district or charter schools – just "as long as they are quality programs."

In his State of the District Address, Gray noted cited research that shows "the most critical brain development occurs between birth and 3 years of age," hitting home the importance the district places on early learning.

The news that enrollment is increasing in charter schools will not surprise proponents. These schools now account for 41 percent of total D.C. public enrollment.

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