Virtual charter schools see enrollments rise
By Carol Burris
Last October, this post examined state 2020-21 enrollment data indicating that large numbers of students had during the coronavirus pandemic moved to virtual charter schools, which are notorious for being the lowest performing schools in the charter sector. Researchers and advocacy organizations, including the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, had previously been highly critical of virtual charters.
The final numbers are now in from the Common Core of Data, and the findings are confirmed. During the 2020-2021 school year, an additional 175,260 students enrolled in virtual charters, bringing the total enrollment in virtual charters to 483,871. Even more important, that shift accounted for over 70 percent of the increase in charter school enrollment between the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years, an increase that was heralded as a victory by school-choice advocates.
Will these students remain at home learning over the internet, or will they return to brick-and-mortar schools? That remains unknown. What we do know is that families are being aggressively courted by for-profit charter operators that include national chains like Stride K12 (formerly K12 Inc.) and Pearson’s Connections Academy as well as smaller for-profit organizations that are marketing their own online charter schools.