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Last Upated: July 21, 2021
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, homeschooling, and learning pods.
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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 $10,007 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.
Find out more about public schools in your state here: Alabama’s Department of Education.
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. Today, the state has five operating charter schools.
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.
If you’d like to learn more, check out New Schools for Alabama (Charter Schools).
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. 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 thirty magnet schools. For instance, the Mobile County Public School District (Alabama’s largest school district) offers a list of its eight magnet schools. 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 aligned 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, and Decatur.
Read more: U.S. News & World Report’s ranking of magnet high schools in your state (*this list may not include all magnet options in your state)
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 has two scholarship programs that can help families who wish to attend private schools. Children from families who qualify for the federal free and reduced-price lunch program can apply to the Education Scholarship Program. Meanwhile, the Alabama Accountability Act of 2013 allows parents who transfer their student from a failing public school to a non-failing public school or accredited private school to apply for a refundable tax credit.
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, Alabama Virtual Academy, and Alabama Destinations Career Academy (which currently serves grades-K-10). Students zoned to Huntsville City Schools can also choose Huntsville 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 state has contracted with SchoolsPLP to provide school districts with virtual coursework they can administer as needed.
As of December 2020, Alabama Connections Academy has seats available in grades K-11 for the 2020-2021 academic year, and Alabama Destinations Career Academy has seats available in grades K-12. Alabama Virtual Academy is accepting waitlist applications for the January 2021 semester.
Alabama Virtual Academy at Eufaula City Schools provides one computer and an internet stipend if the family meets financial and academic standing requirements. Alabama Connections Academy does not provide technology or wifi.
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.
In Alabama, the state requires a notice of your intent to homeschool within 5 days of your start date. It is recommended that you formally withdraw from your current school so that your student is not marked truant. In the case that you want to switch back to public school in the middle of the school year, the school you are enrolling in may require records and placement testing.
Learn more about homeschool laws and how to homeschool in Alabama. You may also be interested in checking out Homeschool Alabama, the Alabama Department of Education’s Nonpublic Schools section, and Home Education and Responsible Teaching (HEART) Homeschool Support Group.
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.
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 Alabama. Read more about the requirements for homeschooling and get tips from HSLDA here.
If your learning pod contains multiple 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 Alabama classifies as a private school, how they’re regulated, and how to start one.
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.
For additional information about school choices in Alabama, visit these resources:
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!
Alabama celebrated National School Choice Week 2021 with 672 virtual events and activities across the state. Click the button below to learn more about school choice in Alabama.
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