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Public school parents are fleeing to charters, too

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In this pandemic-stricken school year, one sector of New York City public education has thrived: Publicly financed, privately run charter schools in the city saw their enrollment boom by nearly 10,000 this term, new data show.   

Charters have managed to thrive despite state-mandated enrollment caps and outright hostility from Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Richard Carranza.

Charters’ five-year growth trend continued apace amid the obstacles. More than 138,000 New York City students are now enrolled in this academically rich and diverse sector. If the city’s public charter schools were a separate district, they’d be the state’s second-largest one.

Meanwhile, the regular, DOE-run schools saw enrollment drop by 4 percent — roughly 43,000 kids — this year, as more families fled the system. That’s boosted charter diversity: While these schools are still primarily black and Hispanic, the New York City Charter School Center reports that white enrollment jumped 11 percent; Asian, 16 percent. Black enrollment rose 5 percent; Hispanic, 9 percent.

Notably, after years of teachers’-union-inspired pot shots, enrollment of English-language learners at charters grew by 16 percent. The number of students with disabilities and those from economically disadvantaged families grew 6 percent.

“These numbers reflect the extraordinary work the city’s public charter schools have done under extraordinary circumstances to educate students and support families,” said James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter School Center.

Indeed, most of these schools wanted to reopen for in-person schooling this semester but found it impossible because of the DOE’s complicated and ever-changing rules for their buildings. But, importantly, they found ways to make remote learning actually work.

The sector’s commitment to providing a quality education to all students regardless of background is evident. And families desperate for quality educational opportunities outside of the traditional system are flocking to charters.

De Blasio said this week of the DOE enrollment drop, “I don’t actually think it’s a trend,” but just “a one-year reality based on a global pandemic and the absolute dislocation of our entire society.” Time will tell, but we suspect that parents who’ve fled to charters, and also to Catholic schools and other non-public alternatives, will long remember why they gave up on the regular public schools.

It’s a far better bet that the flight will continue, unless and until the forces behind the exodus — from the excessive power of entitled teachers’ unions, to the stultifying influence of the bureaucracy, to Team de Blasio’s perverse anti-excellence policies — are pushed back by future leaders.

In a host of areas, the pandemic simply accelerated long-term trends. Children’s escape from the regular New York City school system is likely to be one of them.

If the politicians want any part of public education to keep growing, they should start being fair to charter schools. They can begin by lifting the charter cap.

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