At charter schools like Athlos Leadership Academy in Brooklyn Park, STRIDE Academy in St. Cloud and Twin Cities Academy High in St. Paul, student enrollment has skyrocketed, with each adding hundreds of new students over the last five years.
The growth at those schools echoes the statewide boom in charter school enrollment, according to enrollment numbers for this school year from the Minnesota Department of Education.
While traditional school district enrollment grew by 2 percent in the past five years, charter school enrollment ballooned by 36 percent. It's been spurred by grade additions and new facilities, plus an increase in the number of schools statewide, said Eugene Piccolo, executive director of the Minnesota Association of Charter Schools.
But this doesn't mean families are abandoning local school districts. The overwhelming share of students statewide are still opting for them. Just 6 percent of Minnesota's students attend charter schools, up one percent from five years ago.
Piccolo said he anticipates charters will continue to grow, as will enrollment. About a dozen are approved to open in the fall, Piccolo said.
"We'll see probably steady, slow growth in terms of number of kids," Piccolo said.
Topping the list for growth among charters is Athlos Leadership Academy. The school's enrollment is now four times larger than it was in the 2012-2013 school year.
The growth came because the school moved into a new building, "and had the space and recruited," said principal Jennifer Geraghty.
"That's obviously not the norm, to go from 180 to 1,000 kids," Geraghty said. "It was all because we had the space and parents were looking for something different, and, you know, we were that thing and it just worked out."
At Hiawatha College Prep in Minneapolis, a school in the Hiawatha Academies charter school network, enrollment rose by 195 percent in the last five years. It's because the school expanded by one grade level every year, said Ambar Hanson, the school's senior director of community engagement.
The combined total of students enrolled in charters in the suburbs and outstate Minnesota tops the number of kids who are enrolled in charters in Minneapolis and St. Paul. That makes Minnesota unusual, said Joe Nathan, director of the Center for School Change.
Enrollment has risen in the past five years because of continued charter expansions in rural and suburban areas, successful efforts to replicate some of the most effective charters and a confidence in some of the strongest charters, Nathan said.
Another factor: Some charters offer unique and personalized choices to students and families, he said.
Minnesota was home to the nation's first charter school law in 1991. Since then, a range of charter schools have opened — and closed — throughout the state.
Academically, they run the gamut, with some receiving national honors and others struggling to meet basic proficiency benchmarks.
The data visualization below shows school enrollment over the past five years for all traditional and charter schools in the state of Minnesota. It does not include alternative learning centers and some other special needs schools.