Public School Enrollment Declines for the First Time in a Decade

Each year MDR examines data on public school enrollment and offers a snapshot of the state of the country’s schools. This year’s results show interesting changes, likely resulting from the unanticipated events of the past few years.

U.S. public school enrollment remained relatively stable over the past decade with 91 percent of all school age children attending traditional K-12 public schools. However, since the beginning of the charter school movement in 1991, an increasing number of states around the country have passed laws allowing charter schools and enrollment in charter schools began to slowly increase. By January 2020, 45 states and the District of Columbia allowed charter schools.*

Then in March 2020, the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic hit, with schools shutting their doors and making the unanticipated—and in many instances unprepared for—switch to remote learning. For families, this created concerns ranging from ensuring their children’s academic progress to protecting their social emotional health. In addition, particularly for parents who were essential workers, childcare became a challenge.

Many charter schools around the country returned to in-school learning sooner than traditional public schools because they operate under different leadership and rules. This created a perfect storm for the charter school movement and may be the reason for the first drop in public school enrollment in a decade and continued growth in charter school enrollment. MDR’s data supports the National Center for Education Statistics finding that there was a three percent decline in national public school enrollment during the 2020–2021 school year—equal to roughly 1.5 million pupils.** It will be interesting to examine the data for the 2021-2022 school year to see if this trend continues or levels off.

Public school enrollment data continued to show high numbers of students concentrated in large districts and states. The majority of students—56 percent—are enrolled in large school districts, the nine percent that serve more than 10,000 students. Fifty-four percent of all students enrolled in public schools are from 10 large states—California, Texas, Florida, New York, Illinois, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Carolina, and Michigan.

To successfully target the U.S. school market with your products and services, it is critical that you understand where those schools and students are, trends in enrollment, and which states and districts represent the best opportunities for your company. At MDR, “data” is our middle name and we can help you use it to achieve your sales goals. To gain  deeper insights into our 2020-2021 school enrollment numbers and how you can leverage them to support your market campaigns, reach out to us today at

Sources:*50-State Comparison: Charter School Policies

**Nation’s Public School Enrollment Dropped 3 Percent in 2020-21