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If you are looking for our 1.7 million children of school age in North Carolina, here is where you will find them:

  1. You will find more students in homeschools than in private schools.
  1. You will find that if you brought together all of the homeschool students in the state, they would comprise the third largest school district, just behind Wake County Schools and Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools.
  1. You will find fewer students in public charter schools than in private schools or homeschools but a steady increase with the biggest jump in total numbers in the last year.
  1. You will find about the same proportion in private school now as you would have at other times, despite the availability of charter schools and homeschools.
  1. You will find the most students by far in public schools: total numbers continue to increase with the growing population but market share slowly decreases with these other options available. 

Let’s explore these statements further. 

Maybe you are used to hearing of our 1.5 million children. These are the children in our public schools – both in school districts as well as public charter schools. These children are the focus of discussions on adequacy of school funding and opportunity for a sound, basic education. With legislation that extends public funding to private schools, the North Carolina Supreme Court is considering the constitutional interests involved in educating children in private setting with public dollars. As a matter of policy, it will be important to be clear on what we mean – when should we only be thinking of 1.5 million children and when should we be thinking of all of our children? 

1. You will find more students in homeschools than in private schools.

This is a change that occurred in 2013-14 as a result of the continuing rapid increase in homeschool attendance while private school attendance remains relatively stable. In this year, more than 10,000 additional students attended homeschool. Even before this year, North Carolina’s growth in homeschooling far excels that of the national pace. Consider these points in time:

Percent of students in homeschools

    1996-97 2003-04 2006-07 2011-12
  NC 1.2% 3.5% 4.3% 4.8%
  US 1.7% 2.2% 3.4% 3.4%

What explains these trends? Why are so many parents and children choosing homeschool now? This gets to the next point.

2. You will find that if you brought together all of the homeschool students in the state, they would comprise the third largest school district, just behind Wake County Schools and Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools.

In the last year in which we can compare across schooling options, here’s where homeschool students would fit among school districts.

Number of students, 2013-14

Wake County Schools 153,803
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools 144,470
Homeschools 98,172
Guilford County Schools 72.895
Forsyth County Schools 53,789
Cumberland County Schools 51,774
Union County Schools 40,797
Johnston County Schools 33,786
Durham County Schools 33,114
Gaston County Schools 31,166

Such a large number should also garner attention. In the first ten years that homeschools were legal in North Carolina, they represented less than 1 percent of students. Now they represent almost 6 percent.

3. You will find fewer students in public charter schools than in private schools or homeschools but a steady increase with the biggest jump yet in total numbers in the last year.

Charter schools garner 3.1 percent of all students in 2013-14 – the last year in which we can compare across all settings. This figure may be higher now based on growth over the past couple of years. Consider the following growth:

2013-14 53,655
2014-15 64,186
2015-16 77,791

This growth is no doubt helped by changes in legislation to lift the cap on the number of charter schools and to make it easier for existing charter schools to expand their student size.

4. You will find about the same proportion in private school now as you would have at other times, despite the availability of charter schools and homeschools.

Private schools were attended by 5.6 percent of all students in 2013-14, which reflect just slight downward turn from the 6.4 percent attendance rate at the pre-recession years. Still, since 1985-86, the selection each year of private schools has been remarkably stable, from 4.6 percent to 6.4 percent of all students.  

5. You will find the most students by far in public schools: total numbers continue to increase with the population but market share slowly decreases with these other options available.

Public schools continue to have by far the biggest slice of the pie – still at 85 percent – but this reflects a 10-percentage point reduction since homeschool were recognized as legal options under the compulsory attendance law. While the proportion has declined, absolute numbers continue to increase. Legislation passed in the short session to not automatically fund increases has serious implications.


Where are out students? Here is the full chart. Lots of implications. Lots more to discuss.

Market share of students in LEA public schools, public charters, private schools, and homeschools

  LEA public schools Public charters Private schools Homeschools Overall
Year Total students % of total Total students % of total Total students % of total Total students % of total Total students
1985-86 1,080,887 95.0%     55,799 4.9% 809 0.1% 1,137,495
1986-87 1,079,248 95.1%     54,598 4.8% 1,572 0.1% 1,135,418
1987-88 1,079,370 95.1%     53,629 4.7% 1,756 0.2% 1,134,755
1988-89 1,074,535 95.2%     51,994 4.6% 2,325 0.2% 1,128,854
1989-90 1,071,843 95.1%     52,083 4.6% 3,206 0.3% 1,127,132
1990-91 1,076,409 94.9%     53,372 4.7% 4,127 0.4% 1,133,908
1991-92 1,086,380 94.8%     54,186 4.7% 5,556 0.5% 1,146,122
1992-93 1,100,936 94.4%     58,024 5.0% 6,947 0.6% 1,165,907
1993-94 1,125,028 94.0%     62,300 5.2% 8,927 0.7% 1,196,255
1994-95 1,145,348 93.5%     68,097 5.6% 11,222 0.9% 1,224,667
1995-96 1,167,030 93.2%     71,599 5.7% 13,801 1.1% 1,252,430
1996-97 1,201,688 92.8%     77,647 6.0% 15,785 1.2% 1,295,120
1997-98 1,226,060 92.1% 4,106 0.3% 82,001 6.2% 18,415 1.4% 1,330,582
1998-99 1,245,715 91.8% 5,572 0.4% 84,384 6.2% 21,500 1.6% 1,357,171
1999-2000 1,258,607 90.9% 10,257 0.7% 87,406 6.3% 27,978 2.0% 1,384,248
2000-01 1,274,326 90.2% 14,230 1.0% 89,789 6.4% 33,860 2.4% 1,412,205
2001-02 1,283,924 89.0% 19,492 1.4% 91,817 6.4% 46,909 3.3% 1,442,142
2002-03 1,306,153 88.9% 19,832 1.3% 92,314 6.3% 51,571 3.5% 1,469,870
2003-04 1,321,203 88.8% 21,578 1.4% 90,922 6.1% 54,501 3.7% 1,488,204
2004-05 1,345,469 88.5% 24,784 1.6% 91,084 6.0% 58,780 3.9% 1,520,117
2005-06 1,369,493 88.0% 28,733 1.8% 92,867 6.0% 64,387 4.1% 1,555,480
2006-07 1,405,455 87.9% 29,170 1.8% 94,785 5.9% 68,707 4.3% 1,598,117
2007-08 1,430,848 87.7% 30,892 1.9% 97,656 6.0% 71,566 4.4% 1,630,962
2008-09 1,441,872 87.4% 34,694 2.1% 96,545 5.9% 77,065 4.7% 1,650,176
2009-10 1,426,792 86.8% 38,449 2.3% 96,421 5.9% 81,509 5.0% 1,643,171
2010-11 1,434,436 86.6% 41,314 2.5% 96,229 5.8% 83,609 5.1% 1,655,588
2011-12 1,436,162 86.7% 44,829 2.7% 96,096 5.8% 79,693 4.8% 1,656,780
2012-13 1,493,998 86.1% 48,795 2.9% 95,948 5.7% 87,978 5.2% 1,726,719
2013-14 1,456,330 85.4% 53,655 3.1% 95,768 5.6% 98,172 5.8% 1,703,925
2014-15 1,456,119   64,186            
2015-16 1,459,852   77,791            

 

References

LEA and Public Charter School student counts are based on allotted average daily membership, available from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, http://www.ncpublicschools.org/fbs/allotments/support/

Private School student counts are available from the Division of Nonpublic Education of the Department of Administration, http://www.ncdnpe.org/hhh500.aspx

Homeschool student counts are available the Division of Nonpublic Education of the Department of Administration, http://www.ncdnpe.org/documents/hhh201.pdf.  The numbers for 1985-86 through 1995-96 are actual numbers.  The numbers for years after this are based on a random sampling of operating home schools.

National comparisons are available from the National Center for Education Statistics,http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d13/tables/dt13_206.20.asp and http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2013/2013028/tables.asp

Ann McColl

Ann McColl is an attorney practicing in the field of education law since 1991. She currently serves as co-founder and president of the Innovation Project.