District of Columbia School Choice Roadmap

By: National School Choice Week Team

Last Upated: April 15, 2021

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 D.C. 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 D.C. In short, D.C. school choices include traditional public schools, public charter schools, public magnet schools, private schools, online academies, and homeschooling.

COVID-19 Update:

MCH Strategic Data, in partnership with Esri, have created a map to keep you informed of the rapid changes and impact of COVID-19 on school reopening plans and operations at the district level.  This resource tracks school district reopening data, learning models, sports participation, distance learning investments, and more.  Updates are made daily and new, timely insights will be added as the data is available. View the map below or on the MCH Strategic Data website.  

COVID-19 IMPACT: School Districts Status Updates for Fall 2020, current as of 11/13/2020, by MCH Strategic Data.  Compiled from public federal, state and local school districts information and media updates.

The District of Columbia Office of the State Superintendent of Education released a school reopening guidance document called “Health and Safety Guidance for Schools: COVID-19 Recovery Period. The information in this guidance is divided into two categories: preventing the spread of COVID-19 and response to exposure of students and staff to the virus. The information addresses actions the schools must take or actions the schools should consider.

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D.C. Traditional Public Schools

First off, families in Washington, D.C. can 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. 

Individual schools can decide to participate in “open enrollment” in the District of Columbia. What this means is that parents can apply to traditional public schools outside of the schools assigned to them. D.C. uses a lottery system called My School DC. Families can apply to up to 12 schools out of nearly all of D.C.’s traditional public schools and public charter schools through the common lottery application. The lottery system then matches open seats with applicants. Nearly three-quarters of students in the district attend a school other than their neighborhood school.

Find out more about public schools in D.C. at the D.C. State Board of Education website.

D.C. Charter Schools

Besides traditional public schools, you can also choose public charter schools in D.C. These schools are tuition-free public schools that have extra freedom to innovate and are accountable to authorizers for student achievement. Each public charter school has a charter which explains the school’s purpose and what specific community need it serves. For example, that could 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 to determine admittance.

Charter school legislation for Washington, D.C. was passed in 1995. Today, there are more than 100 charter schools in the district. You can apply to participating public charter schools through the My School DC Public School Lottery, and find a complete list of D.C. public charter schools

Learn more at the D.C. Charter School Alliance.

D.C. Magnet Schools

Magnet schools are another free public school option. These 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.

D.C. has a handful of public magnet schools or magnet programs. Duke Ellington School of the Arts, for instance, offers a unique dual enrollment curriculum where students receive professional arts training as well as academic preparation. 

D.C. Private Schools

In addition, you can choose D.C. 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. 

There are more than 45 private schools in the district. The average tuition for private schools in the state is $24,631 per year, but keep in mind that schools often are more affordable at the elementary level than high school.

While the cost of private school tuition may seem like a barrier, D.C. students whose families meet certain income limits may qualify for a state-run scholarship program. The establishment of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program was recently the subject of a feature film, Miss Virginia!

Additional funding may be available from other sources. Learn more at the Association of Independent Maryland & DC Schools, The Shepherd Foundation, Black Student Fund, and Latino Student Fund.

D.C. students hold school choice sign

D.C. 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. Students in Washington D.C., from kindergarten through eighth grade, can enroll full-time in Friendship Public Charter School Online, a fully online, tuition-free school. The school does not offer a part-time option, but paid part-time options may be available from other providers.

What is the deadline to enroll in online school in D.C. for 2020-2021?

Enrollment in Friendship Public Charter School Online takes place through the My School DC Public School Lottery. The application deadline has passed, but you may be able to submit a mid-year application. If you are matched or if a seat is available, you will receive email confirmations from both My School DC and a Friendship Public Charter School Online representative. 

Which online options still have seats available and in what grades for 2020-2021?

Since enrollment is facilitated by My School DC Public School Lottery, families must apply to the lottery to see whether they can access a seat at Friendship Public Charter School Online. Parents can also call 202-729-8287 with enrollment inquiries. 

Does the school provide technology and wifi?

At Friendship Public Charter School Online, an enrollment consultant will work with you to address technological and computer needs. 

D.C. Homeschooling

Homeschooling, the process of parents educating students at home, is permitted in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. As both technology and school choices have spread in D.C., homeschooling is an increasingly popular choice with more support and resources than ever.

All parents in D.C. have the freedom to homeschool their children, provided they meet certain requirements. Parents must provide an annual notification to the district of their intent to homeschool. D.C. requires homeschooling parents to teach specific subjects and also requires that they have a high school diploma or its equivalent to homeschool. 

Check here to learn more about homeschool laws and how to homeschool in D.C. You may also be interested in checking out the DC Homeschooling Program and Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling Home Educators.

Students in yellow scarves celebrate D.C. school choice

Education Resources for D.C. Parents

For additional information about school choices in D.C., visit these resources:

School Choice Celebrations in D.C.

National School Choice Week 2021 will take place January 24 –30, 2021. We encourage all schools, homeschool groups, organizations and individuals to join the celebration. Check out ideas, inspiration, and more information

The District of Columbia celebrated with a record-breaking 182 events and activities. Click the button below to learn more about school choice in D.C..

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