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As some California school districts are experiencing significant enrollment declines, others are not. Additionally, new regions of the state are creating new education models to meet family and student needs. After growing for decades, California charter school enrollment saw a decline this year. Read on for what this may mean for charter schools.

Variable enrollment

  • California K-12 has experienced dramatic shifts in enrollment over the last two decades and through the pandemic.
  • This year remained turbulent, rather than a recovery.

Charter school challenges

  • Charter schools have been consumed with keeping schools open and have put off thinking about growing again.
  • They are facing the same challenge as districts includuing immediate teacher and staff shortage, rising chronic absences, huge questions about enrollment next year and beyond.
  • Charter schools also face potential legal roadblocks, anti-charter antagonism and financial burdens, including uncertainty over how much funding
  • Pausing about expansion.

Current enrollment

  • About 1 in 9 of California’s 5.9 million public school students attend a charter school.
  • In 2020-21, the first full year of the pandemic, total enrollment statewide fell 4.4% while charter school enrollment actually increased 3.4%.
  • This year, enrollment in TK-12 school districts and charter schools both fell 1.8%.
  • Charter school enrollment declined the most this year in the areas that for decades have been the strongholds of charter schools
    • Bay Area – down 3.6%
    • Los Angeles County – off 3.1%
    • San Diego area – off 3.1%

Reasons for the enrollment decline

  • pandemic
  • crashing birth rate
  • negative rate of immigration
  • transfer (of families) into rural and suburban areas
  • political dissatisfaction in red areas where people are leaving for Texas, Arizona or Idaho.

Pandemic impact

  • Covid has produced a “multiverse” of education options that affect schools and districts.
  • Enrollment in private schools is up.
  • Parents’ applications for homeschooling are also up.
  • Emerging forms like small, private homeschools in pods and through church co-ops
  • Hybrid charter schools combining independent study at home with classroom learning at schools.


  • School districts are being held financially harmless for a second year because of Covid’s impact on declined enrollment and attendance.
  • They are receiving the pre-pandemic level of funding, while charter schools are returning to funding based on the average daily attendance.
  • Given enrollment declines, they’re anticipating a commensurate cut in funding.

More Obstacles

  • Legislature has put a three-year moratorium on new nonclassroom-based charter schools.
  • New but largely untried charter governance and accountability law, Assembly Bill 1505.
  • Anti-charter sentiment even in districts that were favorably inclined to support charter schools.

What do families want?

  • Charters aim to provide:
    • teacher flexibility
    • parent flexibility
    • more innovative solutions
    • models grounded in community support
    • industry partnerships that foster learning
    • high school early college programs that offer apprenticeship and other college or career opportunities
    • hands-on learning
    • expand menu for school choice


  • “crazy notion of war between charters and districts”
  • parents expect schools to provide a brighter future for kids.


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