RELEASE: Students Leave D.C. Charter Schools Midyear at Lower Rates Than Traditional Public Schools, But Charters Are Less Likely to Fill Slots After Students Exit

Washington, D.C. — Today, the Center for American Progress released a new report analyzing how charter and traditional public schools in Washington, D.C., compare in their propensity to backfill—or fill seats that become available midyear—throughout the school year. This is part of CAP’s effort to advance a balanced approach to charter school policy. Charters are a valuable strategy to expand the number of good public school seats, and equitable backfill policies across district and charter schools will enable more students to access those seats.

Changing schools is a challenge for students, families, and schools, and midyear moves within the same community are the school changes that are most likely to be associated with negative outcomes for students. CAP’s analysis relies on school-level data on midyear exits from and entry into District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) and the city’s charter schools. Highlights from the analysis include:

  • Students exited D.C.’s charter and district schools at similar rates after the October enrollment count that sets annual funding, and they exited charters at lower rates for the full year. This pushes back on claims that charters systematically push students out of their schools once funding is determined.
  • Charters, however, had much lower backfill rates than DCPS schools. A DCPS school of 500 students would on average add 38 students throughout the school year, while a charter school of the same size would add just four students.

Policy recommendations to stem midyear student mobility, promote better understanding of schools’ backfill behavior, and encourage equity include:

  • Maximize coordination to reduce midyear transfers. This could include centrally managed enrollment processes, transportation support, counseling to identify and mitigate challenges in current schools, and connections to available social services to prevent eviction or homelessness.
  • Create funding models that include incentives to backfill by funding based on enrollment throughout the school year.
  • Require transparency from school districts, charter authorizers, and charter schools about what each school’s policies are for accepting students during the school year as well as after initial grades of entry for the school, including making school-level student mobility data publicly available.
  • Consider policies that require charter schools to backfill during the year and throughout their grade spans. These policies should include only limited programmatic exceptions for models such as language immersion programs.

“A balanced approach to charter school policy means addressing reasonable critiques of charter schools. Equitable backfill policies would allow fairer comparisons across sectors and ensure mobile students have access to good seats in both district and charter schools,” said Neil Campbell, director of innovation for K-12 Education Policy at CAP and co-author of the report.

Please click here to read “Student Mobility, Backfill, and Charter Schools” by Neil Campbell and Abby Quirk.

For more information or to speak to an expert, please contact Colin Seeberger at or 202.741.6292.