Guide to School Choice in Illinois

By: National School Choice Week Team

Choosing a school? You’ve got options. 

Wondering about K-12 education choices in Illinois? You may have more options than you think. Understanding these options can help you confidently choose the school that best matches your child’s personality, strengths, and interests. 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 you starts with knowing your options. In short, you can choose from traditional public schools, public charter schools, public magnet schools, private schools, online academies, and homeschooling.

No time to read it all now? Enter your email address and we’ll send you a cheat sheet that you can print and share.

Illinois Traditional Public Schools

First off, you can choose traditional public schools. They are operated by school districts, free to attend, open to all students, and funded by federal, state, and local government. Did you know that Illinois spends an average of $13, 829 per public school student each year

Illinois has fairly flexible open enrollment laws. “Open enrollment” allows parents to send their children to any public school, regardless of where it is located and what neighborhood they live in. This is a valuable option because it gives you access to more public schools. In many cases, you can visit multiple schools and select the one best for you. Illinois parents may be able to choose any traditional public school within their district but should check with their local district to find out more. 

Illinois Charter Schools

Families in Illinois can also consider public charter schools. Illinois also has 141 public charter schools, most of which are in Chicago. These are free public schools that are typically open to anyone. They are distinct from traditional public schools in that they are allowed extra freedom to innovate while being held accountable for student achievement. 

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. 

For more information on charter schools in your Illinois, click here

Illinois Magnet Schools

Magnet schools are free public schools that allow kids to focus on a specific theme, like STEM, Montessori, or the performing arts. If you have a magnet school near you with a theme that your child is interested in, that could be a good school choice for you. Read about some of the magnet schools in the Chicago Public Schools district here

Illinois Private Schools

Families in Illinois 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. In Illinois there are a variety of state-run scholarship programs, some of which can help make private school tuition more affordable for families. 

Illinois’s private schools come in all shapes and forms, from Montessori schools to schools designed for children with special needs. For instance, one private school we talked to, Plato Academy, uses a Socratic discussion method and mixed age group classes. This creates a unique learning environment that honors students’ individuality. Principal Marianthi Koritsaris described, “We don’t say, ‘Well you’re the sixth graders, you’re going to do this curriculum.’ They’re all immersed in the same curriculum. So each student, regardless of grade level, rises to all of the challenges of the curriculum based on their own individual abilities.”

Illinois Online Learning

Whether your child wants to accelerate learning or needs a quieter environment, you may be interested in trying virtual school. Illinois students in grades 5-12 can take supplemental online courses through Illinois Virtual School. While Illinois Virtual School charges fees, some schools and districts pay those fees on behalf of their students. Students can register through their local school or as a homeschool student. 

Illinois Homeschooling

Homeschooling is another school choice in Illinois. Homeschooling is the process of parents educating students at home and is permitted in all 50 states. As technology and school choices have spread in Illinois, homeschooling has more support and resources than ever. You can find a great introduction to homeschooling in Illinois here. You may also wish to check out Illinois Homeschool Information

A student celebrates school choice in Illinois

Education Resources for Illinois Parents 

For additional information about school choices in Arizona, visit these resources: 

School Choice Celebrations in Illinois

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. Click here for ideas, inspiration, and more information! 

Illinois celebrated National School Choice Week 2020 with a record-breaking 1,679 events and activities across the state. Click the button below to learn more about school choice in Illinois.

Visit State Page


No time to read it all now? Enter your email address and we’ll send you a cheat sheet that you can print and share.

Sign-Up for email Updates

"Shining a spotlight on effective educational options for every child"