Closures, reversions put Georgia charter schools to the test

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Aug 20, 2021
Key Points
  • Nearly 42% of Georgia charter schools closed or reverted to traditional public districts.
  • Roughly 1 in 26 Georgia students enrolled in charter schools in spring 2021.
  • Academic progress promising for most charter schools.

Thousands of Georgia students are enrolled in state-funded charter schools with a hit-or-miss track record over the past decade of staying open as charters.

Compared to traditional public schools, Georgia’s charter school system is still in its adolescence. The first charter schools sprang up in the mid-1990s and grew quickly in number over the next decade – even as many new schools also quickly changed course.

An analysis by State Affairs found that dozens of charter schools in Georgia have either closed or reverted to traditional public schools since 2009, while dozens more charter schools have also opened during that time.

Amid the turnover, many charter schools show promising trends in boosting academic progress for some of Georgia’s roughly 150,000 students at chronically low-performing schools. That track record paints a curious picture of the staying power of Georgia’s charter schools, particularly once the COVID-19 pandemic ends and many parents rethink where they want to send their kids to school.

Whether the closures or switch to public schools is a good or bad historical trend depends on whom you ask. Supporters see a bright future ahead for charter schools with room to grow among their ranks. Critics wonder whether many charter schools only offer better educational options on paper but fall short when it comes to actually delivering a better school experience for lower-performing students.

In this five-part story, State Affairs explores the historical trends that have led many charter schools to keep their doors open and others to drop off the charter map.

Charter school infographic
Charter schools in Georgia have seen a high rate of closures or reversions to traditional public schools since 2009, but they also show promising trends in students’ academic progress. (Credit: Brittney Phan for State Affairs)

Our story

Part I: Finding the right fit

Michele Neely found the right fit for her kids in a north Fulton County charter school that had a more relaxed attitude on test scores than traditional public schools and offered a dual-language immersion program.

Part II: Charters open, charters close

Nearly 42% of charter schools in Georgia have closed or transitioned back to traditional public schools or magnet and international baccalaureate (IB) models since the 2008-09 school year, State Affairs analysis found.

Part III: Wheat from the chaff

Supporters of charter schools consider some closures a good thing, proving that the model works as intended by weeding out schools that lag on academic progress or fail to muster financial viability.

Part IV: Test results show promise

Despite some setbacks, supporters see positive trends in test scores and graduation rates compared to many traditional public schools – a key reason for the creation of charter schools in the first place.

Part V: Chartering a better future

The jury is still out on the future of charter schools as Georgia’s education system looks to rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic.