PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Demand for alternative public education options continues to grow in Rhode Island, as charter school enrollment exceeded 10,000 students for the first time ever this school year.
There were 10,088 students enrolled in Rhode Island’s charter schools for the 2019-20 school year as of October, representing a 6% increase compared to last school year, according to data released by the R.I. Department of Education (RIDE).
Enrollment across all public school districts, meanwhile, grew 0.1% to 143,557, according to RIDE.
Keith Oliveira, executive director of the Rhode Island League Charter Schools, said the number represents an important milestone for his segment of public education in Rhode Island.
“It demonstrates the growth and interest in charter schools statewide, and we hope to see it continue to grow,” he said.
Charter school enrollment has increased annually since at least 2003, according to RIDE data, although the growth has slowed in recent years. The 6% growth this year fell short of the 7% increase last school year, which was a far cry from the 13% increase recorded in the 2015-16 school year.
The decline in year-over-year growth, however, does not indicate diminishing interest, Oliveira said.
“The interest has not waned,” he said. “If there is a slight decrease in the growth of students enrolling in charter schools – that speaks to the fact that we’re not approving or expanding opportunities at the rate that students are applying to schools.”
More than 10,000 Rhode Island students submitted nearly 20,000 applications this year for the lottery to secure one of about 1,800 available charter school seats.
The state has approved 20 charters that operate more than 30 schools across the state, according to RIDE, which is currently considering four more.
The rising demand for public charter schools is fueling a debate in Rhode Island – replicated in school districts across the country – that pits supporters in search of a better system against opponents who believe in improving what already exists.
As WPRI 12 reported earlier this year, baked in the controversy is an issue of cost, as Rhode Island municipal leaders – already grappling with inflexible budgets – argue they are increasingly faced with the prospect of funding two competing school districts.
A special Senate legislative task force is currently re-evaluating the state’s K-12 funding formula, which could take into consideration how districts are paying for education across both traditional and charter schools.