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Last Upated: June 19, 2022
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. Did you know that Arkansas spends about $10,345 per public school pupil each year? You can search your school’s spending and that of nearby schools at Project Nickel.
“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, like seat capacity, but families may be able to transfer to a public school of choice 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.
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 2019-2020, Arkansas had about 83 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 usually 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.
You can find a list of Arkansas’ more than 30 magnet schools and programs at the Arkansas Department of Education Data Center. For example, one of Arkansas’ magnet schools is Hot Springs Park Magnet, which has an International Baccalaureate focus. Districts with magnet schools include Hot Springs, Marion, and Texarkana Arkansas School District No.7.
Private schools are nonpublic schools that charge tuition. There are about 170 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 $6,158 for elementary schools and $7,163 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 2020-2021 there were 651 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.
Additionally, ACE Scholarships offers partial scholarships to K-12 private schools for low-income families in Arkansas.
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. These are multi-district, fully online options. More options are on the way: Two additional statewide virtual charter schools have been approved to open.
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.
There are also some district online school options; for example, Bentonville Schools, Siloam Springs Virtual Academy, and the Van Buren School District offer full-time virtual learning. Hybrid learning options include the Springdale School District’s Virtual Innovation Academy and LISA Academy Arkansas Hybrid School.
To read more about online learning in Arkansas, check out the Digital Learning Collaborative’s state profile.
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.
You are not required to teach specific subjects or use specific standardized tests if you choose to homeschool in Arkansas. Your child might still be eligible to participate in sports, activities, or classes at the local public school, though restrictions may apply. Additionally, homeschooled students with disabilities in Arkansas may be eligible to access special education services from their local school districts.
In the case that you want to switch back to public school, the school will require a transcript with courses taken and grades, as well as a portfolio, for placement into classes.
Check out The Education Alliance, Cabot Area Home Education (CAHE), the Arkansas Department of Education’s homeschool page, or Home School Legal Defense Association – Arkansas 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.
If your learning pod contains more than two families and will have parents or other 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 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 Arkansas, visit these resources:
National School Choice Week 2023 will take place January 22 – 28, 2023. So, 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 2022 with 336 events and activities across the state. Click the button below to learn more about school choice in Arkansas.
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