Enrollment is declining, and charter schools are the most likely culprit.
The number of students enrolled in private schools has dropped precipitously in the last decade, from 5.3 million children in 2002 to 4.7 million in 2012. In 2005, 10.7 percent of children were in private school; that number fell to 10 percent in 2010.
The knee-jerk reaction to this news is to blame the recession. But according to new research from Stephanie Ewert of the U.S. Census Bureau, the real reason for this shift isn't belt-tightening (in fact, Ewert found that short-term economic highs and lows have very little impact on private school enrollment), but rather the rise of charters, especially in major cities.
Ewert found a significant negative correlation between enrollment trends in charter schools and private schools. In other words, as a city's charter school network expands, enrollment in private schools decline.
Just look at these maps, which show changes in private and charter school enrollment by state. The red states are the ones that experienced both a decline in private school enrollment and an uptick in charter school enrollment. Here's the map for 2008 - 2009:
And here's 2009 - 2010:
This is all the more striking when you account for the fact that many of the states without growing charter school enrollment simply don't have charter school programs.
It's an interesting trend particularly because charter schools are still largely an urban phenomenon. This data appears to be making the case for additional charter school expansion as a way to encourage young families to stay in cities. As Ewert writes: "If parents perceive charter schools as an improvement over regular public schools, they will change from private to charter schools."