Ohio School Choice Roadmap

By: National School Choice Week Team

Last Upated: January 19, 2023

Choosing a school? You’ve got options. 

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. Ohio 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 Ohio 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.

      Ohio Traditional Public Schools

      First off, you can choose traditional public school. Traditional public schools are free to attend, open to all students, operated by school districts, and funded by taxpayers like you. Ohio spends, on average, $13,805 per public school student each year. You can search your school’s spending and that of nearby schools at Project Nickel.

      Ohio has restricted open enrollment for public school. Open enrollment refers to whether parents can choose to send their child to any public school in Ohio, regardless of their zip code or the location of the school. Based on Ohio’s laws, school districts in Ohio must have policies allowing for in-district transfer applications. For example, check out Willoughby-Eastlake’s application form for transfers within the district. Annually, each district can choose whether to allow for transfers between districts. So, contact your local school district if you wish to participate in open enrollment.

      In most open enrollment cases, parents are responsible for transportation to the new public school of choice, or at least for getting their student to a regular bus stop along the school’s route. Low-income families or those participating in a court-approved desegregation plan may be reimbursed for transportation to that bus stop or provided transportation directly, respectively.

      If open enrollment is an option for you, you can visit multiple public schools in your area and discover which best fits your family. Of course, traditional public schools aren’t all the same. They may differ in learning methods and one may just “feel different” than another to you. 

      Find out more about public schools in your state at the Ohio Department of Education.

      Ohio Charter Schools

      Charter schools are tuition-free public schools that have extra freedom to innovate with curriculum and learning methods. In Ohio, charter schools are commonly referred to as “Community Schools.” Community schools or charter schools have been allowed in Ohio since 1997. Today there are more than 300 such schools

      Each community school or public charter school has a charter explaining the school’s purpose and what community need it serves. That could be providing a technical track or offering a rigorous, literacy-based curriculum. If there are more families seeking admittance to a charter school than there are seats, a charter school usually uses a lottery system to randomly determine admittance. 

      We talked to Dr. Landon Brown, principal at Emerson Academy, who shared how invested his charter school teachers and staff are in the local community.  “Current research suggests that urban students (particularly minority males) need to see teachers outside of the classroom environment first before they make a connection inside the classroom,” Brown said. “That old educational adage is true, ‘Students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care!’”

      Ohio Magnet Schools

      Magnet schools are free public schools. They allow kids to zoom 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. Ohio has several magnet schools scattered throughout the state. These might be a good option if your kid learns best by focusing in on a subject he or she is passionate about! For instance, you can read about Cincinnati Public Schools’ more than 20 magnet schools and programs, and Lima City Schools’ magnet schools. Plus, Reynoldsburg City Schools has state-designated STEM schools open to any child in the district. Contact your district to learn if there are magnet schools near you.

      Ohio Private Schools

      Ohio families can also choose private schools! In short, private schools are nonpublic schools that charge tuition. These learning environments may pass on a faith tradition, have a distinctive curriculum, or offer a personalized classroom environment. There are more than 1,100 private schools across the state of Ohio.

      The average tuition for private schools in the state is $6,789 for elementary schools and $10,315 for high schools. Keep in mind that Ohio offers several state-run funding programs. These include a scholarship program for students with autism spectrum disorders, a scholarship program for students with special needs, and one for students from low-income households. Additionally, students in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District are eligible for scholarships to attend neighboring private schools. And, Ohio’s Educational Choice Scholarship Program provides vouchers for students assigned to low-performing public schools.

      In 2021, Ohio created a new scholarship program funded by tax-credit donations. Open to all students in the state, the program gives priority to low-income families. Finally, as of 2021, families enrolled in certain private schools or homeschooling are eligible for a tax credit.

      Learn more at the Northwest Ohio Scholarship Fund and Private School Review: Ohio.

      Ohio Online Learning

      Whether your child wants to accelerate learning or needs a quieter environment, you may be interested in trying virtual school. Ohio families can choose from several free, full-time online schools, or “e-schools” as they are commonly called in The Buckeye State. These include Ohio Virtual Academy, Buckeye Online School for SuccessAlternative Education Academy, Quaker Digital Academy,  Greater Ohio Virtual SchoolGreat River Connections Academy, and Ohio Connections AcademyTRECA Digital Academy is another option for students in grades 7-12, and students aged 16-21 needing extra academic and emotional support to finish high school may be interested in Ohio Digital Learning School. 

      You can find a complete list of Ohio’s e-schools at the Ohio Department of Education. These schools do have enrollment caps, which are adjusted annually. You can learn more about the Ohio online learning community at the Ohio e-School Families and Friends Coalition.

      Finally, there are also district-run blended or completely online options, including the Cincinnati Digital Academy and Middletown City Schools Virtual. Students in elementary through high school grades across more than 50 school districts in northwest Ohio may enroll full-time or part-time in courses through Northwest Ohio Virtual Academy at no cost, but they must register through their district. Plus, any student in Ohio can be enrolled in the Virtual Learning Academy or Blue Sky Virtual Academy with their district’s permission. Each district determines availability, acceptance, and logistics for their students’ courses. Reach out to your district to learn what options are open to you!

      In Ohio, districts that operate an online learning school must provide all online students a computer and access to the internet at no cost. To read more about online learning in Ohio, check out the Digital Learning Collaborative’s state profile.

      Ohio Homeschooling

      Homeschooling is another choice available to Ohio families. Homeschooling is the process of parents educating students at home and is permitted in all 50 states.

      In Ohio, it is required that you provide notice of your intent to homeschool no later than the first week of school or within one week of withdrawal.  You must also provide notice annually and if you move. In the case that you decide to return to public school in the middle of the school year, contact your local school to determine their process.

      The state requires homeschooling parents to teach specific subjects (like language, math, and Ohio history) and assess their student annually. Note that homeschooled students in Ohio may still be eligible to participate in sports or classes at local public schools.

      Ohio offers funding assistance if a homeschool student has an Individualized Education Program (IEP). These students may qualify for the Peterson Scholarship. Also, as of 2021, homeschool families in Ohio are eligible for a $250 tax credit for learning expenses

      If you are looking for a highly customizable and flexible education for your child and think homeschooling could fit the bill, check out the Ohio Department of Education’s Homeschooling page, Ohio Homeschooling ParentsHome School Legal Defense Association – Ohio, and the Christian Home Educators of Ohio.

      Ohio 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 Ohio. 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. You can read more about what Ohio 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.

      students in scarves celebrate school choice in Ohio

      Education Resources for Ohio Parents 

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

      Visit State Page


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