Last week, I analyzed the first monthly report of 2020-21 public school enrollment data from the NC Department of Public Instruction. Comparing that report to its 2019-20 equivalent, I found that district enrollment dropped by 5.0%, and a portion of that loss was offset by the 7.3% increase in charter school enrollment.

Available data offer more questions than answers. What accounted for the extraordinary net decrease in public school students? Was the risk of their child contracting COVID-19 parents’ primary concern? Were there differences by region, demographics, or reopening strategy? Researchers will contemplate these and many other questions for years to come.

District dive

The first-month enrollment report indicates that only two North Carolina school districts added students: Elkin City Schools and Mount Airy City Schools, both located in Surry County. All others had a net loss of students. The range of losses varied significantly. The median decrease in first-month average daily membership across all 113 remaining school districts was 4.69%. On the low end, Kannapolis City registered a paltry 1.2% decrease. On the high end, Guilford County had a massive 16.5% drop in enrollment. According to the Greensboro News & Record, “biggest drops in kindergarten enrollment for Guilford County Schools came from the most and least affluent schools.”

Table 1. Month 1 Average Daily Membership by District

LEADistrict NameMonth 1 2019-20Month 1 2020-21Percent Change
10Alamance-Burlington Schools2262821252-0.0608
20Alexander County Schools47364479-0.0543
30Alleghany County Schools13641276-0.0645
40Anson County Schools31052935-0.0548
50Ashe County Schools29232823-0.0342
60Avery County Schools18851656-0.1215
70Beaufort County Schools62775887-0.0621
80Bertie County Schools19451830-0.0591
90Bladen County Schools40483847-0.0497
100Brunswick County Schools1255011948-0.048
110Buncombe County Schools2352222035-0.0632
111Asheville City Schools43034198-0.0244
120Burke County Schools1187411417-0.0385
130Cabarrus County Schools3336232431-0.0279
132Kannapolis City Schools53255261-0.012
140Caldwell County Schools1119010551-0.0571
150Camden County Schools18541767-0.0469
160Carteret County Public Schools80587714-0.0427
170Caswell County Schools23282224-0.0447
180Catawba County Schools1569315286-0.0259
181Hickory City Schools40953791-0.0742
182Newton Conover City Schools29142789-0.0429
190Chatham County Schools89508654-0.0331
200Cherokee County Schools30972771-0.1053
210Edenton-Chowan Schools18591782-0.0414
220Clay County Schools12801178-0.0797
230Cleveland County Schools1407113674-0.0282
240Columbus County Schools53315087-0.0458
241Whiteville City Schools21721872-0.1381
250Craven County Schools1311112542-0.0434
260Cumberland County Schools4944347049-0.0484
270Currituck County Schools41484090-0.014
280Dare County Schools52365065-0.0327
290Davidson County Schools1851917650-0.0469
291Lexington City Schools30022892-0.0366
292Thomasville City Schools22362112-0.0555
300Davie County Schools60665631-0.0717
310Duplin County Schools95969246-0.0365
320Durham Public Schools3247630739-0.0535
330Edgecombe County Public Schools55745298-0.0495
340Winston Salem/Forsyth County5328149733-0.0666
350Franklin County Schools80087715-0.0366
360Gaston County Schools3063128815-0.0593
370Gates County Schools15831450-0.084
380Graham County Schools11341055-0.0697
390Granville County Schools71666809-0.0498
400Greene County Schools28662697-0.059
410Guilford County Schools7043458833-0.1647
420Halifax County Schools21662033-0.0614
421Roanoke Rapids City Schools27502570-0.0655
422Weldon City Schools738622-0.1572
430Harnett County Schools2003919067-0.0485
440Haywood County Schools70936730-0.0512
450Henderson County Schools1333412919-0.0311
460Hertford County Schools25942504-0.0347
470Hoke County Schools86258219-0.0471
480Hyde County Schools537509-0.0521
490Iredell-Statesville Schools2028519932-0.0174
491Mooresville Graded School District59415867-0.0125
500Jackson County Public Schools35753458-0.0327
510Johnston County Public Schools3651735721-0.0218
520Jones County Schools1021921-0.0979
530Lee County Schools98309159-0.0683
540Lenoir County Public Schools84588130-0.0388
550Lincoln County Schools113119956-0.1198
560Macon County Schools44384254-0.0415
570Madison County Schools22162162-0.0244
580Martin County Schools27742619-0.0559
590McDowell County Schools58905686-0.0346
600Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools145833138356-0.0513
610Mitchell County Schools18261546-0.1533
620Montgomery County Schools36663529-0.0374
630Moore County Schools1274212226-0.0405
640Nash-Rocky Mount Schools1485513913-0.0634
650New Hanover County Schools2560824489-0.0437
660Northampton County Schools13791237-0.103
670Onslow County Schools2659825674-0.0347
680Orange County Schools73236986-0.046
681Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools1228411732-0.0449
690Pamlico County Schools12401162-0.0629
700Elizabeth City-Pasquotank51674694-0.0915
710Pender County Schools95139282-0.0243
720Perquimans County Schools16201559-0.0377
730Person County Schools42854200-0.0198
740Pitt County Schools2334322664-0.0291
750Polk County Schools21052057-0.0228
760Randolph County School System1576915056-0.0452
761Asheboro City Schools45384414-0.0273
770Richmond County Schools69646489-0.0682
780Public Schools of Robeson County2116820362-0.0381
790Rockingham County Schools1150210782-0.0626
800Rowan-Salisbury Schools1853817744-0.0428
810Rutherford County Schools75457272-0.0362
820Sampson County Schools79297575-0.0446
821Clinton City Schools29122871-0.0141
830Scotland County Schools55435242-0.0543
840Stanly County Schools82848162-0.0147
850Stokes County Schools57825463-0.0552
860Surry County Schools73987091-0.0415
861Elkin City Schools119312060.0109
862Mount Airy City Schools159916160.0106
870Swain County Schools19161662-0.1326
880Transylvania County Schools33283147-0.0544
890Tyrrell County Schools583544-0.0669
900Union County Public Schools4124939574-0.0406
910Vance County Schools51724819-0.0683
920Wake County Schools160342156389-0.0247
930Warren County Schools17411701-0.023
940Washington County Schools11531001-0.1318
950Watauga County Schools46364493-0.0308
960Wayne County Public Schools1784716788-0.0593
970Wilkes County Schools89778434-0.0605
980Wilson County Schools1088410326-0.0513
990Yadkin County Schools50544962-0.0182
995Yancey County Schools20641.902-0.0785

Note: Data for this table were compiled by EducationNC and is available here. The original source of the data is the NC Department of Public Instruction and is available here.

Kindergarten conundrum

Kindergarteners constituted a substantial share of the district enrollment loss. As Brian Gordon of USA Today Network points out, “The 13% decrease in kindergarten was the largest enrollment drop of any grade level. And while public school enrollment has plummeted across the board this year, with 62,000 fewer students, kindergarten accounts for nearly a quarter of the total decrease.” So, where did they go?

Some speculate that school reopening chaos prompted parents of kindergarten-age children to “redshirt” their precious tykes. North Carolina’s compulsory attendance law does not mandate school enrollment until the child turns seven years old. This allows parents to delay or “redshirt” the initial registration of their child in public school. Because the available enrollment report simply tabulates the average daily membership for each public school in the state, we simply do not know how widespread redshirting was this year.

One reason to doubt the redshirt explanation is that it requires tremendous resources. To redshirt a child, parents need to pay for an additional year of childcare, have the option of working from home, or have the ability to forgo income. Indeed, empirical studies of the phenomenon find that redshirting is less common among economically disadvantagedand nonwhite families.

Redshirting is one possibility. Enrolling children in schools of choice is another.

Charter schools

The first-month enrollment report shows that kindergarten enrollment in charter increased by 7% or nearly 700 students compared with last year, so some of the district loss was charters’ gain. Home and private schools may have enjoyed similar increases, but enrollment figures for nonpublic schools will not be available until the end of the fiscal year, so it is impossible to know for sure.

Table 2. Month 1 Average Daily Membership by Charter School

LEACharter SchoolMonth 1 2019-20Month 1 2020-21Percent Change
00A North Carolina Cyber Academy 172621500.2457
00B NC Virtual Academy 259428660.1049
01B River Mill Academy 8248310.0085
01C Clover Garden 649648-0.0015
01D The Hawbridge School 3083220.0455
01F Alamance Community School N/A338N/A
06B Marjorie Williams Academy 11090-0.1818
07A Washington Montessori 4044220.0446
08A Three Rivers Academy 781010.2949
09A Paul R. Brown Leadership Academy 150142-0.0533
09B Emereau: Bladen 5456350.1651
10A Charter Day School 96210380.079
10B South Brunswick Charter 3964820.2172
11A Evergreen Community Charter 443438-0.0113
11B ArtSpace Charter School 399395-0.01
11C IC Imagine 116412270.0541
11D The Franklin School of Innovation 5696480.1388
11K Francine Delany New School 1801820.0111
12A New Dimensions 3373840.1395
13A Carolina International School 876871-0.0057
13B Cabarrus Charter Academy 901764-0.1521
13C A.C.E. Academy 401397-0.01
13D Concord Lake STEAM Academy 466354-0.2403
16B Tiller School 2062080.0097
19A Chatham Charter 572569-0.0052
19B Woods Charter 513510-0.0058
19C Willow Oak Montessori 2152770.2884
20A The Learning Center 1901940.0211
23A Pinnacle Classical Academy 98310830.1017
24B Thomas Academy 89940.0562
24N Columbus Charter School 7548670.1499
26B Alpha Academy 9119230.0132
26C The Capitol Encore Academy 556555-0.0018
27A Water's Edge Village School 38410.0789
29A Davidson Charter Academy 4434690.0587
32A Maureen Joy Charter School 6406460.0094
32B Healthy Start Academy 4674980.0664
32C Carter Community Charter 227214-0.0573
32D Kestrel Heights School 501430-0.1417
32H Research Triangle Charter 7287340.0082
32K Central Park School For Child 6146180.0065
32L Voyager Academy 135213720.0148
32M Global Scholars Academy 212200-0.0566
32N Research Triangle High School 5645880.0426
32P The Institute Development Young Leaders 3524050.1506
32Q Reaching All Minds Academy 3403460.0176
32R Excelsior Classical Academy 7028440.2023
32S KIPP Durham College Preparatory 3693830.0379
32T Discovery Charter 1151870.6261
33A North East Carolina Prep 962948-0.0146
34B Quality Education Academy 5656950.2301
34D Carter G. Woodson School 3624380.2099
34F Forsyth Academy 7237400.0235
34G The Arts Based School 5215240.0058
34H NC Leadership Charter Academy 93410220.0942
35A Crosscreek Charter School 3453920.1362
35B Youngsville Academy 3904480.1487
36B Piedmont Community Charter School 135518090.3351
36C Mountain Island Charter School 155115870.0232
36F Ridgeview Charter School 1661950.1747
36G Community Public Charter 2373560.5021
39A Falls Lake Academy 10911085-0.0055
39B Oxford Preparatory 5087360.4488
41B Greensboro Academy 7577600.004
41C Guilford Preparatory Academy 3413960.1613
41D Phoenix Academy - Primary, Elem. Upper 99810880.0902
41F Triad Math and Science Academy 125312740.0168
41G Cornerstone Charter Academy-CFA 124012930.0427
41H College Prep and Leadership Academy 7728300.0751
41J Summerfield Charter Academy 785779-0.0076
41K Piedmont Classical High School 434423-0.0253
41L Gate City Charter 6666910.0375
41M Next Generation Academy 261250-0.0421
41N The Experiential School of Greensboro 3213420.0654
41Q Revolution Academy N/A362N/A
42A KIPP Halifax College Preparatory 5176500.2573
42B Hobgood Charter School 2222710.2207
43C Anderson Creek Academy 2633040.1559
43D Achievement Charter Academy N/A167N/A
44A Shining Rock Classical Academy: CFA 3153920.2444
45A The Mountain Community Sch 200197-0.015
45B FernLeaf Community Charter School 3273710.1346
49B American Renaissance School 5846300.0788
49D Success Institute Charter 103102-0.0097
49E Pine Lake Preparatory 187418790.0027
49F Langtree Charter Academy 15641347-0.1387
49G Iredell Charter Academy 658637-0.0319
50A Summit Charter 2342370.0128
51A Neuse Charter School 942932-0.0106
51B Johnston Charter Academy 7117520.0577
53B Ascend Leadership Academy: Lee County 3203980.2438
53C MINA Charter School of Lee County N/A244N/A
54A Children's Village Academy 167154-0.0778
55A Lincoln Charter School 215622180.0288
55B West Lake Preparatory Academy 1161800.5517
58B Bear Grass Charter School 418417-0.0024
60B Sugar Creek Charter 17281690-0.022
60D Lake Norman Charter 209922060.051
60F Metrolina Reg Scholars Academy 3733850.0322
60G Queen's Grant Community School 123012700.0325
60I Community School of Davidson 139714230.0186
60J Socrates Academy 7397600.0284
60K Charlotte Secondary 274241-0.1204
60L KIPP Charlotte 8579020.0525
60M Corvian Community School 109412050.1015
60N Aristotle Preparatory Academy 1361770.3015
60P Eastside STREAM Academy 1101880.7091
60Q Invest Collegiate Transform 3543770.065
60S Bradford Preparatory School 144615830.0947
60U Commonwealth High 1411690.1986
60Y Pioneer Springs Community School 3684400.1957
61J Lakeside Charter Academy 1572130.3567
61K United Community School 2432520.037
61L Stewart Creek High 173152-0.1214
61M Charlotte Lab School 6548430.289
61N Queen City STEM School 7027970.1353
61P VERITAS Community School, CFA 1241300.0484
61Q Mallard Creek STEM Academy 8979430.0513
61R Matthews Charter Academy 7187640.0641
61S Unity Classical Charter 2002450.225
61T Movement Charter School 4855650.1649
61U UpROAR Leadership Academy 1201300.0833
61V Bonnie Cone Classical Academy 2347432.1752
61W East Voyager Academy of Charlotte 146122-0.1644
61X Mountain Island Day Community Charter 4976400.2877
62A Tillery Charter Academy 60900.5
62J Southwest Charlotte STEM Academy 4276450.5105
62K Movement School Eastland N/A180N/A
63A The Academy of Moore County 4464720.0583
63B STARS Charter 5757440.2939
63C Moore Montessori Community School 1171440.2308
64A Rocky Mount Preparatory 1069998-0.0664
65A Cape Fear Center for Inquiry 4044060.005
65B Wilmington Preparatory Academy 130120-0.0769
65C Douglass Academy 1261320.0476
65D Island Montessori Charter School 220217-0.0136
65F Coastal Preparatory Academy 5567060.2698
65G Girls Leadership Academy of Wilmington 2943420.1633
65H Wilmington School of the Arts N/A132N/A
66A KIPP Gaston College Preparatory 128612990.0101
67B Z.E.C.A. School of Arts and Technology 169161-0.0473
68A Eno River Academy 7267710.062
68C The Expedition School 3603670.0194
69A Arapahoe Charter School 544503-0.0754
73A Bethel Hill Charter 400367-0.0825
73B Roxboro Community School 7167160
74C Winterville Charter Academy 674668-0.0089
76A Uwharrie Charter Academy 172217670.0261
78A CIS Academy 120108-0.1
78B Southeastern Academy 216212-0.0185
79A Bethany Community School 5025670.1295
80B Essie Mae Kiser Foxx Charter 111100-0.0991
81A Thomas Jefferson Class Academy 13631361-0.0015
81B Lake Lure Classical Academy 519516-0.0058
84B Gray Stone Day 8118230.0148
86T Millennium Charter Academy 823807-0.0194
87A Mountain Discovery 1811940.0718
88A Brevard Academy 425418-0.0165
90A Union Academy 197919860.0035
90B Union Day School 4495650.2584
90C Union Prep Academy at Indian Trail 96610410.0776
90D Monroe Charter Academy 781030.3205
90F Apprentice Academy High School 2282790.2237
91A Vance Charter School 9339370.0043
91B Henderson Collegiate 133113320.0008
92B The Exploris School 456453-0.0066
92D Magellan Charter 406406N/A
92E Sterling Montessori Academy 6056160.0182
92F Franklin Academy 164916510.0012
92G East Wake Academy 120212140.01
92K Raleigh Charter High School 5615690.0143
92L Torchlight Academy 5606210.1089
92M PreEminent Charter 6827170.0513
92N Quest Academy 143140-0.021
92P Southern Wake Academy 802775-0.0337
92R Casa Esperanza Montessori Charter School 568553-0.0264
92S Endeavor Charter School 5135360.0448
92T Triangle Math and Science Academy 9009500.0556
92U Longleaf School of the Arts 3513740.0655
92V Wake Forest Charter Academy 7627640.0026
92W Cardinal Charter Academy 9119160.0055
92Y Envision Science Academy 7227250.0042
93A Haliwa-Saponi Tribal School 1501520.0133
93J PAVE Southeast Raleigh Charter 4084200.0294
93L Central Wake High School 180142-0.2111
93M Peak Charter Academy 7417660.0337
93N Pine Springs Preparatory Academy 7648270.0825
93P Rolesville Charter Academy 6567370.1235
93Q Carolina Charter Academy 4264920.1549
93R Raleigh Oak Charter 2763080.1159
93T Cardinal Charter Academy at Wendell Falls N/A663N/A
94A Pocosin Innovative Charter 1391800.295
95A Two Rivers Community School 1591790.1258
96C Dillard Academy 296275-0.0709
96F Wayne Preparatory Academy 8669560.1039
97D Bridges Academy 172171-0.0058
98A Sallie B Howard School 104910950.0439
98B Wilson Preparatory Academy 9029550.0588

Source: NC Department of Public Instruction
Note: The Coronavirus Relief Act 3.0 increased seats for North Carolina’s two virtual charter schools. Lawmakers authorized the NC Cyber Academy to increase its enrollment by 1,000 students, and the NC Virtual Academy can add up to 2,800 additional students for the current school year.

Only around one-quarter of North Carolina charter schools posted enrollment losses. Concord Lake STEAM Academy in Kannapolis had the sharpest decline, while enrollment at Bonnie Cone Classical Academy in Huntersville surged.

A cursory review of the data offers few patterns or common characteristics of note. The only generalization that I will venture is that charter schools were not universal beneficiaries of district enrollment losses. For example, the Guilford County Schools had an approximately 11,600 student loss, but charter schools in the county added only 660 students. Even if we assume that charters in neighboring counties absorbed additional Guilford County students, it means that thousands of students are unaccounted for (at least for now).

What’s next?

As I wrote in my previous article, enrollment differences between the first month and subsequent months can number in the thousands, depending on the number of families who choose to enroll, transfer, or withdraw from public schools during the initial weeks of school. Second-month enrollment figures tend to provide a more accurate student count, but it is not known when the NC Department of Public Instruction will release those data.