Voting With Their Feet: Parents Taking Their Kids Out of Traditional Public Schools in Astounding Numbers

Wade Payne

A new report from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools shows what a great advertisement American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten and her more radical members provided for school choice. After more than a year of school closures, Zoom classes, and battles over critical race theory, parents are increasingly taking their children out of public schools. The study looked at enrollment shifts between the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years.


Their analysis shows that 1.45 million children left traditional public schools. Charter schools gained 237,000 students in the same period. The difference is made up by families choosing private schools or homeschooling. The researchers noted that public school enrollment declines began years ago in many cities and states. Some of the loss was due to demographic changes and population decline. However, the pandemic appears to have accelerated the switch to public school alternatives.

Charter school enrollment increased in all but three of the 39 states that allow them and provided data.

(National Alliance for Public Charter Schools)

According to the analysis:

  • Charter schools in the 42 states assessed gained nearly 240,000 students, a 7% increase.
  • Public schools, including district-run schools, lost more than 1.4 million students, a 3.3% loss year over year. There was a decrease in public school enrollment in every state.
  • Increases for charter schools ranged from 49 more students in Virginia to 35,751 additional students in Oklahoma.
  • In terms of percentages, the increase in charter enrollment ranged from 0.19% in Louisiana to nearly 78% in Oklahoma,
  • In some states (e.g., Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Utah), enrollment in virtual charter schools drove enrollment increases.

The 7% growth experienced in charter schools was the largest seen since 2014. In the states they analyzed, the children moving to charter schools came from every racial and socioeconomic background. Arizona became the first state to have 20% of public school children enrolled in charter schools. Previously, only Washington, D.C., had reached that milestone. In California, public schools saw declines in nearly every racial subgroup, with substantial increases in Asian, Filipino, and Hispanic students transferring to charters.

The researchers say the pandemic was the reason for many of the changes. Some parents they spoke with were looking for an educational setting that fits their family’s pandemic experience. Gem Innovation Schools in Idaho expanded learning options and grade levels to meet the shifting restrictions. As parents shifted between the office and remote work, Gem allowed parents to select online or in-person schooling once a quarter.

Others became aware, thanks to the proliferation of remote classes, that curriculum taught in public schools did not match their values. In Florida, a father of five, Matt Mohler, observed his school-age children struggling with remote work and worried the curriculum would not meet their needs. The new Tallahassee Charter School opened in 2020, and after meeting with school staff, he moved his children there. Mohler shared, “Within the first week, my [then] first grader came home reciting the preamble of the Constitution. And I was blown away at the progress he was making in such a short amount of time.”


Recommended: Yes on School Choice — But It Requires Parental Involvement

The involvement of parents in their children’s education may be the most positive outcome from the pandemic. Parents across the nation are demanding a say in the curriculum taught in their public schools. They are no longer content to leave it to so-called “experts” who seem intent on creating activists instead of skilled workers, innovators, entrepreneurs, and leaders.

We can see the results of education based on activist content, which has only gotten worse. Our college students are obediently following whatever ridiculous COVID-19 restriction their university imposes despite the very low risk of children becoming seriously ill. Many are also fully vaccinated as a condition of admission. It is as if they have lost the ability to think critically and question authority.

College enrollment for young men is declining at an alarming rate. While admissions are declining overall, men make up just 40% of college students and account for 71% of the decline. The anti-male rhetoric that has dominated college campuses for years, culminating in the “Dear Colleague” letter that stripped young men of due process rights when accused of sexual misconduct, has sent a clear message.


Radical innovations in K-12 are required now to reverse these trends. America has a vested interest in ensuring that our children become productive, thinking members of society who can form families and stable communities. The pandemic laid bare the public education system’s complete failure to achieve these objectives for many parents.


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