Choosing a school? You’ve got options.
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 main learning environments available in Alabama. In short, you can choose from traditional public schools, public charter schools, public magnet schools, private schools, online learning, homeschooling, and microschooling and mix-and-match learning.
Looking for special education options? You can learn what special education services are available in Alabama at the Ultimate Guide to Special Education.
- Traditional Public Schools
- Public Charter Schools
- Public Magnet Schools
- Private Schools
- Online Schools
Alabama Traditional Public Schools
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 $10,683 per pupil in Alabama? If you’d like to learn more, then you can search your school’s spending and that of nearby schools at Project Nickel.
In most states, families have some open enrollment options for public school. Open enrollment refers to whether you can enroll your child in a public school outside of your assigned neighborhood school. In Alabama, you can transfer your child to a different public school if you are zoned for a “failing school.” In other cases, if you choose a traditional public school, it will likely need to be the school assigned by your district.
Find out more about public schools in your state at the Alabama State Department of Education. You can also learn more about Alabama’s open enrollment options in this 50-state report on public school open enrollment.
Alabama Charter Schools
Additionally, depending on where you live in Alabama, you may have access to another public school option: public charter schools. Essentially, 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. As of 2023, Alabama has at least 14 operating charter schools, with more in the approval process. For example, Alabama’s first performing arts charter school is approved to open in 2024 in Mobile. Additionally, Alabama recently passed a law modifying its charter school law to encourage more growth.
Each public charter school has a charter which explains the school’s purpose and what specific community need it serves. For example, that might 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.
If you’d like to learn more, check out New Schools for Alabama (Charter Schools) or the Alabama State Department of Education’s charter school resources.
Alabama Magnet Schools
Magnet schools are another free public school option in Alabama. 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. If your child applies to and is accepted into a public magnet school, they can attend that school rather than their assigned public school.
Alabama has more than 30 magnet schools. For instance, the Mobile County Public School District (Alabama’s largest school district) offers a list of its nine magnet schools. As the district explains, “Our choice schools embody the belief that highly motivated and academically focused students have interests and talents that are better cultivated in a magnet school program. Our magnet schools have focused themes and curricula in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), Fine and Performing Arts, and International Baccalaureate.” In Mobile County, students are accepted into magnet schools based on a lottery system, and must meet entrance criteria. Other Alabama districts with magnet schools include Huntsville, Montgomery, Tuscaloosa, Phenix, and Decatur.
Three of Alabama’s magnet schools are statewide schools: Birmingham’s Alabama School of Fine Arts, Mobile’s School of Math and Science, and Huntsville’s School of Cyber Technology and Engineering. Governor Ivey has proposed a fourth statewide magnet school, the Alabama School of Healthcare Sciences, which may open in west Alabama by 2026.
If you want to learn more, then you may want to take a look at U.S. News & World Report’s ranking of magnet high schools in your state.
Alabama Private Schools
In addition, you can choose private schools, nonpublic schools that charge tuition. Private schools definitely 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.
All in all, there are more than 450 private schools across the state of Alabama. The average tuition for private schools in the state is $7,680 per year for elementary schools and $8,199 for high schools.
While tuition may seem like a barrier, Alabama has two scholarship programs for families who wish to attend private schools. As of 2023, children whose household income is below 250% of the federal poverty level, as well as students with Individualized Education Plans, can apply to the Education Scholarship Program. This program provides tax-credit scholarships of up to $10,000 for students to attend a public or private school of their choice. While the program prioritizes students at “priority schools” (schools with a D or F on their state report card), a limited number of students not assigned to priority schools can receive scholarships.
Additionally, the Alabama Accountability Act allows families in priority schools to claim an income tax credit for the cost of moving their child to a different public or qualifying private school.
Alabama Online Learning
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. Statewide options include Alabama Connections Academy, Alabama Destinations Career Academy, and Alabama Virtual Academy. Genesis Innovative School is based out of the Conecuh County system but is available to students statewide. Similarly, Athens Renaissance School is a district-run option that offers a fully virtual program for students statewide, as well as a blended program for students in-district. Jefferson County Virtual Academy of Learning is also available to students statewide, but in-district students can participate in extracurriculars at their zoned school. Alabama families willing to travel to Elmore County a few days a year for state testing can also consider The Edge Virtual School.
For free, part-time classes, ACCESS Alabama functions as the state’s virtual school and is designed for students to take high school courses that may not be available (or easy to schedule) at their schools. Public school students in grades 7-12 can take classes for free; nonpublic school students can take courses for a fee.
As a graduation requirement, all Alabama students are required to take at least one online or technology-enhanced course.
To read more about online learning in Alabama, check out the Digital Learning Collaborative’s state profile.
Another school choice is homeschooling, the process of parents educating students at home, which is permitted in all 50 states. As both technology and school choices have spread in Alabama, homeschooling is an increasingly popular choice with more support and resources than ever.
In Alabama, if you are establishing a “home-based private school,” you must notify your local superintendent within 5 days of the start of public school. You may also homeschool with a church school or using a private tutor. Whichever method you choose, it is recommended that you formally withdraw from your current school so that your student is not marked truant.
You are not required to teach specific subjects or use specific standardized tests if you choose to homeschool in Alabama. Your homeschooled child might still be eligible to participate in sports at your local public school, provided he or she meets the district’s requirements.
In the case that you want to switch back to public school, the school you are enrolling in may require records and placement testing.
Learn more about homeschool laws and how to homeschool in Alabama. You can also check out Homeschool Alabama, Home School Legal Defense Association – Alabama, the Alabama State Department of Education’s Nonpublic Schools section, and the Alabama Homeschool Activities Facebook Group.
Alabama Microschools and Mix-and-Match Learning
Today, many Alabama 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, close-knit relationships, and emphasizing children as individual learners.
Here are just a few examples of the microschools and nontraditional learning choices for families in Alabama:
Hope United Academy in Madison is a Christian microschool specifically designed to serve students with ADD, ADHD, dyslexia, high-functioning autism, or processing issues.
Morae Classical Schools, which aims to open campuses near military bases in Alabama, will blend classical education, online learning, and in-person activities, offering character-based education for children of military families.
Build UP in Birmingham is a small, early-college workforce development high school that provides low-income youth with career skills and paid apprenticeships.
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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