The popularity of charter schools and home schools is causing Wake County planners to again lower the projected number of new students expected to enroll in the school system.
Planners are citing the growth in other forms of schooling in updated enrollment projections released this week. The projection shows the Wake school system gaining 25,781 students by 2025. Although the growth will mean more new schools are needed, the projection is 4,089 fewer students than what was forecast for the district a year ago.
This is the second year in a row Wake has lowered its long-term projection.
The figures come as school and county leaders review plans on how to keep up with growth in North Carolina’s largest school system. Sig Hutchinson, chairman of the Wake County Board of Commissioners, said he’d match Wake’s school system with any other district in the nation.
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“What it means to us is we’ve got a great public school system and we’re more than happy to compete with charter and private schools,” Hutchinson said Thursday.
The state legislature’s support for expanding the number of charter schools and providing taxpayer money to help low-income families attend private schools has drawn complaints from some groups. Charter schools are taxpayer-funded schools that are exempt from some of the rules and regulations that traditional public schools must follow.
But Terry Stoops, director of education research studies at the John Locke Foundation, a conservative think tank in Raleigh, said Wake County taxpayers should be thankful they won’t have to pay for as many new schools now.
“The options that are provided are working in the sense that they are lowering the cost of education and increasing parental satisfaction and allowing students to attend the schools that fit their needs,” Stoops said.
Growth has been a constant for the Wake school system for decades. Enrollment has nearly tripled since 1980 to reach 159,549 students this school year, making Wake the 15th largest school system in the nation.
But for each of the past two years, the combined growth in the number of Wake County students in charter schools, private schools and home schools has exceeded the school district’s enrollment growth. This year’s figures aren’t in yet.
The school district is now projected to add 15,676 students by 2022.
“The growth may be slower than previously anticipated, but it’s still 15,676 more kids,” said school board member Bill Fletcher, chairman of the facilities committee that reviewed the new enrollment projection this week.
Charter schools have been a major factor in the lower projection.
The number of Wake charter school students has nearly doubled since 2010 to reach 10,739 students this school year. Lawmakers removed the state’s 100-school charter limit in 2011.
But planners also say data suggests students leave those other forms of education after middle school to enroll in the Wake system for high school.
“What we’re seeing is folks are looking for a quality program for their high schools kids, and many are choosing to come back to the school system,” Fletcher said.
New school board member Don Agee said Wake needs to do more to reduce the number of students who attend classes in trailers. This school year, 14 percent of Wake students are taking classes in temporary classrooms.
“We need to be more focused on building new classrooms,” Agee said. “It’s obvious we can’t keep doing the same things we’ve been doing.”
Wake County’s projected school enrollment
The Wake County school system is projected to add 28,986 students over the next decade.
Source: Wake County Public School System, Wake County Government