Pennsylvania School Choice Roadmap

By: National School Choice Week Team

Last Upated: June 22, 2022

Choosing a school? You’ve got options. 

Deciding where to send your child to school is a big decision, and you have access to more K-12 education options than you might realize. Navigating your options in Pennsylvania can help you find a school where your child thrives! This post will breakdown the six types of schools available to you,  as well as provide additional education resources and school choice news.

Pennsylvania families can choose from traditional public schools, public charter schools, public magnet schools, private schools, online academies, and homeschooling. We’ll also cover how learning pods fit into the school landscape!

Looking for special education options? You can learn what special education services are available in Pennsylvania at the Ultimate Guide to Special Education.



Search for Schools Near Me

Thank you for using our school finder tool. Search for in-person public, charter, magnet, and private schools and learning environments. See your search results and get them emailed to you. To identify online schools in your state, please visit our Ultimate Guide to Online School. To learn more about your state’s homeschooling laws, please visit our Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling. This tool was developed by National School Choice Week, with data provided in partnership with Public School Review and Private School Review. For more information about this tool please visit our Schools Near Me Frequently Asked Questions page.
Traditional public schools do not charge tuition. They are managed by school districts and do not require students to pass tests to enroll.
Public charter schools do not charge tuition. They are usually managed by nonprofit organizations and do not require students to pass tests to enroll.
Public magnet schools do not charge tuition. They are managed by school districts and focus on themes, such as math, science, technology, and the arts.
Private schools charge tuition, but scholarships are often available via state programs or by individual schools. Private schools are privately managed and can be faith-based or secular.

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      Pennsylvania Traditional Public Schools

      Most Pennsylvania families choose traditional public schools. These schools are operated by districts, free to attend, open to all students, and funded by taxpayers. Did you know that, on average, Pennsylvania spends $17,142 per public school student each year? 

      In Pennsylvania, the state allows each district decides to set its own open enrollment policies. Open enrollment refers to whether parents can send their children to any public school, regardless of where it is located. So, Pennsylvania parents wanting to transfer their child to a different public school than the one they are assigned should contact their local school district about whether this is an option for them. Open enrollment is a valuable form of public school choice, expanding parents’ options and ensuring that their zip code isn’t the sole determiner of their education.

      For a real-world example, check out Lancaster School District’s guidelines for both intradistrict and interdistrict transfers. Find out more about public schools in your state at the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

      Pennsylvania Charter Schools

      Charter schools are another important option for Pennsylvania families. Like traditional public schools, charter schools are public, free, and typically have no requirements for entry. What distinguishes charter schools is that they have extra freedom to innovate with learning methods and are accountable to authorizing bodies for results. 

      Pennsylvania families can choose from more than 180 public charter schools, including several cyber charter schools. Each school has a charter which explains the school’s purpose and what specific community need it serves. That could look like a Spanish immersion program or a rigorous, literacy-based curriculum. If there are more families seeking admittance to a charter school than there are seats, a lottery system (like drawing random names out of a hat!) is usually used to determine admittance. 

      We have interviewed a variety of charter schools in Pennsylvania with unique offerings: Tidouite Community Charter School is providing a personal option to a rural community; Manchester Academic Charter Academy serves its students with a strong mentor program; and Lincoln Charter School’s teacher and students are spreading the positive message that “even in hard times, people do good works.”

      You can read about charter options at the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools.

      Pennsylvania Magnet Schools

      You can also choose magnet schools! These free public schools allow kids to zoom in on a specific learning track. At a magnet school, all the subjects are taught through the lenses of that specific track. If there is a magnet school near you with a theme that interests your child, this could be an exciting option to consider. 

      Pennsylvania has several magnet schools throughout the state. For example, Pittsburgh Public Schools and the School District of Philadelphia both have magnet choices, among others. Pennsylvania’s magnet choices range from Mandorin and Spanish programs to pre-engineering and performing arts. You can contact your school district to see if there are any options near you.

      Pennsylvania Private Schools

      Private schools are nonpublic schools that charge tuition. Private schools offer a unique learning environment that may be smaller in size, pass on a religious tradition, or provide a curriculum not available in your district school. For example, we spoke to one private Catholic high school about the mock trial they conducted with fourth-grade students about a fictional cupcake thief

      There are more than 1,800 private schools across the state of Pennsylvania. The average tuition for private schools in the state is $10,459 for elementary schools and $16,343 for high schools.

      Some Pennsylvania families are eligible for state-run scholarship programs. If you live in a low-achieving school zone and meet certain income requirements, you may be able to participate in the state’s Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit Program. Or, children from low or middle income families may be eligible for the Educational Improvement Tax Credit.

      Learn more at Children’s Scholarship Fund-Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania Affiliate of the Council on American Private Education and Private School Review: Pennsylvania.

      Pennsylvania Online Learning

      Don’t overlook online learning, which offers a uniquely flexible learning environment that meets a variety of family needs. Whether your child wants to accelerate learning or needs a quieter environment, you may be interested in considering virtual school. If you choose online learning in Pennsylvania, you’re in good company. More than 60,000 Pennsylvania students attended a cyber charter school in 2020-2021.

      Pennsylvania offers several free, full-time online learning options for students, such as PA Virtual Charter SchoolReach Cyber Charter SchoolAgora Cyber Charter SchoolCommonwealth Charter Academy,, PA Leadership Charter SchoolPA Cyber Charter SchoolCentral PA Digital Learning FoundationPA Distance Learning Charter School, and Insight PA Cyber Charter SchoolEsperanza Cyber Charter School and ASPIRA Bilingual Cyber Charter School also serve grades K-12 statewide; these two schools offer special programming for bilingual students.

      Students in grades 7-12 can also consider 21st Century Cyber Charter School or Achievement House Cyber Charter School, and students in grades 9-12 have another option in SusQ Cyber Charter School. Finally, students between the ages of 17 and 20 who are seeking to finish their high school diploma can choose Passport Academy Charter School. You can find contact information for these cyber charter options at the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

      After a student has been accepted into a cyber charter school, his or her family must complete withdrawal paperwork as their assigned school to ensure that there are no gaps in enrollment and that funding follows the child.

      In Pennsylvania, most statewide online school options are charter schools. But, there are also some districts that have developed online options recently, like the School District of Philadelphia’s Virtual AcademyPittsburgh Public Schools’ Online AcademyAllentown School District’s Virtual Campus, and Reading Virtual Academy. Contact your district to learn about any online options they may offer.

      To read more about online learning in Pennsylvania, check out the Digital Learning Collaborative’s state profile.

      Pennsylvania Homeschooling

      Homeschooling is another school option for Pennsylvania families. All 50 states permit homeschooling, which is the process of parents educating students at home.

      If you’re using the homeschooling statute in Pennsylvania, it is required that you provide notice of your intent to homeschool by submitting a notarized affidavit at the time of choosing homeschool and annually by August 1. It is recommended that you formally withdraw from your current school so your student is not marked truant.

      The state requires homeschooling parents to teach specific subjects (like English, science, and health) and also requires standardized testing in specific grades if you are using the homeschooling statute. Note that your homeschooled student in Pennsylvania may still be eligible to participate in sports or activities at your local public school; if you are interested, ask your district about their policies. Also, homeschoolers with special learning needs are eligible to receive special education support and resources from local public school districts.

      Read more resources about homeschooling specific to Pennsylvania

      Pennsylvania Learning Pods

      Micro-schools, pods, pandemic pods, and learning pods all refer to the same concept: students gathering together in a small group – with adult supervision – to learn, explore, and socialize.  Pods themselves can take a variety of legal forms, but in general they can be separated into two categories: self-directed pod (homeschool, homeschool collaborative, or micro-school) and learning support pod. It’s important to understand what kind of pod you are signing up for and the requirements that go along with it.  Learn more about learning pods.

      Self-Directed Pods:

      If your learning pod or micro-school is choosing its own curriculum and each family is directing their own children’s schooling, it likely qualifies as a homeschool in Pennsylvania. Read more about the requirements for homeschooling and get tips from HSLDA

      If your learning pod contains more than two families and will have parents or other teachers leading unique classes just for your school, it may qualify as a private school. You can read more about what Pennsylvania classifies as a private school, how they’re regulated, and how to start one.

      Learning Support Pods:

      If your child is enrolled in an existing online school or local public, charter, or private school, and uses that school’s curriculum under the supervision of an adult in a learning pod, you do not need to register as a homeschool or private school. For example, KaiPod Learning offers learning pods for Harrisburg students enrolled in accredited virtual schools, and is expanding to additional Pennsylvania locations for the 2022-2023 school year. 

      The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services has laid out guidelines for families interested in joining learning support pods, and you can get more info on finding school-age childcare or establishing a learning pod in your state.

      A student holds up a sign celebrating school choice in Pennsylvania

      Education Resources for Pennsylvania Parents 

      For additional information about school choices in Pennsylvania, visit these resources: 

      School Choice Celebrations in Pennsylvania 

      National School Choice Week 2023 will take place January 22 – 28, 2023. So, we encourage all schools, homeschool groups, organizations and individuals to join the celebration. Check out ideas, inspiration, and more information

      Pennsylvania celebrated National School Choice Week 2022 with 1,054 events and activities across the state. Click the button below to learn more about school choice in Pennsylvania.

      Visit State Page

       

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