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Trends in the Use of School Choice: 1993 to 2007
NCES 2010-004
April 2010


The foundation of the public school choice movement can be traced back to the alternative schools reform models of the 1960s (Schneider, Teske, and Marschall 2000). Since then, other forms of public school choice have emerged that potentially increase the number of options available to parents and their children. For instance, the number of magnet schools expanded in the 1970s and 1980s as a mechanism designed to reduce racial and ethnic segregation in school districts or provide an academic or social focus on a particular theme. In the 200708 school year, there were approximately 2,400 magnet schools nationwide enrolling 1.2 million students and an additional 3,300 schools with magnet programs enrolling 3.1 million students.8 Another form of public school choice is charter schools. Charter schools are independent public schools that are exempt from specific state or local regulations that normally govern the operation and management of public schools. Enrollment in charter schools has been rising since their inception in the early 1990s. In the 200203 school year, approximately 2,575 charter schools in 35 states and the District of Columbia served 1.4 percent of all U.S. public school students (Hoffman et al. 2005). Four years later, the number of charter schools had increased to 4,132 charter schools in 40 states and the District of Columbia serving about 2 percent of all U.S. public school students (Hoffman 2008). Some states and districts offer publicly funded voucher programs for students to attend private schools: currently, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Maine, Ohio, Utah, Vermont, Wisconsin (Milwaukee), and the District of Columbia have such programs. Additionally, there are interdistrict school choice plans that allow students to attend a public school district other than the one in which they live, and intradistrict school choice plans that allow students to attend a school, other than their neighborhood school, within their district. Estimates from the 200708 school year suggest that these kinds of plans were available in 48 percent of school districts in the United States.9

Besides an expanded range of choice programs in the public school system, parents also have the option of sending their children to private schools. From 1995 to 2007, the percentage of elementary and secondary students enrolled in private schools has ranged from 10 to 12 percent (Planty et al. 2009). Trends in private school enrollment have varied by whether the school is religious or nonsectarian, and among religious schools, trends in enrollment have varied by the school's religious affiliation. Between 1995 and 2007, enrollment in Roman Catholic schools decreased while enrollment in Conservative Christian schools and in nonsectarian private schools increased (Planty et al. 2009).

Homeschooling is an additional education option available to parents. The percentage of students being homeschooled has increased in recent years. Over 1.5 million students were homeschooled in the United States in 2007 compared with 1.1 million in 2003, and 850,000 in 1999 (Bielick 2008).


8 Unpublished estimates on magnet schools and programs from the 200708 Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS), U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics. Enrollment for schools with magnet programs is the total enrollment for the school.
9 Unpublished estimate on plan availability from the 200708 SASS. Excludes districts with only one school.