Student enrollment in county private, homeschools outpaces public schools

By Cheryl Burke

January 29, 2024

MOREHEAD CITY — Student enrollment in county private and homeschools outpaced an increase in traditional public and charter schools in 2022-23, according to state reports.

Overall, there were 10,060 students enrolled in county schools in 2022-23, up from 9,608 in 2021-22, a nearly 5% increase.

Statistics from the NC Department of Non-Public Education show that the number of county students enrolled in private schools increased from 507 in 2021-22 to 605 in 2022-23, a 19% increase.

County students registered in homeschools increased from 1,157 in 2021-22 to 1,347 in 2022-23, a 16% jump.

Tiller School, a free public charter school in Beaufort, showed 191 students registered in 2021-22, increasing to 197 in 2022-23, a 3% increase, according to its NC Report Card.

In public schools, numbers increased from 7,753 in 2021-22 to 7,911 in 2022-23, a 2% increase, according to the district’s NC Report Card.

With National School Choice Week celebrated Jan. 21-27, proponents of school choice held various events across the nation that focused on the increasing popularity of nontraditional education options.

Choice has especially picked up momentum in North Carolina with the expansion of the Opportunity Scholarship program. The NC General Assembly, in its 2023 budget, made every K-12 student in the state eligible to apply for the Opportunity Scholarship for the 2024-25 academic year.

North Carolina’s Opportunity Scholarship program was originally enacted in 2013 to allow low-income students a choice to attend eligible private schools through taxpayer-funded vouchers that cover the cost of tuition and book fees. During the 2022-23 school year, about 25,500 lower-income students received scholarships, according to a School Choice Week press release.

While the new program still aims to serve low- and middle-income families first, remaining scholarships will be awarded to students on a sliding scale according to income. Students who qualify for free- or reduced-price lunches (from a household with an income of less than $55,000 for a family of four) will be awarded scholarships first and will receive the largest scholarship amounts, up to about $7,400 for the school year, according to the School Choice Week website. For instance, in order to qualify, a household with 2 people cannot exceed an income of $37,814 per year in order to qualify.

Families can apply for the scholarships Feb. 1-March 1.

During a press conference held last week regarding National School Choice Week, Mike Long, president for Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, said, “The accomplishments made in expanding school choice show that the popularity for it is larger than ever. This movement continues to thrive more and more by the passionate parents, school leaders, and legislators, and that is certainly something to celebrate. That is what National School Choice Week is all about. To celebrate children and their families being able to find the best possible educational option for them."

As well as the growing popularity of homeschools and private schools, numbers continue to increase in charter schools, according to EducationNC. In 2022-23, there were more than 137,500 North Carolina students enrolled in charter schools, 9% of the state’s public school enrollment. From 2019-22, there was a 14.3% increase in charter school enrollment among Black students and a 23% increase in Hispanic students, according to the EducationNC release.