Massachusetts School Choice Roadmap

By: National School Choice Week Team

Last Upated: January 19, 2023

Choosing a school? You’ve got options. 

Massachusetts parents, this post is for you. Each year you face one of the biggest decisions you can make on behalf of your child: Where to send your child to school. 

Each child is unique. So, the “best” school for your neighbor’s child may look different than the “best” school for your child. Knowing all your K-12 options can help you find a school where your child is eager to attend and actively learning. 

In Massachusetts, you can choose from traditional public schools, public charter schools, public magnet schools, private schools, online academies, homeschooling, and learning pods.

Looking for special education options? You can learn what special education services are available in Massachusetts 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.

      Massachusetts Traditional Public Schools

      Massachusetts’s traditional public schools are operated by school districts, free to attend, open to all students, and funded by federal, state, and local government. Massachusetts spends an average of $18,733 per public school student each year. You can search your school’s spending and that of nearby schools at Project Nickel. 

      In Massachusetts, each district decides whether it will participate in open enrollment. “Open enrollment” allows parents to send their children to any public school, regardless of where it is located. For the 2021-2022 school year, 170 Massachusetts districts (53% of districts statewide) chose to participate in open enrollment. Some of these districts, however, only allowed transfers for certain grades. If you are interested in transferring your child to a different public school than you are assigned, you should talk to your local school district about its policies. Open enrollment is a valuable option for parents because it gives them more opportunities within the public school system, allowing them to select the school that best matches their child’s needs.

      For an example of the transfer process and timeline in your state, check out Boston Public Schools’ transfer guidelines. Keep in mind that parents are generally responsible for transportation when their student is participating in open enrollment, unless the transfer addresses racial imbalances or the student qualifies for free or reduced price lunch.

      Find out more about public schools in your state at the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

      Massachusetts Charter Schools

      Also, Massachusetts families can choose charter schools! These schools are tuition-free public schools that are open to all students; charter schools differ from traditional public school in that they are allowed extra freedom to innovate with curriculum and learning methods. Massachusetts currently has more than 70 charter schools that parents can choose from. You can find a list of these schools at the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

      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. Charter schools are also held accountable to authorizing entities. If there are more families seeking admittance to a charter school than there are seats, an old-fashioned lottery system is usually used to randomly determine admittance. 

      Learn more from the Massachusetts Charter School Association

      Massachusetts Magnet Schools

      Depending on where you live, you may have access to a third type of public school: magnet schools. These schools are free public schools that allow kids to focus on specific themes, like science or the performing arts. Massachusetts has just a handful of magnet schools, such as Worcester Arts Magnet School, Chandler Magnet School, and Tatnuck Magnet School. A magnet school may be a good choice if your student learns best by diving deeply into a subject they are passionate about. Contact your school district to learn if there any magnet schools or programs near you.

      Massachusetts Private Schools

      Families in Massachusetts 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. Massachusetts’s private schools come in all shapes and forms, from religious schools to schools designed for children with special needs. There are more than 830 private schools across the state of Massachusetts.

      The average tuition for private schools in the state is $20,478 for elementary schools and $35,218 for high schools. Unfortunately, there are no state-run scholarship options in Massachusetts at present, but private scholarships may be available. Also, the federal government allows parents to save for K-12 private school tuition using tax-preferred 529 savings accounts.

      Learn more at the Massachusetts Catholic Conference and Private School Review: Massachusetts. 

      Massachusetts Online Learning

      Whether your child wants to accelerate his or her learning or needs a quieter environment in which to focus, you may be interested in giving virtual school a try. Currently, students in Massachusetts may attend one of two free public virtual schools – TEC Connections Academy Commonwealth Virtual School or Greater Commonwealth Virtual School (formerly known as Greenfield Commonwealth Virtual School) – either full-time or part-time, with an agreement from their local school district. These schools are a popular choice. During fall 2021, nearly 2,000 students were on waitlists for them! 

      Private virtual schools are also available. For a fee, highschoolers can consider full-time learning with Massachusetts Mayflower Academy, a private online school opening for the 2022-2023 school year.

      In addition, seven district-run online schools opened in fall 2021, and some of these have been approved to continue (and in some cases expand) for the 2022-2023 school year. You may also want to keep in mind that for the 2022-2023 school year, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is partnering with online learning non-profit VHS Learning to offer free online Advanced Placement (AP) courses to highschoolers in areas that lack access to such courses. 

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

      Massachusetts Homeschooling

      Homeschooling is another school option for Massachusetts families; this is a great option if you are looking for a hands-on, highly-customizable approach to your child’s education. All 50 states allow homeschooling, which is the process of parents educating students at home.

      In Massachusetts, notice of your intent to homeschool is required in most districts; however, it does vary depending on your zoned district, so check into their guidance. It is recommended that you formally withdraw from your public 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, your school requires notification within 30 days of your intent to switch. 

      The state requires homeschooling parents to teach specific subjects (including reading, geography, and U.S. history) and may require some level of assessment of homeschooled students. Homeschoolers in Massachusetts may still be eligible to participate in sports at local public schools, though restrictions apply, so ask your district for more details.

      For more, check out great resources at the Home School Legal Defense Association – Massachusetts. You may also want to check out the Massachusetts Home Learning Association or the Massachusetts Homeschool Organization of Parent Educations (MassHOPE).

      Massachusetts 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 Massachusetts. Read more about the requirements for homeschooling and get tips from HSLDA.

      In Massachusetts, the state allows learning pods of up to five families to operate without a license, as long as one parent is present at all times and payment is limited to compensation for food and materials. 

      If your learning pod contains several families and will have parents or other teachers leading unique classes just for your school, it may qualify as a private school. Read more at the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

      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. 

      KaiPod Learning offers learning pods for Massachusetts students enrolled in accredited virtual schools. Already operating in Newton, KaiPod Learning plans to expand to seven other Massachusetts locations.

      Education Resources for Massachusetts Parents

      For additional information about school choices in Massachusetts visit these resources: 

      Massachusetts celebrates School Choice Week


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