We use information on the charter school choices made by North Carolina families, separately by race, who switched their child from a traditional public school (TPS) to a charter school in 2015-16 to explore how such choices affect racial segregation between schools and racial isolation within charter schools. We find that the movement of white switchers, but not minority switchers to charter schools increases racial segregation between schools. In addition, using a conditional logit model to estimate revealed preferences, we find that the value parents place on the racial composition of individual charter schools differs by the race and income of the switchers. As a result, even after we control for other valued aspects of charter schools -- such as distance from the previous traditional public school and the charter school’s mission, academic performance and services offered -- the differential preferences of the switchers leads to substantial racial isolation within charter schools.
We document patterns and trends in school segregation by racial/ethnic group and by family income in North Carolina between 1998 and 2016, a period of rapid immigration, decline in federal oversight, and growth of charter schools. Accounting for students in both public and private schools, we find that segregation generally increased over the period, with the increase concentrated in urban areas. In addition, low-income students became more segregated from other students during the period. We measure and decompose segregation in metropolitan areas, finding that more than half can be attributed to racial disparities inside school districts, but in some counties private schools, charter schools, or multiple districts played a deciding role. We also find that segregation between white and Hispanic students increased sharply. We note several policy levers available at the local and state level.