Gary ranked No. 5 in the country with 35 percent of its students enrolled in public charter schools last year, according to a report released Tuesday by the not-for-profit National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Indianapolis was eighth in the nation with 28 percent enrolled in charters.

In Gary, the Thea Bowman Leadership Academy led all the city’s six charter schools with 1,465 students or 16 percent. Gary Lighthouse Charter School had 716; Aspire Charter Academy had 657 students; 21st Century Charter School, 480, and Charter School of the Dunes, 464. One charter, the LEAD College Preparatory Academy, closed its doors last year when its charter was revoked by Ball State University.

The enrollment for the Gary Community School Corp. was 8,722 students last year.

Charter schools have slowly eroded the school district’s enrollment base over the past decade. Thea Bowman was one of the first charters in the city when it opened in 2004. It’s also been the most successful academically, athletically and in enrollment.

The emergence of charters has drained money from the school district that’s struggled with low test scores and a 50-percent dropout rate. The exodus of students triggered layoffs and some school closings.

Kevin Teasley, the founder of the Greater Educational Opportunities Foundation that operates the 21st Century Charter School, said charter schools appear to better meet the needs of students. “At least in the case of Thea Bowman and 21st Century, we’re academically rigorous.”

He said the two schools also have K-12 enrollments, making it an easy choice for parents with more than one child.

Teasley credited charters, in part, for keeping people from leaving Gary. “The positive is, students haven’t left Gary … We have helped stemmed the flow or exodus.”

New Orleans led the nation with 79 percent of students in charter schools, followed by Detroit at 51 percent.

By Carole Carlson, Gary Post-Tribune