Parents support charter schools — and want more

Parents across the country like charter public schools, and want more of them. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools released a national survey of parents last week that shows “78 percent of parents support having a charter public school in their neighborhood and 73 percent support more charter schools opening nationwide.” Further, “an equal number of parents support the idea of allowing parents to choose their child’s public school, regardless of where they live.”

These national numbers parallel the Idaho findings released earlier this year by the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation in its survey Idaho Ready for Change. In that survey, “73 percent of parents said they would prefer that their child attend a private or charter school, while only 26 percent would opt for a traditional district school.”

Terry Ryan
Terry Ryan

The national survey of over 1,000 parents went deep and included those parents with children in charters, those with children not in charters and even parents of children in states without charter school laws. It also broke out the survey findings by both race and income. The Idaho survey did not, so direct comparisons here are not possible. Nationally, support for charter schools was particularly strong for Hispanic, black and low-income parents, with 84 percent of Hispanic, 82 percent of blacks, and 86 percent of low-income respondents favoring public school choice.

Further, parents across the country are in favor of growing the charter school sector. This support extends to both charter public school openings in respondent’s local communities (with 78 percent), and for nationwide charter school expansion more generally (73 percent). Again, this support was particularly solid with low-income parents whose favorability on charter school expansion was 10 percentage points higher than other respondents.

This support for continued charter school expansion is significant when one considers that there are currently almost 3 million students in charter schools in 43 states and Washington, D.C. This is about six percent of the nation’s nearly 50 million public school students. As 10 percent of parents surveyed indicated that a charter school would be their first choice, this means there are nearly 2 million students across the country whose parents would enroll them in charter schools if they could.

Idaho is also similarly well-positioned to expand its charter school sector. Currently there are 20,000 charter school students in Idaho (with another 6,000+ on waitlists). About seven percent of the state’s total public school enrollment is in charter public schools. Too continue growing, while maintaining and expanding political support, Idaho’s charter schools need to do more to serve larger numbers of minority and lower income students. These are not only the fastest growing cohort of students in the Gem States, but also the students who can benefit most from attending high-performing charter public schools. All indications are that the parents of these children want quality charter school options as much as middle class parents do, maybe even more.

Nationally, charter schools serve larger percentages of minority students than do their peer district schools. In fact, according to the National Center for Education Statistics six in ten charter school students across the country are non-white. In Idaho the numbers are reversed. District schools have a more diverse student make-up with 76 percent of students being white while a little more than eight in ten charter students are white. The same national/charter divide applies to students in poverty. Nationally, 56 percent of charter school students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. In Idaho 34 percent of the state’s charter students are eligible for free or reduced price lunch, while 42 percent of district school students are eligible.

The evidence from Idaho and across the country shows that parents support charter schools, and want to see them grow. Good as far as it goes, but this is also another call for Idaho’s charter school sector and its allies to do more to grow and expand schools that serve larger numbers of economically disadvantaged and minority students. In this way the charter school sector can become a solid option for all Idaho families and children. This is what the parents want.

Terry Ryan is CEO of the nonprofit organization Bluum.