In one state, private school enrollment soared, as both public schools and homeschooling saw a decrease in participation.
More and more, it’s becoming apparent that school enrollment numbers are unpredictable, and choice of school trends are often arbitrary. But what is certain, and reported across the board, is the fact that public schools are losing students. Even Catholic schools are seeing fewer students, however, in North Carolina, private school enrollment soared during the 2021-2022 school year.
North Carolina had its biggest leap in private school enrollment in over 50 years. The last time this many families fled public schools for alternatives was during the time of school desegregation, when some families were upset that the government was allowing black students into the same schools as whites. At the same time, homeschooling also lost participants, furthering claims that the recent state law funding school choice had proven successful, sending more families to private institutes.
The information was reported by the state’s Division of Non-Public Education. Overall, private school enrollment rose by 7,970 students, a 7.4 percent increase compared to the last 2020-2021 school year. Now, there are at least 115,311 North Carolina children in private classrooms.
Most North Carolinians aren’t the least bit surprised with this finding about private school enrollment, considering it comes concurrently with the recent state law that makes private schools accessible to more families. Legislative amendments to the state’s Opportunity Scholarship program made private school vouchers from taxpayer dollars available to more families via income limit raises. Last year, the program served over 20,000 families. Next year, the initiative is expected to expand even more.
While many families applaud the state for allowing school choice to boost private school enrollment, making it a reality for more families, not everyone is on board, as it takes away public school funding opportunities. Public schools in the state are already struggling worse than in past years, as the state did away with a provision that guarded public school funds even when enrollment numbers were down. Some Democratic reps are against funneling state funds to private schools that are less regulated. According to a report from The News & Observer state Rep. Rachel Hunt lambasted this news, pointing out her sentiments that state money could be put to better use, such as in initiatives to hire and retain more teachers, social workers, counselors, and school nurses.
Similarly, homeschooling figures were down during this time, possibly leading to the soar in private school enrollment. The report showed that 19,000 fewer students were being taught at home last year. During the 2020-2021 school year, when the pandemic began shutting schools down, this method skyrocketed, with more than 30,000 families keeping their children at home to homeschool. However, some feel that this number is being negatively skewed. Spencer Mason, the law and policy director for North Carolinians for Home Education, said that an error in reporting might be to blame for the drop. He feels that this will be fixed, and depicted in another massive increase next school year.
What is likely a sure thing, is that next year, private school enrollment will continue to flourish. Not just because of school choice vouchers, but even more so because parents are trusting public schools less and less. It’s a trend that seems here to stay.