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Last Upated: July 28, 2022
If you live in Alaska and are making a decision about K-12 education for your child, this post is for you. Where you send your child to school is one of the most impactful decisions you can make, but you’re not alone in it. Thousands of Alaska parents make school choices each year. And remember, each child is unique. So, the “best” school for your child may look different than the “best” school for your neighbor’s child.
Finding a great school for your family starts with knowing your options. This guide will breakdown the six types of schools available to you in Alaska, and provide some extra resources. In short, you can choose from traditional public schools, public charter schools, public magnet schools, private schools, online academies, and homeschooling. We’ll cover learning pods too!
If you’re looking for special education options, find out what services are available in Alaska at the Ultimate Guide to Special Education.
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By far, most families in Alaska and around the country choose traditional public school. Traditional public schools are free to attend, open to all students, operated by school districts, and funded by federal, state, and local government.
Alaska has limited open enrollment laws for public schools. What this means is that parents of students who are assigned to a particular neighborhood school may in some cases be able to transfer their children to another school in their district. For example, the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District has an online application portal where families can apply to a school outside their zoned “attendance area.” In other cases, children may be required to attend the school assigned to them by their district.
Open enrollment is an important way that parents have access to a broader variety of public schools. Find out more about public schools in your state at the Alaska Department of Education & Early Development and contact your school district to learn about your open enrollment options.
Depending on where you live in Alaska, public charter schools may be another public school option available to you. Like traditional public schools, charter schools are public, free, and usually 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 entities for results.
Alaska passed charter school legislation in 1995 and currently has 31 charter schools that serve more than 7,000 students. Each school has a charter which explains the school’s purpose and what specific community need it serves. For example, that might be providing a Spanish immersion program or offering a rigorous, literacy-based curriculum. If there are more families seeking admittance to a charter school than there are seats, a good old-fashioned lottery system is typically used to determine admittance.
Find frequently asked questions about Alaska charter schools at Alaska’s Department of Education & Early Development.
A third free, public school option is found in Alaska’s magnet schools. Magnet schools allow kids to narrow in on a specific learning track, such as engineering or the performing arts. Magnet schools teach all subjects through the lenses of their specific track.
Alaska has a handful of magnet schools scattered throughout the state. For example, Barnette Magnet School, located in the Fairbanks North Star Borough District, describes its offering this way: “Barnette’s magnet or ‘draw’ is a combination of: small exploration classes, a community-based Friday in Fairbanks Program, and quarterly all-school Exhibit Nights. These are the elements of the school that set it apart from other schools and make the Magnet School experience a rewarding one for both students and parents.”
If you’d like to learn more, you may want to check out U.S. News & World Report’s ranking of magnet high schools in your state.
Families in Alaska can also consider private schools, nonpublic schools that charge tuition. Private schools may offer a unique curriculum, smaller class sizes, or a faith-based tradition. Overall, there are about 60 private schools across the state of Alaska. These private schools come in all shapes and forms, from religious schools to schools designed for children with special needs. The average tuition for private schools in your state is $7,003 for elementary schools and $5,999 for high schools.
Unfortunately, there are no state-run scholarship options in Alaska at present, but private scholarships may be available. Additionally, Alaska has a funding assistance program that can make some private school courses more affordable for families. Essentially, the state sets aside funds in the form of an annual allotment for students enrolled in a state-funded correspondence program. Families can then use their student allotment to request reimbursements for approved educational expenses, which may include courses at private schools (though not full-time tuition).
Whether your child wants to accelerate learning or needs a quieter environment in which to focus, you may be interested in giving virtual school a try. Of course, virtual school is different and may feel like “drinking from a fire hose” at first, but for many families it becomes the perfect fit. In Alaska, middle- and high-school students in certain districts can enroll in online courses through the Alaska Digital Academy for a fee. Alaska doesn’t offer any statewide online schools or multi-district online schools, but families can consider national online learning programs, like Virtual Learning Academy Charter School, The Keystone School, and Laurel Springs School, for a fee.
On the district level, the ASD Virtual Program offers a free, fully online home learning program that Anchorage families can choose through their neighborhood or choice school. The virtual learning program is staffed by Anchorage School District teachers and allows families to maintain a connection to their local school. The Fairbanks North Star Borough School District and Ketchikan Gateway Borough School District also offer online options, and you can always ask your district about whether an online program is available to you.
In 2022, the Alaska legislature approved a new virtual education consortium. Once established, this will provide a library of virtual classes available to Alaska students. Additionally, Alaska has many correspondence school offerings, some of which are free, that families can choose from.
To read more about online learning in Alaska, check out the Digital Learning Collaborative’s state profile.
Alaska parents can also choose homeschooling, which sets a high bar for flexibility and customization for education. Homeschooling is the process of parents educating students at home and is an option in all 50 states.
In Alaska, the state only requires notice of your intent to homeschool if you are homeschooling as a religious private school. If so, you will need to provide notice by the first day of school. Of course, it is recommended that you formally withdraw from your current school so that your student is not marked truant. If you decide to switch back to public school, a portfolio of work or assessments will be used for placement.
You are not required to teach specific subjects or use specific standardized tests if you choose to homeschool in Alaska. If you homeschool, your child might still be eligible to participate in sports or activities at local public schools – reach out to your district to learn more.
Alaska stands out among the states for its flexible funding assistance program available to many homeschoolers! Essentially, the state sets aside funds in the form of an annual allotment for students (including homeschoolers) enrolled in one of 35 state-funded correspondence programs. According to Alaska’s Department of Education & Early Development, “This allotment can pay for items such as a student’s books, classes, school supplies, technology support, tutoring, music or activity lessons, and other items related to the student’s education.”
This allotment helps make homeschooling more affordable for some families. Note that the allotment amount may vary by correspondence program and may not be used to purchase religious curriculum. Homeschool in Alaska offers families clear information about allotment funds, as well as tips for selecting the best correspondence program or homeschool program for your family.
Finally, 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 Alaska. Read more about the requirements for homeschooling and get tips from HSLDA.
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 Alaska classifies as a private school, how they’re regulated, and how to start one.
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 additional information about school choices in Alaska, visit these resources:
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