Rapid Growth Continues for Charter Schools

Rapid Growth Continues for Charter Schools
July 1, 1999

George A. Clowes

George Clowes is a Heartland senior fellow addressing education policy. He served as founding... (read full bio)



In 1990 there were no charter schools. Today there are 1,205, with another 308 approved to open. Another 34--less than 3 percent of the total--have been closed, either voluntarily or because their charters were revoked or not renewed.

This tumult of charter school activity is testament to the power of the marketplace to turn an abstract idea into hundreds and then thousands of different visualizations of that idea, creating new schools with bricks and mortar, classrooms, curricula and teachers, and parents willing and eager to select these schools for their children.

In many ways, the growth of charter schools provides an indication of the market response that would likely occur if parents were given school choice in the form of school vouchers, rather than just the option of selecting another public school.

When legislators approve charter schools, they establish in law the three fundamental principles required for publicly funded school choice: (See "Five Steps to Full School Choice," School Reform News, September 1998.)

  • Parents have the right to choose their child's school.
  • Per-pupil education funding follows the child.
  • Public education can be delivered by privately owned and operated schools.

Once charter schools have established these three principles, it's only a matter of degree to include private schools in the school choice menu.

The Center for Education Reform in Washington, DC, recently published the 1998-1999 National Charter School Directory, the fifth edition of its comprehensive listing of all the charter schools in the nation. Each school's profile includes address, telephone numbers, contact names, enrollment figures, grades served, and a brief description of the school's educational program.

According to the Directory, the average charter school enrolls 250 students, with total enrollment of 256,815--up from 166,000 last year. Charter schools operate in 27 states and the District of Columbia; seven other states permit charter schools but currently have none in operation.

The directory is available for $15.00 plus shipping and handling from The Center for Education Reform, 1001 Connecticut Avenue NW #204, Washington, DC 20036, 202/822-9000.

George A. Clowes

George Clowes is a Heartland senior fellow addressing education policy. He served as founding... (read full bio)