May 12–18, 2024, is officially National Charter Schools Week in North Carolina. It should be a time of celebration for all the families across North Carolina who choose charters as the best educational option for their children.

Charter schools are public schools, but they differ from their traditional counterparts in some respects. As Bob Luebke, director of the Center for Effective Education at the John Locke Foundation, has explained, “Charter schools enjoy additional flexibility with regard to administrative regulation and teacher certification requirements. Charter schools also have the option of contracting with charter management companies that provide administrative and technical services.”

According to a Carolina Journal Poll (formerly Civitas Poll) released in Jan. 2024, two-thirds of respondents said they supported charter schools, which continue to be a popular option for families throughout the state. In fact, since 2011, when lawmakers removed the cap on the number of charter schools that could operate in North Carolina, enrollment in charters has increased by 208 percent. Currently, 210 charter schools operate across North Carolina. Yet a draft report presented to the State Board of Education earlier this month by the Office of Charter Schools shows that in many counties throughout the state, families don’t have ready access to charters.

Distribution of North Carolina Charter Schools by County, as of April 1, 2024

Source: Draft 2023 Annual Charter Schools Report

According to the draft of the report, 37 of the state’s 100 counties don’t have any charter schools. Nearly half of the state’s 210 charters can be found in just six counties: Mecklenburg (34), Wake (26), Durham (16), Guilford (13), Buncombe (7), and New Hanover (7).

Number of North Carolina Charter Schools by County, as of April 1, 2024

CountyNumber of Charter Schools
Mecklenburg County34
Wake County26
Durham County16
Guilford County13
Buncombe County7
New Hanover County7
Forsyth County5
Iredell County5
Union County5
Alamance County4
Cabarrus County4
Gaston County4
Chatham County3
Franklin County3
Johnston County3
Lee County3
Moore County3
Robeson County3
Wayne County3
Bladen County2
Brunswick County2
Columbus County2
Cumberland County2
Granville County2
Halifax County2
Harnett County2
Henderson County2
Lincoln County2
Orange County2
Person County2
Rockingham County2
Rutherford County2
Vance County2
Wilson County2
Avery County1
Beaufort County1
Burke County1
Caldwell County1
Carteret County1
Cleveland County1
Currituck County1
Davidson County1
Edgecombe County1
Haywood County1
Jackson County1
Lenoir County1
Martin County1
Montgomery County1
Nash County1
Northampton County1
Onslow County1
Pamlico County1
Pasquotank County1
Pitt County1
Randolph County1
Rowan County1
Stanly County1
Surry County1
Swain County1
Transylvania County1
Warren County1
Washington County1
Watauga County1
Alexander County0
Alleghany County0
Anson County0
Ashe County0
Bertie County0
Camden County0
Caswell County0
Catawba County0
Cherokee County0
Chowan County0
Clay County0
Craven County0
Dare County0
Davie County0
Duplin County0
Gates County0
Graham County0
Greene County0
Hertford County0
Hoke County0
Hyde County0
Jones County0
Macon County0
Madison County0
McDowell County0
Mitchell County0
Pender County0
Perquimans County0
Polk County0
Richmond County0
Sampson County0
Scotland County0
Stokes County0
Tyrrell County0
Wilkes County0
Yadkin County0
Yancey County0

Source: Draft 2023 Annual Charter Schools Report

Charter schools throughout the state reported waitlists totaling more than 85,000 students at the beginning of the 2023–24 school year, according to the report. Even though that count might include duplicates if students are on waitlists at multiple schools, it indicates a growing demand for charter schools among North Carolina families.

With so much unmet demand, how can lawmakers encourage the growth of more charter schools? One way is by amending restrictive zoning laws that prevent charters from being developed in certain areas. More charter schools throughout the state would open opportunities for families who don’t currently have access to them.