While a statewide analysis of charter school enrollment shows slowing after significant gains the past decade, several southern Minnesota schools have stayed fairly steady.
Lafayette Charter School, Minnesota New Country School in Henderson and TEAM Academy Charter School in Waseca all have shown modest gains in enrollment over the past few years. Mankato’s RBA Public Charter School dropped significantly from 2007 to 2010 but has since rebounded slightly.
Meanwhile, the analysis of Minnesota school data released Monday finds charter enrollment growth is slowing statewide after years of rapid increases.
The analysis from the Center for School Change found charter enrollment grew by an average of 5.5 percent annually in the past two years, the lowest growth rate in more than a decade.
Charter enrollment quadrupled during the past decade, a period when traditional school enrollment fell 5 percent. Traditional schools still have many more students, about 786,000 compared to charter schools’ 39,000.
Minnesota New Country School adviser Dee Thomas said the school’s enrollment was 106 in 2012. Ten years later, enrollment is 115 this year, just one more student than five years ago. (The school serves sixth through 12th grade.)
TEAM Academy in Waseca opened seven years ago serving two grades, kindergarten and fourth grade. Director Jill Ladwig said the school added two grades at a time and now serves kindergarten through sixth-grade students. As they’ve added grades, enrollment has increased, she said. Enrollment was 119 in 2007, 120 in 2010, 150 in 2011 and is 148 now.
Ladwig attributes the increases to individualized attention students receive at TEAM Academy and other charter school models. She said some of the school’s population has come from previously home-schooled children whose parents were attracted to the school’s smaller size.
She said the school has a “family environment” and the teachers know all of the students’ names. Small-group breakouts for reading and math help every student learn, she said.
“I think parents just like to have a choice,” Ladwig said.
At Lafayette Charter School, which serves kindergarten through eighth, enrollment had a big jump from 59 in 2002 to 82 in 2007. Five years later, enrollment is steady at 85, according to the Department of Education Data Center.
At RBA Public Charter School in Mankato, no one could be reached for comment. But according to the Minnesota Department of Education Data Center, enrollment was at 98 in 2007 and decreased to 69 in 2010. Enrollment has rebounded slightly to 77 this year, according to the site.
In Minneapolis and St. Paul, the center’s numbers showed just a 2 percent increase in charter schools in the last two-year period after years of double-digit growth.
Center director Joe Nathan cited intense competition among schools to attract students, the Star Tribune of Minneapolis reported. Nathan and others also said growth has slowed due to a 2009 state law that changed requirements for the bodies that oversee charter schools, plus a temporary interruption of federal aid to charter startups.
Charter schools operate independently and were launched in an effort to foster innovative ways of teaching students. The nation’s first charter school was founded 20 years ago in Minnesota.
Charter schools are now growing faster nationally than in Minnesota. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools estimates charter enrollment grew 12.5 percent nationally this year to more than 2 million students. That’s more than twice Minnesota’s rate.
The center’s report found that charter schools in Minnesota continue to enroll more poor and minority students than district schools do. They also enroll more students who are learning English. They have about the same proportion of special education students.
Nathan said the center has no position on which schools are better. He said he believes charter schools are growing because they offer distinctive programs parents want. Nathan also said he thinks some families are attracted to them because charters tend to be smaller, often cater to non-English speakers and have helped students of color improve performance.
Nathan said many traditional schools deserve praise for adopting distinctive approaches that have worked elsewhere.
For the report on Minnesota enrollment trends, visit centerforschoolchange.org.
This story contains information from The Associated Press.