D.C. school enrollment increases, with charters growing faster than DCPS

D.C. traditional and charter schools grew for the fifth year in a row, together enrolling 4 percent more students this fall than last, according to a raw count the Office of the State Superintendent of Education released Thursday.

Public charter schools grew faster than the traditional school system, continuing a years-long trend that has given charters a larger share of students in the District than in nearly any other U.S. city.

Individual schools report the raw student numbers, and an independent accounting firm will audit the enrollment figures. The numbers are likely to change somewhat, but they offer a strong indication of enrollment trends in the city.

The District’s charter schools reported enrolling nearly 37,000 students, an increase of 6 percent, or 2,000 more students than last year. Charters enroll 44 percent of the city’s public school students, up from 43 percent last year, according to the preliminary data.

But the traditional school system also saw growth, ticking up 2 percent to 46,516 students. After falling considerably short of its enrollment projections last year, the system exceeded this year’s expectations by nearly 1,000 students.

Altogether, the city’s schools enrolled more than 83,000 students, according to the raw count, up from 80,231 students last year.

Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) said the growth is evidence that the city’s long-struggling schools are improving and attracting new students, showing “that the District is a great place for young families.” State Superintendent of Education Jesús Aguirre called the figures a “positive indicator of the impact of our reform efforts.”

The school system’s enrollment peaked at about 146,000 in 1967 and fell steeply for decades before increasing in 2010. Enrollment has held more or less steady since.

This year’s uptick comes in the wake of Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson’s decision to close 13 under-enrolled schools in June. Activists and some lawmakers had feared that move would push more students into charter schools, eventually leading to further traditional school closures.

Henderson has said that enrollment trends will be one key way to judge the school closures, which she argues ultimately will strengthen the system. The figures are important because schools are funded based on enrollment.

City officials did not immediately release grade-level enrollment data. In recent years, the city’s universal preschool policy has added thousands of early-childhood seats, bolstering enrollment in both charter and traditional schools.

Charter school growth might be attributable to the opening of four new charters this fall, and the expansion of several others. The Office of the State Superintendent of Education plans to publish final audited enrollment figures in February.

Emma Brown writes about national education and about people with a stake in schools, including teachers, parents and kids.

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