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Last Upated: September 27, 2021
Each spring, parents face one of the biggest decisions they can make for their child’s future: What school environment will their child will spend about 1,000 hours in next year?
Making that decision with confidence starts with knowing what options you have; you may have more school choices than you realize! Understanding these options can help you find a school where your child grows and learns to the best of their ability. Missouri families 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 Missouri at the Ultimate Guide to Special Education.
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The most common school choice in Missouri is traditional public school. Districts operate traditional public schools, which are free to attend, open to all students, and funded by taxpayers. Did you know that on average, Missouri spends $11,200 per public school student each year? You can search your school’s spending and that of nearby schools at Project Nickel.
In Missouri, parents have restricted open enrollment. Open enrollment refers to whether you can send your child to a public school other than your assigned school. Some Missouri parents, such as those who live in school districts that have lost state accreditation, may be able to choose any traditional public school in another district for their child. In some cases, including when transferring from a school that is public school that is unaccredited, the district provides transportation.
You can find out if you have access to open enrollment by contacting your local district. This is an important form of public school choice, widening parents options and ensuring that their zip code isn’t the sole determiner of their education.
Find out more about public schools in your state here: Missouri’s Department of Education.
Charter schools are another tuition-free public school option for families. Currently, Missouri only has charter schools in the St. Louis and Kansas City areas. Like traditional public schools, charter schools are public, free, and usually have no requirements for entry. What distinguishes charter schools is that they are allowed extra freedom to innovate with curriculum and learning methods and held accountable to authorizing bodies for results.
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 (like drawing random names out of a hat!) is usually used to determine admittance.
You can learn more about your state’s charter school options at Missouri Charter Public School Association.
You can also choose magnet schools! Magnet schools 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. Missouri has several magnet schools scattered throughout the state. If there is one near you with a theme that interests your child; this could be a great school choice. Check out this sampling of the magnet elementary schools available in the St. Louis Public School district. Kansas City Public Schools also has magnet schools.
Families in Missouri 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. Missouri’s private schools come in all shapes and forms, from religious schools to schools designed for children with special needs.
Missouri created its first private school choice program in 2021. Once it launches, the program will provide families with flexible scholarship funds that they can put toward attending the public, charter, virtual, private, or homeschool of their choice. All Missouri students who attended public school the previous year or who are entering school for the first time will be eligible, but the program will prioritize low-income families and students with IEPs.
Don’t overlook online learning, which offers a uniquely flexible learning environment that meets a variety of family needs. 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.
Missouri public school students have access to individual online courses or free, full-time online programs through MOCAP (Missouri Course Access and Virtual School Program). In order to participate, students must get enrollment approved by their resident school district. Some districts only allow classes to be taken on campus, others allow for full-time virtual learning. Students must be currently enrolled in a Missouri public school to switch to MOCAP or Missouri Connections Academy. Also, any non-public student in Missouri, from kindergarten through 12th grade, can take courses online through MOCAP for a fee. In some cases, such as students having certain medical conditions, the tuition can be waived.
Unfortunately, some families applying to Missouri online schools have experienced administrative delays or been challenged by their school district.
Enrollment deadlines for MOCAP depend on each school district, so interested families should contact their public school. Missouri Connections Academy has a rolling enrollment policy.
Availability for MOCAP varies by school district.
At MOCAP, whether a family can transfer into the online school mid-school year is dependent on their school district. At Missouri Connections Academy, mid-year transfers are accepted as long as the school’s enrollment cap is not met.
Whether technology and wifi is freely available to MOCAP students depends on each school district. Missouri Connections Academy does not provide technology and wifi to students.
Homeschooling is another school option. Homeschooling is the process of parents educating students at home and is permitted in all 50 states.
In Missouri, the state does not require notice of your intent to homeschool; however, 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, contact your local school to find out what their placement guidelines are as they each have their own process.
Check out resources about homeschooling specific to Missouri.
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 Missouri. Read more about the requirements for homeschooling and get tips from HSLDA here. Note that homeschoolers in Missouri may 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 Missouri 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. You can learn more about Missouri’s free online school offerings.
For additional information about school choices in Missouri, 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!
Missouri celebrated National School Choice Week 2021 with 729 virtual events and activities across the state. Click the button below to learn more about school choice in Missouri.
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