Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools have seen a 6,000-student drop in enrollment from last school year. District officials say it’s largely due to fewer elementary students enrolling, but can also be blamed on more students across all grades withdrawing for other options.
Why it matters: Large public school systems have long competed with private schools (and more recently, charter schools). As the pandemic wore on and CMS remained closed to in-person learning, families that can afford tuition have opted to move to private schools that are open.
- Enrollment drops can have a variety of impacts on public school districts — including potential decreases in state funding.
- The loss of students to private schools means less money’s available to educate the students in the public schools.
“We believe that we provide the best education in town,” CMS deputy superintendent Matt Hayes said recently. “And we hope that our families as they reassess where they are after the pandemic ends … that we once again become that choice option for all of our families.”
Driving the news: CMS is bringing kids back to in-person learning next week, starting with elementary students on Feb. 15, then middle and high school students the next week. Some people believe that’s too soon. Others believe it’s far too late.
- Yes, but: Even with the return to in-person learning, students are still on a hybrid schedule, meaning they’re still learning at home either a few days a week or a couple of weeks each month.
Meanwhile, many parents have already moved on. CMS board of education member Sean Strain is one. He and his wife have opted to move their two youngest daughters to local private schools.
- Nick Foy, who’s part of a lawsuit against the CMS board and NCAE (North Carolina Association of Educators) over remote learning, moved his kids to private schools as well.
- “We felt like CMS offered really great educational value for our kids when they had an option for in-person instruction. If some day that returns we’ll have to reevaluate,” Foy said.
Some student athletes and their families have moved to private schools or nearby school districts where they had a greater chance of playing their sport and potentially being recruited. (Note: CMS has now resumed athletics and extra curricular activities. Previously these activities were paused while nearby districts continued.)
- “There’s a lot of other opportunities everywhere else if a kid wants to play a sport. (Other) jurisdictions in North Carolina offer them that opportunity,” said former Myers Park football coach Scott Chadwick, who had players leave to play for other North and South Carolina school districts.
Teachers are leaving the district as well. Some are leaving the profession while others are moving on to private schools, where they don’t have to balance teaching students in-person and virtually.
- Providence Day says it’s seen a slight increase in applications from public school employees. School administrators also tell me there was an uptick in student applications when remote learning first started in spring 2020, but it’s too early to say what enrollment will look like next school year.
- Charlotte Latin also reported an increase in applications from public school teachers.
Anecdotally, students and teachers from schools like South Meck tell me they’re seeing large numbers of teachers resign.
The big picture: CMS was one of the strongest and most influential school systems in the country for much of the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. But since the turn of the century, the system has faced a lot of challenges, from resegregation to the introduction of charter schools.
- The more students the system loses to private schools, the more difficult the challenge of decreasing segregation by economic status within the system.
What to watch: As CMS returns to in-person learning, we’ll see whether those who’ve left the district will consider a return.