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Fewer Students Attend Private Schools

Private school enrollment has decreased 12.7 percent since 2001, according to a new government report.

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The number of pre-K through 12th grade students enrolled in private schools—especially Catholic institutions—has sharply declined over the past decade, according to a new government report released May 26.

Private school enrollment from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade dropped 12.7 percent between the 2001-02 and 2009-10 school years, according to the Congressionally mandated annual report "Condition of Education." In the fall of 2001, 6.3 million students were enrolled in private schools; in 2009, just 5.5 million attended private schools.

Although Catholic schools are still the most popular type of private schools, enrollment fell 19 percent from a high of 2.7 million in the fall of 2001 to 2.2 million in 2009. Enrollment at nonsectarian private schools has remained essentially flat, with about 1.3 million students each year throughout the same time period.

Meanwhile, the number of students enrolled in public charter schools more than tripled over the past decade, increasing from 340,000 in fall 1999 to 1.4 million in fall 2008, the most recent year for which data is available. By 2008, more than 5 percent of all public schools were charter schools (independently operated schools that receive public funding). In 1999, just 2 percent of public schools were charter schools. About half of all charter schools are located in major cities.

[Read about states that are considering charter schools.]

A study released in March by the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education hypothesized that the trends are related, with more parents opting to send their children to public charter schools rather than private school.

Racially, there was a discrepancy between public and private schools in the "Condition of Education" report. White students made up 73 percent of all students in private schools; they make up 55 percent of all students in public schools, a decrease of 13 percentage points since 1989. Racial information was not available for private schools prior to 2009. Groups of Black and Hispanic students made up just 9 percent each in total enrollment at private schools.

[See the Best High Schools with the highest African-American enrollments.]

Rising tuition fees and a sputtering economy might be reasons for the decline in private school enrollment. During the 1999-2000 school year, the average tuition for a private high school was $6,053. By 2007, it was $10,549, according to government figures. This 74 percent increase far outpaced the inflation rate of about 24 percent between 1999 and 2007. Between 2001 and 2007, the total number of private schools fell 37,000 to 33,700.

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