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Last Upated: September 27, 2021
If you live in North Carolina and are making a decision about K-12 education for your child, this post is for you. Where you send your child to school impacts whether they are inspired, happy, and equipped for success, and you may have more school options than you realize! This post will breakdown the six types of schools available to you in North Carolina, as well as provide additional education resources.
North Carolina has a variety of learning environments to choose from. 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 North Carolina at the Ultimate Guide to Special Education.
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Most children in North Carolina 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. Did you know that North Carolina spends an average of $9,857 per public school student each year?
Most states have some form of open enrollment, which refers to whether parents can send their child to a public school other than their assigned school. This is an important choice, widening parents’ options and ensuring that their zip code isn’t the sole determiner of their education. Unfortunately, North Carolina does not have open enrollment for public schools.
Find out more about public schools in your state here: North Carolina’s Department of Education.
Charter schools represent another free, public school choice that is open to all students. These schools are distinct from traditional public schools in that they have extra freedom to innovate. Charters are accountable to authorizing entities for student achievement. Charter schools can share the fruits of their innovation with traditional classrooms.
North Carolina has about 200 public charter schools. Each school has a charter which explains the school’s purpose and what specific community need it serves, whether that be providing a Spanish immersion program or offering a rigorous STEAM curriculum. If there are more families seeking admittance to a charter school than there are seats, a lottery system is usually used to determine admittance.
You can also check out the North Carolina Association for Public Charter 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. Magnet schools teach all subjects through the lenses of that specific track. If there is one near you with a theme that interests your child, this could be a good school fit.
North Carolina has several magnet schools throughout the state; For example, districts with magnet schools or programs include Cabarrus County Schools, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, Durham Public Schools, Surry County Schools, Wake County Public School System, and Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools.
We profiled one North Carolina magnet school, Atkins Academic and Technology High School. Principal Joe Childers described the philosophy of magnet programs this way: “When kids enjoy where they are, if kids feel engaged, that’s half the battle. If kids have an interest or feel connected, they’re going to try harder.”
In North Carolina, private schools (nonpublic schools that charge tuition) come in all shapes and forms. Private schools may offer a unique curriculum, smaller class sizes, or a faith-based tradition. There are nearly 800 private schools across the state of North Carolina. The average tuition for private schools in the state is $8,954 for elementary schools and $10,499 for high schools.
There are a few state-run scholarship programs in North Carolina that can make private school more accessible to low-income families and children with special needs. The state’s Opportunity Scholarships provide vouchers to low-income children, which can be used for private school expenses. Students with certain special needs may also be eligible for special education scholarships to attend private school. Finally, North Carolina has a second program—an Education Savings Account program—for children with special needs.
For a deep data dive into North Carolina’s private schools, check out this analysis of the state’s private school landscape.
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. In North Carolina, middle school and high school students may enroll full-time or part-time in North Carolina Virtual Public School. Especially in rural districts, some students use North Carolina Virtual to take classes not offered at their local school, such as an AP class, STEM class, or alternative class. Public school students interested in attending North Carolina Virtual Public School should connect with their school’s e-learning advisor to enroll. Students not enrolled in public schools may be required to pay tuition. Other free, full-time online learning option available to families include North Carolina Virtual Academy and North Carolina Cyber Academy.
At North Carolina Cyber Academy, 9-11th grade applications for the spring semester will be accepted until December 17.
As of September 2021, North Carolina Virtual Academy is at capacity and enrollment is closed for the 2021-2022 school year.
North Carolina Virtual Public School does not provide technology and wifi to students. At North Carolina Virtual Academy, a computer, printer, software, and internet stipend may be available based on financial need and eligibility. North Carolina Cyber Academy provides a computer and internet subsidy for eligible students.
Many North Carolina families choose homeschooling, the process of parents educating students at home. In North Carolina, notice of your intent to homeschool is required prior to starting. 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, you must notify the DNPE and contact your local principal for the enrollment process.
North Carolina offers funding assistance through Personal Education Savings Accounts. There are also Special Education Scholarship Grants for Children with Disabilities.
We talked to one homeschooling mom and co-op leader, Kristin Jackson. Jackson never expected to try homeschooling. But, her son’s medical needs started her on a homeschooling journey that has turned her into an advocate. Now she’s working to spread the word about homeschooling as an education choice.
“We’re really looking to get the word out, especially to minorities,” said Jackson. “A lot of people of color don’t know about the opportunities to homeschool or they feel like it’s not something that people of color do. In Charlotte, there’s more than 600 families in our Facebook group alone, people in Charlotte and within the outskirts of Charlotte that homeschool. There’s a huge, thriving community for whatever you’re interested in.”
Find a great how-to about North Carolina homeschooling at the Home School Legal Defense Association. You can also find resources on the state’s Department of Education’s page, or at North Carolinians for Home Education.
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 North Carolina. Read more about the requirements for homeschooling and get tips from HSLDA here. Note that homeschoolers are eligible to enroll in North Carolina Virtual Public School, for a fee, to supplement their coursework, if approved by their school board. If your child was enrolled for one previous semester in a public school and had an IEP, they are eligible for the special education tax credit of up to $3,000 per semester, per child, that can be spent on special education expenses.
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 North Carolina 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 two permanent, full-time online schools that are available to students statewide.
The NC Department of Health and Human Services is requiring organizations to obtain a license in order to provide childcare for school-age children. Organizations contracting with a public school are exempt. Read about an affordable learning support pod in Charlotte that partners with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District.
For additional information about school choice in North Carolina, 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!
North Carolina celebrated National School Choice Week 2021 with 1,352 virtual events and activities across the state. Click the button below to learn more about school choice in North Carolina.
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