Private school enrollment continues to drop, according to 2011 American Community Survey data released this week by the the U.S. Census Bureau.
As of 2011, the Census found 4.1 million students attended private elementary and high schools, a drop from both 4.8 million in 2005, the last count, and private schools' high-water mark of 6.3 million in 1965. This has in part been attributed to the growth of charter schools, which some families see as a free alternative to the local district school.
For example, private schools' share of kindergarteners dropped from 4.7 percent of all children ages 3 to 5 in 1965 to 2.2 percent of the same age group in 2009, the most recent count; during the same time period, public schools enrolled nearly one in four of those children in 2009, up from little more than 18 percent in 1965. This includes children in preschool, which in many states remains a private enterprise; private preschools enrolled 15.3 percent of 3- to 5-year-olds in 2009, compared to 21.3 percent for public preschool programs.
There may be a broader demographic issue at play here, too. America's fertility rate is dropping, and by 2050 residents over age 65 are expected to outnumber school-age kids nationwide.