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The number of students attending public charter schools more than doubled between 2010 and 2020. In 2010, there were only 1.8 million students enrolled, but by the end of the decade, that number had grown to 3.7 million.

On the other hand, the number of students attending traditional public schools decreased by 109,000, while the percentage of all public-school students attending public charter schools increased from 3.6% to 7.5% during that same time period.

Charter schools are public, independently run schools that operate under different regulations than traditional public schools. For example, charter schools cannot charge tuition or be affiliated with a religious institution, but, depending on the state, could hire teachers with non-traditional backgrounds or ask for different licensing requirements. Most charter schools are sponsored by local and state organizations that monitor school quality, and hold them accountable for academic results and responsible fiscal practices, according to the Department of Education.

Charter schools by state

The most recent data shows that 45 states and Washington, DC, passed public charter school legislation, allowing charter schools to operate in these areas. Some states that do not authorize these schools, including Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Vermont.

Between 2010 and 2020, the number of US public charter schools increased from about 5,000 to 7,600. Outside of the top four most populated states in the US (California, Texas, Florida, New York), more than 150 new charter schools opened across 2000 and 2020 in each of five states – Arizona, Colorado, Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

In the locations that authorize charter schools, Washington, DC, had the largest share of public schools that were chartered (51%), followed by Arizona (24%).

Where does the data come from?

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) collects data on preprimary, elementary, and secondary education. The NCES is part of the Department of Education and is the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing educational data in the US and other nations.

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Public elementary and secondary charter schools and enrollment, and charter schools and enrollment