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Last Upated: July 27, 2021
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, homeschooling, and learning pods.
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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 $10,397 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; so, students can request to transfer to any public school of their choice, provided the school has a policy allowing for open enrollment. In particular, Indiana parents can request that their child transfer to another district if there are crowded conditions at their current school or if another school 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 here: Indiana’s 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 6-12 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 100 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.
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. 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. 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 learning curriculum and structure. Many but not all private schools offer education in a faith-based environment. There are more than 650 private schools across the state of Indiana. The average tuition for private schools in the state is $5,561 for elementary schools and $9,956 for high schools.
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 $2,279 in 2019-2020) toward private school tuition. Low and middle income families may also be eligible for Indiana’s Choice Scholarship Program. In 2019-2020, more than 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). These ESAs will kick off in 2022-2023 and provide 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, and the state’s newest free, full-time virtual school, Phalen Virtual Leadership Academy, which was launched in the summer of 2020. Students in grades 7-12 can also consider Insight School of Indiana, while students in grades 9-12 can consider Indiana Connections Career Academy.
Another 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!
Indiana families can also choose one of the new private virtual schools in the state.
As of December 2020, Indiana Digital Learning School has seats available for grades K-10. Indiana Connections Academy has seats available for grades 6-11, with enrollment in grades K-5 subject to a waitlist. Phalen Virtual Leadership Academy has seats available for grades K-12. Indiana Connections Career Academy has seats available for grades 9-11. Insight School of Indiana no longer has seats available in any grades.
At Indiana Digital Learning School, all students have the option of receiving a computer; low income families can apply for a wifi stipend to be distributed at year end. At Indiana Connections Academy and Indiana Connections Career Academy, families do not receive technology and wifi unless they apply for a hardship exemption. Phalen Virtual Leadership Academy does not provide technology and wifi to students. At Insight School of Indiana, students may request a computer and internet if they qualify for free or reduced lunch.
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. In the case that you decide to return to public school in the middle of the school year, schools may make placement decisions based on what grade the parent feels is appropriate. Other schools will require proof of achievement and/or have the students complete assessments to determine the appropriate placement.
Indiana offers a tax dedication of up to $1,000 per child for homeschooling. 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 here. Note that homeschoolers are eligible to receive some special education services from Indiana school districts. Additionally, homeschool students in Indiana may still be eligible to participate in classes, sports, or activities at local public schools.
If your learning pod contains more than two families and will have 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 going to be enrolled in remote learning through your local public school and supervised by an adult in your learning pod, you do not need to register as a homeschool or private school. Keep in mind that you have multiple online learning options, including several permanent, full-time online schools that are available to students statewide.
For additional information about school choices in Indiana, visit these resources:
National School Choice Week 2022 will take place January 23 – 29, 2022. We encourage all schools, homeschool groups, organizations and individuals to join the celebration. Check out ideas, inspiration, and more information!
Indiana celebrated National School Choice Week 2021 with 925 virtual events and activities across the state. Click the button below to learn more about school choice in Indiana.
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