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Last Upated: September 27, 2021
Arkansas parents, this post is for you. Each year you face one of the biggest decisions you can ever make for your child: Where they attend school. Knowing all your options in Arkansas can help you select the best fit for your family.
There are a variety of school choices available to Arkansas families, and you can find one where your child is eager to attend and actively learning. You 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 Arkansas at the Ultimate Guide to Special Education.
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Most families in Arkansas choose traditional public schools for their child. Traditional public schools are free to attend, open to all students, operated by school districts, and funded by federal, state, and local government.
In Arkansas, the state has limited open enrollment laws. “Open enrollment” refers to whether parents are allowed to send their child to any public school, regardless of where it is located. In Arkansas, there are some limits on open enrollment, but families may be able to transfer to a public school beyond their neighborhood school. In particular, Arkansas families can use open enrollment to transfer from a public school in academic distress to a public school that is not in academic distress.
Generally, transportation is not covered by the school you use open enrollment to select, unless that school district is under facilities distress or a special agreement is made between the receiving and sending districts.
Open enrollment can be a valuable way for you to have options within the public school system; you can visit multiple public schools and decide which is best for your family. If you would like to participate in open enrollment, contact your local district.
Find out more at the Arkansas’ Department of Education.
Additionally, you can consider charter schools. Charter schools are tuition-free public schools that are allowed extra freedom to innovate with curriculum and learning methods. In 2018-2019, Arkansas had about 86 public charter schools for parents to choose from. Each school has a charter which explains the school’s purpose and what specific community need it serves, whether that be providing a language 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 lottery system is usually used to determine admittance.
In Arkansas there are both conversion schools and open-enrollment schools. Conversion schools are traditional public schools that have converted to charter schools. They only serve students within their district. Open-enrollment charter schools are run by a governmental entity, higher learning organization, or non-sectarian organization and can draw students from various districts.
As Arkansas Department of Education puts it, “Beyond the two basic types of charters, the concepts put in place by a public charter school are as broad as the imagination.” For one example of what charter schools offer Arkansas families, check out our conversation with LISA Academy a system of high-performing STEM charter schools. Another Arkansas charter school we talked to, Northwest Arkansas Classical Academy, makes classical education available to families in a free, public school environment.
Magnet schools are another option. These are free public schools that allow kids to narrow in on a specific learning track, such as engineering or the performing arts. A magnet school teaches all subjects through the lenses of that specific track. These might be a good option if your kid learns best by focusing in on a subject he or she is passionate about.
Private schools are nonpublic schools that charge tuition. There are about 175 private schools across the state of Arkansas. 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 the state is $5,950 for elementary schools and $6,736 for high schools.
Arkansas has a state-run scholarship program called the Succeed Scholarship Program for children with special needs; this can help eligible families afford private school tuition. In 2021, the Succeed Scholarship Program was expanded to include children of active-duty or reserve members of the U.S. military. Families can learn more and download an application at The Reform Alliance. In 2019-2020 there were 427 Arkansas students using the Succeed Scholarship.
In 2021, Arkansas created a new tax-credit scholarship program that about 38% of families statewide are income eligible for. Launching in 2022, this Philanthropic Investment in Arkansas Kids Scholarship Program offers scholarships of up to about $6,000 that eligible students can use for private school expenses.
Learn more at Private School Review: Arkansas.
There are many reasons to give online learning a try, from sports schedules to bullying issues to medical needs. Arkansas offers several free, full-time online learning options for students, like Arkansas Connections Academy and Arkansas Virtual Academy. There are also district online school options; for example, students in the Siloam Springs school district or students using open enrollment can also choose Siloam Springs Virtual Academy.
For part-time classes, Virtual Arkansas offers online options for any Arkansas student, though online classes for students in grades K-6 are limited. Students enrolled in a public school can take all or some of their Virtual Arkansas classes online. While Virtual Arkansas’ website lists fees for courses, the local school district pays those, not students and their families.
Arkansas Connections Academy offers rolling enrollment on a first come, first serve basis until the school’s cap of 4,500 students is reached. After that, students can still apply to be added to a waitlist.
As of September 2021, Arkansas Virtual Academy is still accepting applications and Arkansas Connections Academy has seats available for grades K-12.
Arkansas Connections Academy does offer technology and wifi assistance based on income. Similarly, at Arkansas Virtual Academy, if you qualify for free or reduced lunch, a computer and wifi stipend may be provided. District online schools have varying policies; for example, Siloam Springs Virtual Academy provides students a Chromebook for temporary use.
Parents can also choose homeschooling! Homeschooling is the process of parents educating students at home. As both technology and school choices have spread in Arkansas, homeschooling is an increasingly popular choice.
In Arkansas, the state requires notice of your intent to homeschool your child by August 15 of each school year. If you are making the decision to homeschool mid-year, you must provide notice 5 days prior to withdrawing. In the case that you move, you must file your notice to homeschool within 30 days of establishing residency at your new location. 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 will require a transcript with courses taken and grades, as well as a portfolio, for placement into classes. The school may deem it necessary to administer assessments for placement.
Check out The Education Alliance, Cabot Area Home Education (CAHE), the Arkansas Department of Education’s homeschool page, or Homeschool Legal Defense Association’s Arkansas page for more resources about Arkansas homeschooling.
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 the availability of Prenda Microschools (one microschool model) for Arkansas families.
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 Arkansas. Read more about the requirements for homeschooling and get tips from HSLDA here. Note that homeschooled students with disabilities in Arkansas may be eligible to access special education services from their local school districts. Additionally, homeschooled students in Arkansas 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 Arkansas 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 multiple free, full-time online schools that are available to students statewide.
For additional information about school choices in Arkansas, 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!
Arkansas celebrated National School Choice Week 2021 with 462 virtual events and activities across the state. Click the button below to learn more about school choice in Arkansas.
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