Pennsylvania School Choice Roadmap

By: National School Choice Week Team

Last Upated: May 24, 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, homeschooling, and learning pods.

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. Pennsylvania parents wanting to transfer their child to a different public school than the one they are assigned should contact their local school district. 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 here: Pennsylvania’s 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. Pennsylvania offers several free, full-time online learning options for students, such as PA Virtual Charter School, Reach Cyber Charter School, Agora Cyber Charter School, Commonwealth Charter Academy, 21st Century Cyber Charter School, PA Leadership Charter School, PA Cyber Charter School, and Insight PA Cyber Charter School.

      After a student has been accepted into an online 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.

      What is the deadline to enroll in online school in Pennsylvania for 2021-2022?

      PA Virtual Charter School, Reach Cyber Charter School, Insight PA Cyber Charter School, 21st Century Cyber Charter School, and Commonwealth Charter School all have rolling enrollment policies. 

      Which online options still have seats available and in what grades for 2021-2022?

      As of September 2021, Insight PA Cyber Charter School, PA Virtual Charter School, Reach Cyber Charter School, and Commonwealth Charter Academy have seats available in all grades. 

      Does the school provide technology and wifi?

      At PA Virtual Charter School, a laptop, printer, and internet stipend will be provided to eligible students. At Reach Cyber Charter School, students may request one computer and an internet subsidy per household. At Insight PA Cyber Charter School, a laptop is provided to every family. At Commonwealth Charter Academy, a computer, printer, and internet subsidy is available to students. 21st Century Charter School provides computers to students. At PA Leadership Charter School, each student receives a laptop, printer, and online connectivity.

      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 homeschooled students in Pennsylvania may still be eligible to participate in sports or activities at local public schools.

      In the case that you decide to return to public school, contact your local school to determine the process.

      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. Note that homeschoolers with special learning needs are eligible to receive special education support and resources from local public school districts. Additionally, homeschooled students in Pennsylvania may still be eligible to participate in sports, activities, or classes at local public schools.

      If your learning pod contains more than two families and will have 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 going to be enrolled in remote learning through your local public school and supervised by an adult in your learning pod, you do not need to register as a homeschool or private school. Keep in mind that you have multiple online learning options, including several free, full-time online schools that are available to students statewide. 

      The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services has laid out guidelines for families interested in joining learning support pods. These pods can serve up to 12 students of the same school-age who move between parents’ houses on remote learning days. Pods of more than 6 children are required to meet certain state requirements, such as notifying the Department of Human Services of their pod, developing a plan for emergencies, and ensuring that anyone working with children undergoes a background check. Learn more with this complete list of policies for Pennsylvania learning support pods

      Get more info on finding school-age childcare or establishing a learning pod in Pennsylvania. As of September 2020, there are more than 50 learning pods in Pennsylvania. 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. 

      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 2022 will take place January 23 – 29, 2022. We encourage all schools, homeschool groups, organizations and individuals to join the celebration. Check out ideas, inspiration, and more information

      Pennsylvania will celebrate 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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