The Bulletin Board

Charter schools see dip in enrollment

By: - October 26, 2021 2:10 pm
Tests being graded on a table

Charter schools are a type of public school and are free to attend, but they operate without many of the regulations imposed on traditional public schools by the state. (Getty Images)

New Hampshire’s charter schools saw a dip in enrollment this year, registering a 6 percent drop created in part by the closure of schools in Manchester and Pembroke. 

In total, 3,835 students were attending charter schools as of the start of the school year, according to figures presented to the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee by the Department of Education Friday. That’s down 227 from last year, when 4,062 students attended charter schools.

Charter schools are a type of public school and are free to attend, but they operate without many of the regulations imposed on traditional public schools by the state. The schools are often touted to parents as a means to attain instruction that is more targeted to their children.

While interest in and awareness of charter schools has been growing in recent years, the past year saw some schools take dramatic hits.

First-day enrollment at the Compass Classical Academy in Franklin was 104 students this year, 48 students fewer than last year – a drop of 32 percent. North Country Charter Academy in Littleton had a 28 percent drop, falling from 50 to 36. Mills Falls Charter School, a Montessori school in Manchester, fell from 168 students to 141. 

Others bucked the trend and grew. Kreiva Academy Public Charter School in Manchester increased its numbers from 139 to 171, and Spark Academy of Advanced Technologies jumped to 64 from 34. 

But a majority lost at least some students – anywhere from 2 percent to 18 percent. 

Two charter schools closed entirely. In April, Making Community Connections closed its Manchester branch, which had operated for 10 years, and transferred its instruction to a newly opened Keene branch. That closure came after a paltry fundraising haul last year of $8,000, the Union Leader reported. 

And Pembroke’s PACE Academy, the only charter school created by a public school district, announced in May that it would also be shutting down, citing staffing and fundraising difficulties.

It is unclear how the latest charter school enrollment figures compare to those at traditional public schools; the 2021-2022 enrollments for those schools will not be available until December, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education said Tuesday. Public schools saw a notable drop in attendance at the start of the 2020-2021 school year, decreasing 4 percent overall. 

The dip comes as New Hampshire is in the midst of a dramatic expansion of its charter schools. In December 2020, the fiscal committee approved the acceptance of the first $10.1 million tranche of a five-year, $46.5 million federal grant to help double the number of charter schools in the state. That money will help add an additional 27 charter schools to the state’s existing 26, both by building new schools and allowing existing schools to replicate in new locations.

Yet amid the declines in enrollment at in-person charter schools, the state did register a jump in enrollment for the Virtual Learning Academy Charter School, the online charter school available to all students. Even as public schools returned to a full year of in-person learning, attendance in the virtual program increased by almost 50 percent from the 2020-2021 school year to the 2021-2022 school year, according to the school’s CEO.

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Ethan DeWitt
Ethan DeWitt

Ethan DeWitt is the New Hampshire Bulletin’s education reporter. Previously, he worked as the New Hampshire State House reporter for the Concord Monitor, covering the state, the Legislature, and the New Hampshire presidential primary. A Westmoreland native, Ethan started his career as the politics and health care reporter at the Keene Sentinel.