Education

Charter schools are booming in California. Here’s where they are growing fastest

Sacramento Charter High School students walk past the ”wall of Fame” – the pennants represent colleges that former students have attended – in 2014.
Sacramento Charter High School students walk past the ”wall of Fame” – the pennants represent colleges that former students have attended – in 2014. Sacramento Bee file

California’s charter school enrollment continues to skyrocket, growing by more than 25,000 students during each of the past 10 years.

Almost 630,000 students attended California public charter schools at the start of this school year — about one in every 10 students, according to new data from the California Department of Education. California charter school enrollment has increased 150 percent in the last 10 years.

Charter schools operate independently from public school districts. Proponents of charter schools say this freedom benefits teachers and students by encouraging innovation. Opponents say they take away funds from traditional public schools, increasing educational disparities.

The fight between charter schools and traditional schools is a major issue in California politics. Charter school proponents, for instance, are pouring millions into the gubernatorial campaign of former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

During the past five years, charter school enrollment grew by at least 30 percent in 26 California counties. Among urban counties, growth was fastest in Contra Costa, San Francisco and Los Angeles counties.

Charter school enrollment grew by 34 percent in Sacramento County. Enrollment in Placer and Yolo counties grew by about 27 percent. El Dorado County’s charter school enrollment declined because a statewide charter, Aspire, moved the charter for six schools from there to other counties.

More than one in 10 public school students attends a charter school in 24 California counties. Sonoma, San Diego and Los Angeles have the greatest proportion of charter school students among urban counties.

About 13 percent of public school students in Sacramento County attend charter schools. In neighboring Placer County, that number is 14 percent.

Phillip Reese is The Bee’s data specialist and teaches at Sacramento State: 916-321-1137.

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