More new students enrolled in charter schools, home schools or private schools last school year in Wake County than in the traditional public school system.
Taken together, charters, home schools and private schools enrolled almost 3,600 new students last school year in Wake. Meanwhile, the public school system added around 2,000 new students--far fewer than predicted. Wake enrolled about 1,000 students fewer than projected in each of the last two school years.
District spokesman Tim Simmons says while a drop in Wake County’s birth rate may have slowed growth, many of the students who were expected to enroll in Wake County schools are instead attending private schools, charter schools or home schools.
"Home schools is probably the biggest surprise in that it has been the steadiest growth area for the last several years," Simmons said.
In a Wake school board work session meeting, school system superintendent Jim Merrill said even though alternatives may be drawing new students away from Wake, the district is still growing and needs to build schools.
"We need to plan for growth," he said. "And while it fluctuates, it’s still going up."
Wake County approved an $810 million bond referendum in 2013 to build new schools for the district to alleviate overcrowding. Simmons said despite the lower-than-expected enrollments, those new schools are still necessary. More than 25,000 Wake students attend classes in trailers because there is no room in the existing schools.
"You would have to overbuild by almost 1,000 seats for the next 15 or 20 years in order to accommodate all those students," Simmons said. "So there’s plenty of room in there before we need to worry about overbuilding."