How Many Public Schools Are There in the U.S.?

Last Updated: July 10, 2021 by Melanie Hanson

General Statistics

  • In 2018 there were 130,930 elementary and secondary schools in the United States, compared to 106,746 in 1980
    • 87,498 were elementary schools
      • 67,408 were public schools
      • 20,090 were private schools
    • 26,727 were secondary/high schools
      • 23,882 were public schools
      • 2,845 were private schools
    • 15,804 were combined elementary/secondary schools
      • 6,278 were public
      • 9,526 were private
  • For the 2019-20 school year, 56.5 million students will attend public and private elementary and secondary schools
    • 35.6 million will attend pre-K through 8th grade
    • 15.1 million students will attend 9-12 grade
  • Approximately 50.8 million students will attend public schools in 2020
  • The average per-student expenditure in public schools is $13,440
  • For the 2019-20 school year, 3.7 million teachers will be in the classroom: 3.2 million in public schools and 0.5 million in private
    • In 2020, the national average student to teacher ratio in public schools is 16 to 1
    • California has the highest student to teacher ratio of 24 to 1
  • 3.3 million students will graduate from public high schools and 0.4 million from private high schools in 2020
  • California has the largest student enrollment of any state for both elementary and secondary schools, followed closely by Texas
  • There were more than 7,000 charter schools in fall 2016 in 43 states
    • 3 million students attended public charter schools in 2016 or 6% of public school students
    • 7.1% of public schools are charter schools
  • In a 2017 survey, 6 percent of public high school students reported being threatened with or injured by weapons on school grounds in the past 12 months

Types of Elementary and Secondary Schools:

In the United States, each state is responsible for creating public school standards and policies, including organizing school districts and setting mandatory student attendance guidelines. Additionally, not all states or districts have the same structure for elementary, middle, and secondary schools. For this article, we utilize school types as described by the Department of Education.

  • Elementary schools typically include pre-kindergarten through 8th grade
  • Some schools have middle school, which is 6th through 8th grade
  • Secondary/high schools begin with 9th grade and end in 12th grade
Us enrollment in public elementary and secondary schools by grade 2017 on EducationData

Public School Enrollment By State

The charts below show public school enrollment in the United States. Keep in mind that there are overlaps between elementary and middle schools throughout much of the country, so middle schools have been included in the elementary category for ease of reporting.

United states public school enrollment fall 2017 by state 1 on EducationData

As shown, California had the highest number of enrolled students of any other state, followed closely by Texas, then Florida and New York.

Charter Schools

Charter schools are public schools that organize based on a special charter. They are tuition-free, and must still follow the established teaching standards in their state. However, these schools have a lot of freedom in how they reach those standards. Some charter schools are targeted to a specific student population, such as high achieving students, specific areas of academic focus, or for students with special needs. As a result, these schools often have waitlists to get in.

  • Charter school enrollment rose between 2000 and 2015 by an average of 5 percent nationwide, from 1 percent of all public school students in 2000 to 6 percent of all public school students in 2015
    • In 2000, 500,000 students were attending charter schools
    • In 2015, 2.8 million students were attending charter schools

The chart below summarizes some interesting statistics about American charter and traditional public schools.

Us traditional vs charter public schools on EducationData

Graduation and Dropout Rates

About 3.3 million students were projected to graduate in the 2018-2019 school year.

Only five states had graduation rates of 90 percent or above for the 2016-2017 school year: Iowa and New Jersey (tied at 91 percent), and Texas, Kentucky, and Tennessee, each at 90 percent.

High school dropout rates went from 10.9 percent at the turn of the millennium (2000) to only 6.1 percent in 2016 (the most recent year statistics were available.) Male students were slightly more likely to drop out than female students.

IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act)

In the 2017-18 school year, 7 million students aged 3-21 received services under IDEA, representing 14% of all students attending public schools and marking a 1% increase from 2011.

  • 34% of children in special ed have a specific learning disability
    • 1 in 5 have a speech/language impairment
    • 14% classified as having “other health impairment”
    • 10% of special ed students are on the autism spectrum
    • 7% of special ed students have developmental delay
    • 6% have an intellectual disability
  • Most students aged 6-21 spend at least 80% of the school day in the general ed classroom
Infographic on EducationData

According to education data for the 2015-2016 school year, approximately 67 percent of students with disabilities graduated high school within four years, compared with the national average graduation rate of 85 percent.

Specialized Public Schools

Within the American public school system, there are a lot of different types of schools. Some school districts offer educational alternatives to traditional schools for students who have unique challenges or need a different educational style to succeed. Others exist for students who show exceptional talent or interest in a specific area of study. And for students who are studying remotely or online, there are independent study programs.

Number of operating public specialized elementary and secondary schools on EducationData

Special Education Schools

Nearly every state has public schools that serve student disability populations, such as the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind, which serves students from birth through age 21, and offers dorms for some students. There are 2,011 specialized special education schools within the US as of 2016.

Magnet Schools

Magnet schools are typically different from traditional public schools because they focus on a particular curriculum, teaching style, or career path. Many magnet schools attract students with special talent or interest in the arts. Others focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). And increasingly, many are based on the mode of instruction, such as a Montessori school.

  • In 2013, $90 million worth of grants were designated for magnet schools by the US Department of Education
  • In 2016, there were 3,237 magnet schools within the US public school system

Vocational Schools

Most states also offer public vocational and alternative schools that focus more on apprenticeships and career skills/training for those students who may not want to go to a traditional college after graduation. There are over 5,400 vocational schools within the US public school system as of 2016.

Alternative Schools

Vulnerable student populations increasingly end up in “alternative” schools. These students may be struggling in their studies. They could be experiencing truancy. Some dropped out or experienced expulsion from their former schools. Nearly 650,000 students across the US are attending these schools. Unfortunately, more students find themselves in these schools because traditional high schools expel “problem” students in order to improve their reported graduation rates

  • There are 5,382 alternative education schools within the US public school system
  • Students of color and low-income students are overrepresented in alternative schools
  • Nearly 33% of alternative school students attend schools that spend at least $500.00 less per student than regular schools in the same district
  • 40% of school districts with alternative schools provide counseling services only in regular schools
  • Nearly 50% of alternative schools have graduation rates below 50%

Student Safety Concerns

A national survey of all public high school students (grades 9-12) in 2017 (conducted by the Centers for Disease Control) asked students if they had been threatened with or injured by a weapon on school grounds. The results of the survey are below.

  • 25 states have a higher than average incidence of weapons threats/usage
  • 17 states did not provide responses or sufficient data: Alabama, Alaska, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, NorthDakota, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Washington, and Wyoming did not respond, or did not provide enough data.
Public high schools and weapons 2017 comparison of selected states to national average on EducationData

In Conclusion…

We didn’t have room to include every fun statistic out there about public schools, but we hope you’ve learned a few things about the national public school scene from this article! Don’t let your learning stop here, though! Check out the sources below for additional information (NCES lets you create your own spreadsheets based on searches in their database) and an in-depth look at some of the statistics included here.


  1. The Condition of Education 2019
  2. Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind
  3. National Center for Education Statistics, “Schools and Staffing Survey Table 7”
  4. Education Week, “What are Charter Schools?”
  5. IDEA Section 618 Data Products: Static Files
  6. National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Home Page, a part of the US Department of Education
  7. Reimagining failure: ‘Last-chance’ schools are the future of American high schools