Hawaii School Choice Roadmap

By: National School Choice Week Team

Last Upated: January 19, 2023

Choosing a school? You’ve got options. 

The “best” school looks different for each family. After all, your child has a unique personality, academic strengths, and interests. That being the case, knowing your K-12 options in Hawaii can help you choose a great school for your child with confidence. This post will breakdown the six types of schools available to you, as well as provide some extra resources. 

In short, Hawaii families can choose from traditional public schools, public charter schools, private schools, online academies, homeschooling, and learning pods.

Looking for special education options? You can learn what special education services are available in Hawaii at the Ultimate Guide to Special Education.

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Traditional public schools do not charge tuition. They are managed by school districts and do not require students to pass tests to enroll.
Public charter schools do not charge tuition. They are usually managed by nonprofit organizations and do not require students to pass tests to enroll.
Public magnet schools do not charge tuition. They are managed by school districts and focus on themes, such as math, science, technology, and the arts.
Private schools charge tuition, but scholarships are often available via state programs or by individual schools. Private schools are privately managed and can be faith-based or secular.

      Hawaii Traditional Public Schools

      Most children in Hawaii (and in America) 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. In Hawaii, the state spends an average of $16,564 per public school pupil each year. You can search your school’s spending and that of nearby schools at Project Nickel.

      Each state has different open enrollment laws for public school. These laws determine whether parents can choose to send their child to any traditional public school, such as a school outside their neighborhood. In Hawaii, the state operates as a single school district divided into 15 “complex areas.” Hawaii parents should contact the state education agency about its open enrollment policies, and whether they can consider schools outside their assigned area. A “geographic exception” transfer may be allowed, for example, if a student wishes to attend a public school with a special program of study not offered in their home school

      Open enrollment is a valuable choice for parents because it gives families access to more free, public school options. Traditional public schools aren’t all the same; they may differ in learning methods and one may be a better fit than another for your child. 

      Find out more about public schools in your state at the Hawaii State Department of Education.

      Hawaii Charter Schools

      Depending on where you live in Hawaii, you may have another public school option in charter schools. Charter schools are tuition-free public schools that are allowed extra freedom to innovate with curriculum and learning methods. 

      Hawaii passed charter school legislation in 1994. As of 2019, Hawaii had more than 35 charter schools that families could choose from; you can find a list of Hawaii’s charter schools on the Hawaii State Department of Education website.

      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.

      Hawaii Magnet Schools

      In most states, families can also choose magnet schools. These are free public schools that allow kids to narrow in on a specific learning track, such as engineering or the performing arts. At a magnet school, all the subjects are taught through the lenses of that specific track. Unfortunately,  there are no freestanding public magnet schools currently in operation in Hawaii. There may be magnet programs in traditional public schools, and the law allows for independent magnet schools, so stay tuned in the future! 

      Hawaii Private Schools

      Families in Hawaii 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. Hawaii’s more than 130 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 $13,669 for elementary schools and $16,661 for high schools. Unfortunately, in Hawaii there are not currently any state-run scholarships to help families with the cost of private school, though private scholarships may be available. Additionally, families can save for K-12 private school tuition using tax-preferred 529 savings accounts

      Learn more at the Catholic Diocese of Honolulu School Directory and Private School Review: Hawaii

      Hawaii Online Learning

      High school and middle school students enrolled in any traditional public or charter school can take up to two online courses for free through the Hawaii Virtual Learning Network – Hawaii Online Courses (formerly known as the Hawaii E-School).

      During the pandemic, some districts developed online learning plans, and some of these may still be available for the 2022-2023 school year. You can find a complete list of these options at the Hawaii State Department of Education.

      Additionally, parents who would like to enroll their student in an online school full-time can hire a private provider. Paid options such as George Washington University Online High SchoolThe Keystone School, Excel High School, and K12 Private Academy are available in any state, including Hawaii.

      Finally, there are blended learning options for Hawaii families statewide. These include Hawaii Technology Academy, which is Hawaii’s largest statewide public charter school, and Myron B. Thompson Academy, an accelerated curriculum charter school and extension of Hawaii’s Virtual Learning Network that operates through campuses on Kauai, Oahu, Maui, Hawaii-Kona, and Hawaii-Hilo. 

      To read more about online learning in Hawaii, check out the Digital Learning Collaborative’s state profile.

      Hawaii Homeschooling

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

      Hawaii does not require homeschooling parents to teach specific subjects but does require a structured curriculum and some level of assessment. In general, children who are homeschooled may face roadblocks if they want to participate in public school sports in Hawaii. But, you can always look for other sports leagues and activities near you.

      Also, Hawaii may have funding assistance available if you decide to homeschool through a charter homeschool program. If you decide to switch back to public school from homeschooling, be sure to submit notification to the principal of your zoned public school.

      Find a great how-to about homeschooling in Hawaii at the Home School Legal Defense Association. You may also want to check out the Hawaii Homeschool Association and Christian Homeschoolers of Hawaii

      Hawaii Learning Pods

      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.

      Self-Directed 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 Hawaii. 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 Hawaii classifies as a private school, how they’re regulated, and how to start one.

      Learning Support Pods:

      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. 

      Young children celebrate school choice in Hawaii

      Education Resources for Hawaii Parents 

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