Choosing a school? You’ve got options.
Each spring, parents face one of the biggest decisions they can make for their child’s future: What school environment will their child spend about 1,000 hours in next year?
Making that decision with confidence starts with knowing what options you have. You may have more school choices than you realize! Understanding these options can help you find a school where your child grows and learns to the best of their ability. Ohio families can choose from traditional public schools, public charter schools, public magnet schools, private schools, online learning, homeschooling, and microschooling and mix-and-match learning.
Interested in learning more about Ohio’s various school choice expansions? Check out our deep dive blog to guide you through it!
- Traditional Public Schools
- Public Charter Schools
- Public Magnet Schools
- Private Schools
- Online Schools
Ohio Traditional Public Schools
First off, you can choose traditional public school. Traditional public schools are free to attend, open to all students, operated by school districts, and funded by taxpayers like you.
Ohio spends, on average, $14,613 per public school student each year. You can search your school’s spending and that of nearby schools at Project Nickel. Ohio’s most recent budget increases funding (and the minimum teacher salary) for public schools over the next two years. Plus, thanks to the new budget, students who graduate in the top 5% of their classes at public high schools will be eligible for $5,000 annual college scholarships!
Ohio offers some open enrollment for public school. Open enrollment refers to whether parents can choose to send their child to any public school in Ohio, regardless of their zip code or the location of the school. Based on Ohio’s laws, each school district in Ohio must have a clear policy regarding in-district transfer applications. For example, check out Willoughby-Eastlake’s application form for transfers within the district. Annually, each district can choose whether to allow for transfers between districts. So, contact your local school district if you wish to participate in open enrollment. Note that, in some cases in Ohio, there may be fees attached to student transfers.
In most open enrollment cases, parents are responsible for transportation to the new public school of choice, or at least for getting their student to a regular bus stop along the school’s route. Low-income families or those participating in a court-approved desegregation plan may be reimbursed for transportation to that bus stop or provided transportation directly, respectively.
If open enrollment is an option for you, you can visit multiple public schools in your area and discover which best fits your family. Of course, traditional public schools aren’t all the same. They may differ in learning methods and one may just “feel different” than another to you.
Find out more about public schools in your state at the Ohio Department of Education.You can also learn more about open enrollment at “Public Schools Without Boundaries: A 50-State Ranking.”
Ohio Charter Schools
Charter schools are tuition-free public schools that have extra freedom to innovate with curriculum and learning methods. In Ohio, charter schools are commonly referred to as “Community Schools.” Community schools or charter schools have been allowed in Ohio since 1997. Today there are more than 300 such schools.
Each community school or public charter school has a charter explaining the school’s purpose and what community need it serves. That could be providing a technical track or offering a rigorous, literacy-based curriculum. One of the newest charter schools in Ohio is Cincinnati Classical Academy, which recently opened for K-7 students across 52 zip codes. If there are more families seeking admittance to a charter school than there are seats, a charter school usually uses a lottery system to randomly determine admittance.
We talked to Dr. Landon Brown, principal at Emerson Academy, who shared how invested his charter school teachers and staff are in the local community. “Current research suggests that urban students (particularly minority males) need to see teachers outside of the classroom environment first before they make a connection inside the classroom,” Brown said. “That old educational adage is true, ‘Students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care!’”
If your child attends an Ohio charter, they may soon receive additional funding. Ohio’s most recent budget provides for a brick-and-mortar community schools to receive an extra $650 per pupil in 2024 and 2025, as well as extra funding for facilities (like buildings and classrooms). For more information about Ohio charters, you may wish to check out Fordham Institute’s Ohio Charter News Weekly.
Ohio Magnet Schools
Magnet schools are free public schools. They allow kids to zoom in on a specific learning track, such as engineering or the performing arts. At a magnet school, all the subjects are taught through the lenses of that specific track.
Ohio has several magnet schools scattered throughout the state. These might be a good option if your kid learns best by focusing in on a subject he or she is passionate about! For instance, you can read about Cincinnati Public Schools’ more than 20 magnet schools and programs. Meanwhile, Lima City Schools’ magnet schools include one with an arts theme. In Toledo, early college magnet students take electives at the University of Toledo, getting a jumpstart on college. And Reynoldsburg City Schools has state-designated STEM schools open to any child in the district. Contact your district to learn if there are magnet schools near you.
Ohio Private Schools
Ohio families can also choose private schools! In short, private schools are nonpublic schools that charge tuition. These learning environments may pass on a faith tradition, have a distinctive curriculum, or offer a personalized classroom environment. There are more than 1,200 private schools across the state of Ohio.
The average tuition for private schools in the state is $7,113 for elementary schools and $10,681 for high schools. But if you’re assuming private school isn’t affordable, think again. In 2023, Ohio’s Educational Choice Scholarship Program expanded: now every child in the state is eligible to apply. This program provides vouchers (worth up to $6,165 for K-8 students and up to $8,407 for 9-12 students) for families who wish to choose private school.
Ohio offers several other state-run funding programs too. These include scholarship programs for students with autism and students with special needs. Both the Autism Scholarship Program and Jon Peterson Special Needs Scholarship Program expanded in 2023 to become available to even more families. Ohio’s Cleveland Scholarship Program, originally designed for families in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District who wished to choose private school, expanded in 2023 as well.
Plus, Ohio offers a scholarship program funded by tax-credit donations. Open to all students, this program gives priority to low-income families. Finally, families enrolled in certain private schools or homeschooling are eligible for a tax credit.
Ohio Online Learning
Whether your child wants to accelerate learning or needs a quieter environment, you may be interested in trying virtual school. Ohio families can choose from several free, full-time online schools, or “e-schools” as they are commonly called in The Buckeye State. These include Ohio Virtual Academy (the state’s largest online public school), Buckeye Online School for Success, Alternative Education Academy, Quaker Digital Academy, Greater Ohio Virtual School, Great River Connections Academy, Ohio Connections Academy, and TRECA Digital Academy. Additionally, students aged 16-21 needing extra academic and emotional support to finish high school may be interested in Ohio Digital Learning School.
You can find a complete list of Ohio’s e-schools at the Ohio Department of Education. These schools do have enrollment caps, which are adjusted annually. You can learn more about the Ohio online learning community at the Ohio e-School Families and Friends Coalition.
Finally, there are also district-run blended or completely online options, including the Cincinnati Digital Academy and Middletown City Schools Virtual. Students in elementary through high school grades across more than 50 school districts in northwest Ohio may enroll full-time or part-time in courses through Northwest Ohio Virtual Academy at no cost, but they must register through their district. Plus, any student in Ohio can be enrolled in the Virtual Learning Academy or Blue Sky Virtual Academy with their district’s permission. Each district determines availability, acceptance, and logistics for their students’ courses. Reach out to your district to learn what options are open to you!
In Ohio, districts that operate an online learning school must provide all online students a computer and access to the internet at no cost. To read more about online learning in Ohio, check out the Digital Learning Collaborative’s state profile.
Homeschooling is another choice available to Ohio families. Homeschooling is the process of parents educating students at home and is permitted in all 50 states.
In Ohio, it is required that you provide notice of your intent to homeschool no later than the first week of school or within one week of withdrawal. You must also provide notice annually and if you move. In the case that you decide to return to public school in the middle of the school year, contact your local school to determine their process.
The state requires homeschooling parents to teach specific subjects (like language, math, and Ohio history) and assess their students annually. Note that homeschooled students in Ohio may still be eligible to participate in sports or classes at local public schools.
Ohio offers funding assistance if a homeschool student has an Individualized Education Program (IEP). These students may qualify for the Peterson Scholarship. Also, homeschool families in Ohio are eligible for a $250 tax credit for learning expenses.
If you are looking for a highly customizable and flexible education for your child and think homeschooling could fit the bill, check out the Ohio Department of Education’s Homeschooling page, Ohio Homeschooling Parents, Home School Legal Defense Association – Ohio, and the Christian Home Educators of Ohio.
Ohio Microschools and Mix-and-Match Learning
Today, many Ohio families are mixing and matching school options to come up with new ways to personalize education. Microschools are one of these ways. A microschool refers to students gathering together in a small group – with adult supervision – to learn, explore, and socialize. Microschools can take a variety of shapes and legal forms, from homeschoolers coming together at an enrichment center to a private school committed to small classrooms. What microschools share in common is a commitment to small-group learning and close-knit relationships, along with an emphasis on children as individual learners.
Here are a couple of real examples of microschools and related resources in your state:
- Founded in 2019, Bloom Learning Community is the first learner-centered microschool in Cleveland. Families can choose the program to supplement homeschooling or as an affordable private school option.
- Acton Academy Columbus utilizes multi-age classrooms, self-directed learning, and peer-to-peer collaboration in a small, private school environment.
- Azalea Montessori School is a microschool providing an authentic Montessori education for children up to the age of 12 in Norwood, Ohio.
Remember, microschooling is more a mentality than a specific legal distinction in most cases. Often, a family participates in a microschool while legally homeschooling, or being enrolled in a private or online school.
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