In the previous 3 legislative sessions, NSEA cautioned the legislature about the growth of charter schools, especially given the separate and unequal dynamics between charter schools and our traditional neighborhood public schools. Initially NSEA asked for a moratorium on new charters and then a cap on charter expansion. Instead, the legislature required the Authority to develop and implement a growth management plan in 2019, which the Authority formally adopted in 2021. Despite that, Nevada has experienced a supercharged growth in charter schools, and an accompanying growth in the charter school and charter authority budget.
In FY19, 43,845 students were enrolled in charter schools. The projected enrollment for next fiscal year is 64,336. This is an increase of over 20K students or 46% in just 5 years. Since the passage of the charter school growth management program in 2021, charter schools have grown more than 20%.
Contrast that with the overall public-school enrollment, including both our school districts and charters. Enrollment is projected to decline by about 23,000 students over 5 years, a 4% reduction with a projected 2% reduction since 2021. “Growth Management” seems to have taken on a different meaning than when originally discussed here 4 years ago.
The proposed appropriation to charters in FY24 is $608M, the second largest in the state, now ahead of the Washoe County School District. While NSEA is usually at this table talking about the need for additional education funding, charters take a bigger piece of the pie each year, to the detriment of school district.
While the Authority has succeeded in reigning in the worst charter schools and has made some incremental improvements, there is still a stark difference in student demographics, especially related to low-income students. Currently 81% of Nevada students qualifying for free and reduced lunch. Charters only enroll 46%. Even just looking at new charter students, the Charter School Authority still isn’t meeting their own goal of matching the overall statewide demographics. NSEA appreciates this committee taking a close look at the Charter School Authority budget.