Nevada charter schools continue to grow faster than traditional districts

By: - January 5, 2022 3:00 am

Although overall charter school growth was slower in 2021 than in previous years, charter school expansion still outpaced the state’s urban school districts. (Photo courtesy of Coral Academy)

Nevada’s charter schools continue to grow at a faster rate than its traditional school districts, though the rate has slowed from previous years, the latest enrollment state data show.

According to the Nevada Department of Education’s official 2021 enrollment count, 55,415 students are now attending K-12 schools overseen by the State Public Charter School Authority. That represents a 4.1% increase over 2020 enrollment. 

However, the charter school growth rate is noticeably slower than the four prior years, wherein enrollment grew by 20.9% (2017), 14.4% (2018), 16.7% (2019) and 7.6% (2020).

Although growth was slower than in previous years, charter school expansion still outpaced the state’s urban school districts. Washoe County School District enrollment grew by 2.4% in 2021. Clark County School District grew by less than 1% in 2021 after three years of declining enrollment.

K-12 charter schools now enroll 11.2% of all public school students, a slight increase from enrolling 10.9% the prior year.

SPCSA continues to lag behind WCSD, which with 66,541 students enrolls 13.5% of students. WCSD is the second largest school district in the state. CCSD is by far the largest with 320,245 students, or 65% of students statewide.

Enrollment in Nevada’s rural school districts makeup 10.1% of students statewide.

These numbers represent K-12 students enrolled in public schools and exclude those who attend private schools or are home schooled. Around 19,000 students across the state attend private schools, according to NDOE. Like most other states, Nevada does not track the total number of homeschooled students. Nevada only requires that parents report their intent to homeschool to their county school district.

The NDOE holds the official enrollment count on or around Oct. 1 of each academic year. Enrollment data is used to allocate the state’s per-pupil dollars and impacts school budgets.

Efforts to diversify

SPSCA schools collectively are whiter and more affluent than the public school districts they siphon students from. However, the agency has made efforts to get their enrollment to mirror the statewide population. Those efforts include the implementation of weighted lotteries that give certain student populations a better chance of being offered entry and the use of an “academic and demographic needs assessment” when approving new charter schools.

In 2021, SPCSA schools saw their share of Black and Hispanic students increase. The percentage of charter school students who are white dropped to 34.6% from 32.1% one year prior. For comparison, 29.1% of all students statewide identify as white.

Charter schools also increased the percentage of their students who are considered economically disadvantaged because their families qualify for the federal free or reduced price lunch (FRL) program, which is income based.

However, in many of these key categories, the SPCSA still lags behind the state. The latest data shows:

  • 36.9% of charter school students are Hispanic, compared to 43.7% of students statewide
  • 43.4% of charter school students are economically disadvantaged, compared to 77.7% of students statewide
  • 9.8% of charter school students have some level of disability that requires an individualized education plan (IEP), compared to 12.1% of students statewide
  • 8.8% of charter school students are considered English Language Learners (ELL), compared to 13.7% of students statewide

Enrollment differences are even more dramatic when regionalized. For example, in Clark County, 38.2% of charter school students are Hispanic compared to 47.1% of students in CCSD. In Washoe County, only 28.6% of charter school students are Hispanic compared to 42.1% of WCSD.

Charter school officials have pointed out that overall enrollment demographics may be slow moving and take years because the majority of their currently enrolled students opt to enroll in additional years. Several newly opened charter schools, such as CIVICA Academy and Teach Las Vegas, have percentages of ELL and FRL students that are on par or higher than the statewide total.

Additional charter school enrollment data can be found here. Charter school-specific data can be found here.

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April Corbin Girnus
April Corbin Girnus

April Corbin Girnus is an award-winning journalist with a decade of media experience. She has been a beat writer at Las Vegas Sun, a staff writer at LEO Weekly, web editor of Las Vegas Weekly and a blogger documenting North American bike share systems’ efforts to increase ridership in underserved communities. An occasional adjunct journalism professor, April steadfastly rejects the notion that journalism is a worthless major. Amid the Great Recession, she earned a B.A. in journalism from the University of Nevada Las Vegas, where she served as editor-in-chief of the student newspaper. She later earned an M.A. in media studies and a graduate certificate in media management from The New School for Public Engagement. A stickler about municipal boundary lines, April enjoys teaching people about unincorporated Clark County. She grew up in Sunrise Manor and currently resides in Paradise with her husband, two children and two mutts.

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