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Charter School Enrollment Up

Public charter school enrollment continues its steady growth, increasing nine percent over last year, according to an unaudited count for the 2009-2010 academic year, officials announced Wednesday.

The D.C. Public Charter School Board said the student population, in 60 schools across 90 campuses, is 27,953, just shy of the projected 28,066.

"With this increase, charter schools continue to be an attractive option for parents in the District of Columbia," said board chairman Tom Nida said in a statement.

Charters, which are publicly financed but independently operated, have boomed in the District over the last decade. In 2003, enrollment stood at 13,700.

Both public charter and traditional public schools take their official enrollment counts in October. The numbers are then audited by a private accounting firm that verifies residency and other student data.

DCPS didn't respond to questions Wednesday about the status of its October count. Most recent word was a September 17 census that showed 45,120, a small but potentially historic gain after years of decline. Audited enrollment at the end of the 2008-09 school year was 44,681. Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee had forecast modest growth during this spring's budget deliberations, but drew heat from the D.C. Council, which didn't buy the prediction because of the downward trend. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray's staff estimated 41,541.

Gray's people didn't challenge the charter projection, assuming that much of the charter growth would come at the expense of traditional public schools.

Should DCPS hold on to its gains through the audit, the council will need to revisit its assumptions about enrollment patterns in the District.

UPDATE: DCPS spokeswoman Jennifer Calloway says the school system's October count is 45,772.

Bill Turque

By Bill Turque  |  October 14, 2009; 6:19 PM ET
Categories:  Bill Turque , Education  
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I'm not much at math, but unless the overall child population in DC is rising -- if the charters are going up, wouldn't DCPS be going down?

Anyone have quick access to population trends in DC?

Posted by: efavorite | October 14, 2009 7:21 PM | Report abuse

Actually, I wouldn't be surprised if both charters (in aggregate) and DCPS register gains this year. With the economy this year, I think it's the private schools that are taking the hit.

Posted by: proxy_knock | October 15, 2009 12:01 AM | Report abuse

Yep, I agree it's a good bet that the mid-income families have been forced to move their kids to private schools. Frtunately, despite the bad press, there are a few good DCPS schools and several private-school quality charter schools. With the economy in an apparent upward trend, the traditional and public charter schools may lose some of those students next year.

Posted by: DCcomm | October 15, 2009 9:54 AM | Report abuse

Look beyond the bottom line, at the methodology of age-group population projections for DC, and you won't be much impressed. Arlington County mounts a confidential household census of school-age children in order to do much better. But, yes, the numbers so far are funny, implying a massive enrollment hit on the so-called independent schools sector because school age populations do not grow this fast in old cities and suburbs. So, the WaPo has missed a large story if so many private schools are under-enrolled, what with concomitant job losses and even threats of closures among some.

An explanation which might be checked with other school districts' experience: Armed Forces recruiting goals are more easily met and attrition from youth training programs goes way down in bad economies. Young people cannot find jobs, and so they stay in school / training or join the Armed Forces for refuge, room-and board, and education and training. DCPS should have been able to report the grades with enrollment increases. If it is not mostly in HS, then this explanation does not hold up. And the numbers are funny.

Posted by: incredulous | October 15, 2009 2:24 PM | Report abuse

Ms. Rhee was did a radio interveiw this morning. Interesting. The end especially. Anyhoo. She said that the District add more Pr-K classes across the the city.

Posted by: thelildiva4u | October 15, 2009 3:11 PM | Report abuse

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