Choosing where your child goes to school is one of the biggest decisions you face. While it may feel intimidating to navigate your school options in Alabama and make a choice, you can do it! And remember, every child is unique. So, the “best” school for your child may look different than the “best” school for your neighbor’s child.
A good starting point for choosing a school is knowing your options. This post will break down the six main learning environments available in Alabama. In short, you can choose from traditional public schools, public charter schools, public magnet schools, private schools, online academies, and homeschooling.
First off, most families in Alabama choose for their children to attend traditional public schools. Traditional public schools are free to attend, open to all students, operated by school districts, and funded by federal, state, and local government. Did you know that public schools spend an average of $10,386 per pupil in Alabama?
In most states, families have some “open enrollment” options for public school, but Alabama does not offer open enrollment. What this means is that Alabama does not allow parents to choose traditional public schools outside of the schools assigned to their children by their districts. If you choose a traditional public school, it will likely need to be the school assigned by your district.
Depending on where you live in Alabama, you may have access to another public school option: public charter schools. These schools are tuition-free public schools that have extra freedom to innovate and are accountable to authorizers for student achievement.
Alabama enacted a charter school law in 2015, but only had one charter school until 2018. That year, the state’s second charter school — University Charter, operated by the University of West Alabama — opened.
Each public charter school has a charter which explains the school’s purpose and what specific community need it serves. For example, that be providing a STEAM program or offering a rigorous, literacy-based curriculum. If there are more families seeking admittance to a charter school than there are seats, the school typically uses a lottery system (like drawing random names out of a hat!) to determine admittance.
Magnet schools are another free public school option. Magnet schools allow kids to narrow in on a specific learning track, such as engineering or the performing arts; all the subjects at a magnet school are taught through the lenses of that specific track. Alabama has more than thirty magnet schools, and these might be a good option if there is one near you and your kid learns best by diving deep into a subject they are passionate about. If your child applies to and is accepted into a public magnet school, they can attend that school rather than their assigned public school.
In addition, you can choose private schools, nonpublic schools that charge tuition. Private schools come in all shapes and forms, from religious schools to schools designed for children with special needs. Alabama’s Indian Springs School offers a boarding school option with the motto of “learning through living,” for instance, while The Altamont School uses a college preparatory program where every class is an honors class.
While the cost of private school tuition may seem like a barrier, Alabama students below a certain income level or transferring from underperforming schools are eligible for state-run scholarship programs. Additional funding may be available from other sources. Also, effective in 2018, the federal government allows parents to save for K-12 private school tuition using tax-preferred 529 savings accounts?
Whether your child wants to accelerate learning or needs a quieter environment in which to focus, you may be interested in trying virtual school. Alabama offers several free, full-time online learning options for students, like Alabama Connections Academy and Alabama Virtual Academy. For free part-time classes, ACCESS Alabama functions as the state’s virtual school and is designed for high school students to take courses that may not be available (or easy to schedule) at their schools. Public school students in grades 9-12 can take classes for free; nonpublic school students can take courses for a fee.
In light of COVID-19, the Alabama Department of Education is taking steps to form a full-time, statewide online school that any K-12 student could opt into while remaining in their current district. This option may be available by August 2020.
Homeschooling, the process of parents educating students at home, is permitted in all 50 states, including Alabama. As both technology and school choices have spread in Alabama, homeschooling is an increasingly popular choice with more support and resources than ever. Check here to learn about homeschool laws and how to homeschool in Alabama. You may also be interested in checking out Homeschool Alabama.
For additional information about school choices in Alabama, visit these resources:
National School Choice Week 2021 will take place January 24 –30, 2021. We encourage all schools, homeschool groups, organizations and individuals to join the celebration. Click here for ideas, inspiration, and more information!
Alabama celebrated National School Choice Week 2020 with a record-breaking 1,107 events and activities across the state. Click the button below to learn more about school choice in Alabama.
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