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Last Upated: August 26, 2022
Choosing where your child goes to school is one of the biggest decisions you’ll make as a parent, but you’re not alone in it. Thousands of Indiana parents make K-12 education decisions each year. You can do it! And remember, each child is unique. So, the “best” school for your child may be different than the “best” school for your neighbor’s child.
If you live in Indiana, you have access to six main types of school. Understanding these options is the best starting point for finding a great school for your family. In short, you can choose from traditional public schools, public charter schools, public magnet schools, private schools, online academies, and homeschooling. We’ll also talk about learning pods!
Looking for special education options? You can learn what special education services are available in Indiana at the Ultimate Guide to Special Education.
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Most Indiana children attend traditional public schools, which represent the most well-known school choice. Traditional public schools are operated by school districts, free to attend, open to all students, and funded by taxpayers. On average, Indiana spends $10,935 per public school student each year. You can search your school’s spending and that of nearby schools at Project Nickel.
Each state has its own open enrollment rules. Open enrollment refers to whether parents can send their children to any public school, regardless of where it is located. In Indiana, parents have restricted open enrollment. What this means is that Indianapolis Public Schools requires schools within the district to allow transfers. And in other districts, students can request to transfer to any public school of choice, provided the school has a policy allowing for open enrollment. For a real-world example, check out Noblesville Schools’ transfer process.
In particular, parents can request that their child transfer to another district if there are crowded conditions at their current school or if another school district offers curriculum important to their child’s vocational aspirations. Open enrollment is a valuable form of public school choice, giving parents more tuition-free options for their child. If you would like to participate in open enrollment, contact your local district to learn more.
Find out more about public schools in your state at the Indiana Department of Education.
Besides traditional public schools, charter schools are another free, public school option. Charter schools are public schools that are allowed the freedom to innovate while being held accountable for student achievement. The school’s charter describes what unique community need the school fills, and the school may be authorized by a governing body, a college, or the Indiana Charter School Board.
For example, one charter school we interviewed, Career Academy at South Bend, uses a project-based learning style to engage 6-12th grade students in highly technical building projects. “We emphasize the high-demand, high-wage jobs in our region: construction, engineering, computer science, biomedical and health sciences,” Career Academy’s Superintendent Alex Hammel told us. “We’ve got students doing internships at manufacturing companies and all these places. Employers are absolutely dying for talented students, so this is a great place for them. And the students are grateful because they’re having these amazing opportunities before they’re even out of high school.”
Indiana opened its first eleven charter schools in 2002. Today, there are more than 110 charter schools across the state, providing an important tuition-free education option for families. If there are more families seeking admittance to a charter school than there are seats, a lottery system (like drawing random names out of a hat!) is usually used to determine admittance.
The National Alliance of Public Charter Schools has ranked Indiana the top state in the nation for having strong public charter school laws. Learn more about Indiana’s charter schools at the Indiana Charter Schools Network.
Additionally, you can choose magnet schools. These free public schools allow kids to focus on specialized themes, like International Baccalaureate, Montessori, or the performing arts. Indiana has several magnet schools families can consider. In the Indianapolis Public School district, for example, there are more than 15 magnet elementary and middle schools. Meanwhile, the South Bend Community School Corporation has more than 20 magnet schools or programs, and Fort Wayne Community Schools has five magnet schools. If your child learns best by focusing in on a subject he or she is passionate about and you have a magnet school in your area, this may be a good choice for you.
You can also consider private schools. Indiana’s private schools are nonpublic schools that charge tuition and have more freedom in curriculum and structure. Many but not all private schools offer education in a faith-based environment. There are about 650 private schools across the state of Indiana. The average tuition for private schools in the state is $5,530 for elementary schools and $10,262 for high schools. If tuition seems like a barrier, keep in mind that nearly 80% of Indiana students are eligible for a voucher or tax-credit scholarship to help with expenses.
Indiana has quite a few options to help parents afford private school if they decide that is best for their child. Parents in Indiana can take tax deductions for private school (or homeschool) expenses. Also, through Indiana’s Tax-Credit Scholarship program, low and middle-income level families are eligible to apply for scholarships (averaging $2,346 in 2020-2021) toward private school tuition. Low and middle income families may also be eligible for Indiana’s Choice Scholarship Program. In 2020-2021, nearly 36,000 students participated in this voucher program. Families participating in the voucher program can even use the funds to attend one of Indiana’s new private virtual schools.
In 2021, the state expanded its existing scholarships and created new Education Savings Accounts (ESAs). This ESA program kicked off for the 2022-2023 school year and provides flexible educational funding for students with special needs.
Free, full-time online learning options for Indiana students include Indiana Connections Academy, Indiana Digital Learning School, Indiana Gateway Digital Academy, Phalen Virtual Leadership Academy and Achieve Virtual, the only public virtual statewide K-12 school operated by a local Indiana school district. Students in grades 7-12 can also consider Hoosier College and Career Academy (formerly Insight School of Indiana), while students in grades 9-12 can consider Indiana Connections Career Academy.
Families who qualify for the state’s voucher program may be able to apply those vouchers to two newly-accredited private virtual schools, GEO Focus Academy and Faith Prep.
A local, fee-based option Indiana students can choose is IU High School, a fully accredited online private high school run by Indiana University. Students at IU High School can take courses to supplement their educational experiences in brick and mortar institutions, or students may pursue a high school diploma online full-time. IU High school was founded in 1925, so it’s been allowing students to attain a high school diploma at a distance for nearly a century!
Finally, some schools will cover costs for students to take part-time high school courses through Indiana Online. Many families choose to use Indiana Online for summer school courses.
To read more about online learning in Indiana, including hybrid schools and single-district online offerings, check out the Digital Learning Collaborative’s state profile.
Finally, homeschooling, the process of parents educating students at home, is permitted in Indiana and all other states. As technology and choices have spread in Indiana, homeschooling is an increasingly popular choice with more support than ever.
In Indiana, the state does not require notice of your intent to homeschool. However, it is recommended that you formally withdraw your child from their current school so your student is not marked truant. If you decide to return to public school, schools may make placement decisions based on what grade the parent feels is appropriate, or use other assessments to determine placement.
You are not required to teach specific subjects or use specific standardized tests if you choose to homeschool in Indiana. Homeschool students may be eligible to participate in classes, sports, or activities at local public schools, though restrictions may apply – you can reach out to your district about their policies! Additionally, homeschoolers are eligible to receive some special education services from Indiana school districts.
Indiana offers a tax deduction of up to $1,000 per child for homeschooling. For more, check out a great how-to about homeschooling in Indiana.
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.
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 Indiana. 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 Indiana 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 Indiana, visit these resources:
If your student is struggling with math or reading, your child may qualify for Indiana’s new scholarship program, which gives parents funding for tutoring for their child.
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