Part II: Charters open, charters close

Credit: Georgia Governor's Office of Student Ac...

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.

Compared to traditional public schools, Georgia’s charter school system is still in 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.

Between 1993 and 2005, more than 40% of the 65 charter schools that were approved to open either closed or returned to operating as traditional public schools, according to a state Department of Education (DOE) report. That rate didn’t change much over the next decade or so.

According to State Affairs’ analysis of DOE documents, 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. That has left more than 41,000 students to find new schools or have their former charter schools come under the management umbrella of local districts. Most switched back to public schools and pressed on as they were before becoming charters, the DOE documents show.

Some students continued classes at Georgia’s college and career academies, many of which hold charters but were excluded from State Affairs’ analysis since they operate under different educational models.

In all, 74 charter schools were verified as having closed or reverted to traditional public schools between 2008 and 2021, using the DOE documents, state annual performance reportsstate student enrollment records, the National Center for Education Statistics’ public-school database and local news reports.

Learn more about how many charter schools in Georgia don’t have the same access to local tax dollars as their traditional public-school counterparts in our Explainer story, “Tax-Dollar Tensions Strain Local Charter Schools in Georgia.”

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

Despite those figures, Georgia has kept tens of thousands of students enrolled in charter schools. As of March 2021, roughly 1 in 26 students out of Georgia’s total population of about 1.7 million students were enrolled in 93 charter schools, rounding out to more roughly 67,000 charter students. That’s more than triple the roughly 22,000 students enrolled in state-funded charter schools 15 years ago, when the then-new education model took root in Georgia and began expanding rapidly, according to state data.

Dozens of new schools have opened since then, boosting Georgia’s count of charter schools at the same time as many other schools have dropped off the charter map. At the same time, vast numbers of Georgia students now fall under so-called “charter systems,” in which entire local school districts sign agreements with the state to waive certain administrative rules in return for tighter state scrutiny.

While charter systems have come to include the large Atlanta Public Schools and Fulton County Schools, most schools in these systems are still traditional public schools. But put together, recent state data shows around one-fourth of all students in the state are now under some form of a charter arrangement, be it via an individual school or a wider system.


Part III: Wheat from the chaff