Enrollment rose in the District's public schools for the third straight year, with a 1-percent uptick in D.C. Public Schools' head count and a 9-percent surge in charter school students, according to preliminary counts.

D.C. Public Schools gained 560 students to bring enrollment to 46,191 this fall, according to the initial count, which would be the second consecutive year that the school system has grown. Final numbers -- which will be audited and released in late January -- traditionally have been slightly less than the initial Oct. 5 estimates. Last year's October count was 46,515, over 300 more than this year.

DCPS' population grew 2 percent in 2010-2011, the first time enrollment increased since 1969.

Enrollment on the rise
2007-2008 2008-2009 2009-2010 2010-2011 2011-2012*
DCPS 49,123 45,190 44,718 45,631 46,191
Charters 21,948 25,732 27,661 29,366 32,009
Overall 71,071 70,922 73,379 74,997 78,200
*2011-2012 relies on an unaudited Oct. 5 count of enrollment.
Source: Office of the State Superintendent for Education

In comparison, the city's public charter schools grew to 32,009 students -- 2,643 students more than last year, continuing a trend of huge year-to-year growth since charter schools hit the city 15 years ago.

About 40 percent of public school students in the District attend charters, the second-highest rate in the nation to New Orleans.

"Although these numbers are not final and cannot be certified until we finish our formal audit, I think the mayor's focus on the importance of pre-K education is reaching our parents, as our initial numbers indicate the largest area of increase is coming from pre-K levels," said Superintendent Hosanna Mahaley.

There's no question that charter school growth is outpacing that of D.C. Public Schools, even as both make gains. "DCPS is working very hard to improve, but they're still asking parents to wait while improvement goes on, and parents are tired of that," said Robert Cane, executive director of Friends of Choice in Urban Schools, a nonprofit that advocates for charter schools. "They want better schools for their kids now... You only have one shot for your kids to be in school."

Still, a second year of population growth for DCPS would be historic, analysts agreed -- and it's not just a matter of the economy clamping down on private-school plans. "The decline of attendance in DCPS has been going on for so long that it's persisted through periods of economic decline and growth," said Tom Loveless, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

A spokesman for D.C. Public Schools did not reply to phone calls or emails.

Picking his son up from a charter school in Northeast, local political analyst Chuck Thies said increased confidence in the city's schools -- DCPS and charters -- was a major trigger.

"There are a lot of parents whose kids are just becoming school-aged," said Thies, above the shouts of children. "Two, three, four years ago, these were the people with a watchful eye on the city."