New York School Choice Roadmap

By: National School Choice Week Team

Last Upated: January 19, 2023

Choosing a school? You’ve got options. 

Choosing where your child goes to school is one of the biggest decisions you face. While it may feel intimidating to navigate your school options in New York and make a choice, you can do it. The best starting point for choosing a good school fit is knowing your options. This post will break down the six main learning environments available in your state.

New York families can choose from traditional public schools, public charter schools, public magnet schools, private schools, online academies, and homeschooling. We’ll also discuss learning pods.

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

      New York Traditional Public Schools

      Most children in New York (and in America) attend traditional public schools. Traditional public schools are free to attend, open to all students, operated by school districts, and funded by taxpayers like you. Each year, New York spends an average of $25,519 per public school student. You can search your school’s spending and that of nearby schools at Project Nickel.

      In New York, each district decides whether it will participate in open enrollment. Open enrollment is a valuable choice that refers to whether parents can send their children to any public school, regardless of where it is located or what their zip code is.

      If you would like to participate in open enrollment, check with your local school district to see if this is available. If so, you can visit and select from a wider array of public schools. For example, the New York City Department of Education lists several reasons families may request school transfers. These include an accessibility need, a sibling being at a different school, a travel hardship or move, or a safety concern.

      You may also want to visit the New York State Education Departmen, learn about New York City’s non-resident enrollment policies, or check out our profile of one sixth-grader at a traditional public school in Buffalo, New York.

      New York Charter Schools

      You can also choose from charter schools. These are another type of tuition-free, public school open to all students. Charter schools are distinct from traditional public schools in that they have extra freedom to innovate and determine their own policies. As one New York City charter school parent described, “There is a tremendous amount of variety among charter schools… Shop around to find the school that is the best fit for your child’s learning needs.”

      As they innovate, charter schools can share the fruits of their innovation with traditional classrooms. In New York, charters are accountable to authorizing entities for student achievement.  If there are more families seeking admittance to a charter school than there are seats, a lottery system is usually used to determine admittance. 

      New York’s first charter school opened in 1999 in Harlem. Today, there are more than 350 charter schools across the state, with many of these located in New York City. Currently there is a cap limiting the number of charter school licenses available in New York City, and there are no more licenses available under this cap.

      Learn more about charter options at the Northeast Charter Schools Network. If you’re in the Buffalo area, you can apply to multiple charter schools at one time at Enroll Buffalo Charters.

      New York Magnet Schools

      Magnet schools are free public schools that allow kids to narrow in on a specific learning track, such as an International Baccalaureate program or the performing arts. At a magnet school, all the subjects are taught through the lenses of that specific track. If there is one near you with a theme that interests your child, it could be a great option to consider.

      New York has several magnet schools throughout the state. You can easily search magnet schools in New York City at NYC Magnet Schools. The website offers families application info and information about magnet schools in Brooklyn, the Bronx, Manhattan, and Queens. Other districts with magnet schools or programs include the Rochester City School District and the Buffalo School District. You can also search your local district to learn more.

      New York Private Schools

      There are more than 1,800 private schools across the state of New York. The average tuition for private schools in the state is $19,808 for elementary schools and $25,492 for high schools.

      New York’s private schools feature diverse learning methods. One of the private schools we spoke to, The Learning Tree Cultural Preparatory School, offers students an award-winning drumming program and takes eighth-graders on international trips each year. “Our philosophy is that inner-city children should be able to experience anything that other children experience,” says founder Lois Gregory.

      While there are no state-run scholarship options in New York, many private schools, such as The Learning Tree Cultural Preparatory School, work with scholarship-granting organizations to keep tuition affordable for all families who are interested.

      Additionally, New York City students with disabilities may be eligible to have private school tuition paid for or reimbursed by the Education Department when there is not an appropriate public education able to serve their special learning plan. According to WNYC, “Because children with disabilities are entitled to a free and appropriate public education under federal law, the Education Department may recommend a nonpublic school program if it is unable to provide the services mandated for your child in his or her Individualized Education Program.”

      Learn more at the Children’s Scholarship Fund – New York, BISON Children’s Scholarship FundTomorrow’s Hope Foundation, Advocates for Children of New York’s Guide to Special Education, and Private School Review: New York.

      New York Online Learning

      Online learning is sometimes overlooked, but it 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. 

      While most states offer a free, statewide, full-time online learning program, New York does not currently do so. However, New York City has announced plans to launch two fully virtual schools. These schools will initially accept ninth-graders only, but gradually expand to additional grades. While New York is currently one of the most restrictive states for online schooling options, students in some districts, especially students with medical exemptions, may be able to access remote learning programs.

      Keep in mind that there are some paid online school options that are available to students in New York and all 50 states. These include George Washington University Online High SchoolThe Keystone School, and K12 Private Academy.

      Additionally, there are part-time learning opportunities available in many schools. For example, New York City offers a digital learning program called iLearnNYC. This allows students in participating schools to take specific online courses unavailable in their brick-and-mortar school. Additionally, the New York State Education Department lists course providers that schools statewide may collaborate with to offer online courses to students.

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

      New York Homeschooling

      Homeschooling is another school option in all 50 states. Homeschooling is the process of parents educating students at home.

      In New York, notice of your intent to homeschool is required within 14 days of starting and annually by July 1. Families in New York City should submit their paperwork to the NYC Education Department’s Office of Homeschooling. Families outside of New York City should submit to their district’s superintendent. While homeschooling, families should also submit an annual individual home instruction plan and quarterly reports.

      Homeschooling parents are required to teach specific subjects (such as reading, writing, and physical education) and assess their child annually. Unfortunately, children who are homeschooled may face roadblocks if they want to participate in public school sports or activities in New York. But, you can always look for other sports leagues and activities near you!

      In the case that you decide to return to public school, the school will determine your student’s placement based on records, potential assessments, and the principal’s decision.

      If you are looking for a highly customizable and flexible education for your child and think homeschooling could fit the bill, view these resources about homeschooling specific to New York.

      New York 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 New York. 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. The New York State Education Department says that, “Where groups of parents organize to provide group instruction by a tutor for a majority of the instructional program, they are operating a nonpublic school and are no longer providing home instruction.” You can read more about what New York classifies as a private school, how they’re regulated, and how to start one.

      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. 

      Education Resources for New York Parents

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

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