Guide to School Choice in North Carolina

By: National School Choice Week Team

Choosing a school? You’ve got options. 

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, and homeschooling.

North Carolina celebrates School Choice Week

No time to read it all now? Enter your email address and we’ll send you a cheat sheet that you can print and share.

North Carolina Traditional Public Schools

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 $9,367 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

North Carolina Charter Schools

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 more than 180 public charter schools, you can find more information about them here. 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.

North Carolina 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. Magnet schools teach all subjects through the lenses of that specific track. North Carolina 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 good school fit.  You can read about the magnet schools in the Winston-Salem Forsyth County district here

We profiled one North Carolina magnet school, Atkins Academic and Technology High School, here. 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.”

Future Tech Teacher

North Carolina Private Schools

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 a few state-run scholarship programs in North Carolina that make private school more accessible to low-income families and children with special needs. 

Also, effective in 2018, the federal government allows parents to save for K-12 private school tuition using tax-preferred 529 savings account

For a deep data dive into North Carolina’s private schools, check out this analysis of the state’s private school landscape

North Carolina 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. In North Carolina, middle school and high school students may enroll full-time or part-time in North Carolina Virtual Public School. Students not enrolled in public schools may be required to pay tuition. Other free, full-time online learning options are also available, such as North Carolina Virtual Academy

North Carolina Homeschooling

Many North Carolina families choose homeschooling, the process of parents educating students at home. We talked to one homeschooling mom and co-op leader, Kristin Jackson, here. 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.” 

Families can homeschool in all 50 states. 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

Education Resources for North Carolina Parents 

For additional information about school choice in North Carolina, visit these resources: 

North Carolina celebrates School Choice Week

School Choice Celebrations in North Carolina 

National School Choice Week 2021 will take place January 24 – 30, 2021. We encourage all schools, homeschool groups, organizations and individuals to join the celebration. Click here for ideas, inspiration, and more information! 

North Carolina celebrated National School Choice Week 2020 with a record-breaking 2,313 events and activities across the state. Click the button below to learn more about school choice in North Carolina.

Visit State Page


No time to read it all now? Enter your email address and we’ll send you a cheat sheet that you can print and share.

Sign-Up for email Updates

"Shining a spotlight on effective educational options for every child"