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Education
An in-depth look at our region's emerging economic, social, political and cultural identity.

Mecklenburg's Charter Boom Keeps Going, Tops CMS Forecast

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Mecklenburg County's charter school enrollment grew to 21,028 this year, an even bigger increase than Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools budgeted for.

CMS has to divide its county money with the independent public schools based on the number of Mecklenburg students. With three new charter schools opening in Mecklenburg and some existing ones expanding, the district predicted an increase of about 1,550 charter students, which would have required shifting an additional $6.2 million in county money.

The actual total reported Wednesday was up by 1,644. That tally was slow in coming because in mid-November, when the school board heard a budget update, some charter schools hadn't billed CMS for the first month's enrollment, said Assistant Superintendent Akeshia Craven-Howell.

When county commissioners approved a budget in June, the county reported that its operating budget for education comes to $2,968 per pupil. That number was based on spring projections and could be off slightly, but it means charter schools would be entitled to about $62.6 million of the $509.5 million total.

For the last several years, charter school enrollment has grown while traditional public school enrollment has stayed flat or shrunk, in Mecklenburg and across the state.

This year CMS saw its first significant enrollment slump, going from 147,352 in 2018-19 to 146,888 (the previous year it was down by seven students). While that's a change of less than 1%, the combination of charter growth and CMS shrinkage pushed the district to just under 75% of Mecklenburg's school-age students.

According to the best available tallies, CMS accounts for 74.6% of all students, charter schools 10.7%, private schools 9.4% and home-schooled students 5.2%. The private and home-school reports come from the state's Division of Non-Public Education and are a year old.

At the state level, members of the Charter School Advisory Board and Board of Education have scrutinized whether charter schools exacerbate school segregation. Craven-Howell said she doesn't have racial breakdowns for the Mecklenburg students in charter schools. This year CMS is 36% black, 27% white, 27% Hispanic and 7% Asian.