Charter School Diversity
One common criticism of charter schools (public schools run independently of school districts) is that they cater to well-off white students, leaving minority and low-income students to languish in poorly funded public schools. A look at enrollment demographic data refutes that caricature.
Nationwide, charter schools are more diverse, and serve more underprivileged populations, than do their district school counterparts. According to the U.S. Department of Education,
“Between fall 2004 and fall 2014, public charter schools experienced changes in their demographic composition similar to those seen in public schools overall. The percentage of public charter school students who were Hispanic increased (from 22 to 31 percent), as did the percentage who were Asian/Pacific Islander (from 3 to 4 percent). In contrast, the percentage of public charter school students who were White decreased from 42 to 34 percent.
In fall 2014, the percentage of students attending high-poverty schools—schools in which more than 75 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch (FRPL) under the National School Lunch Program—was higher for public charter school students (35 percent) than for traditional public school students (24 percent).”
In many ways Utah charter schools follow the national trend. According to State Board of Education data, district schools have a 25 percent minority population, while charter schools have a 26 percent minority population. Charters also have a higher percentage of students with disabilities than their district counterparts.
And many of these charter schools have thrived. Karl Maeser charter high school was recently named the No. 1 public high school in the state, with a 23 percent minority and 11 percent low-income population. In fact, in those U.S. News and World Report rankings, four of the top eight and seven of the top 16 high schools in the state are charters. And most of them meet and exceed their district school neighbors’ minority and low-income student population numbers. The Salt Lake Center for Science and Technology is ranked fourth in the state and has a 52 percent minority and 47 percent economically disadvantaged enrollment. The sixth-ranked Academy for Math, Engineering and Science has a 53 percent minority and 41 percent economically disadvantaged enrollment. Intech Collegiate High School in Logan is ranked eighth and has a 19 percent minority and 25 percent economically disadvantaged student population.
Charter schools are more racially and economically diverse now than they’ve ever been. In recent years half of Utah’s student population growth has gone to charter schools, and that growth has included students of all types.
National Center for Education Statistics: Public Charter School Enrollment
US News & World Report: Best High Schools in Utah
National Alliance for Public Charter Schools: Data Portal
Utah State Board of Education: Data and Statistics
Utah Foundation Report: Utah’s Charter Schools: Comparisons and Funding Equity with District Schools
Utah Citizen Network: Charter Schools
Utah Citizen Network: Charter School Funding