Guide to School Choice in Pennsylvania

By: National School Choice Week Team

Choosing a school? You’ve got options. 

Deciding where to send your child to school is a big decision, and you have access to more K-12 education options than you might realize. Navigating your options in Pennsylvania can help you find a school where your child thrives! This post will breakdown the six types of schools available to you,  as well as provide additional education resources and school choice news.

Pennsylvania families can choose from traditional public schools, public charter schools, public magnet schools, private schools, online academies, and homeschooling.

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Pennsylvania Traditional Public Schools

Most Pennsylvania families choose traditional public schools. These schools are operated by districts, free to attend, open to all students, and funded by taxpayers. Did you know that, on average, Pennsylvania spends $16,122 per public school student each year? 

In Pennsylvania, the state allows each district decides to set its own open enrollment policies. Open enrollment refers to whether parents can send their children to any public school, regardless of where it is located. Pennsylvania parents wanting to transfer their child to a different public school than the one they are assigned should contact their local school district. Open enrollment is a valuable form of public school choice, expanding parents’ options and ensuring that their zip code isn’t the sole determiner of their education.

Pennsylvania Charter Schools

Charter schools are another important option for Pennsylvania families. Like traditional public schools, charter schools are public, free, and typically have no requirements for entry. What distinguishes charter schools is that they have extra freedom to innovate with learning methods and are accountable to authorizing bodies for results. 

Pennsylvania families can choose from more than 100 public charter schools. Each school has a charter which explains the school’s purpose and what specific community need it serves. That could look like a Spanish immersion program or 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. 

We have interviewed a variety of charter schools in Pennsylvania with unique offerings: Tidouite Community Charter School is providing a personal option to a rural community; Manchester Academic Charter Academy serves its students with a strong mentor program; and Lincoln Charter School’s teacher and students are spreading the positive message that “even in hard times, people do good works.”

Pennsylvania Magnet Schools

You can also choose magnet schools! These free public schools allow kids to zoom in on a specific learning track, such as engineering or the arts. At a magnet school, all the subjects are taught through the lenses of that specific track. Pennsylvania has several magnet schools scattered throughout the state; if there is one near you with a theme that interests your child, this could be an exciting option to consider. 

Pennsylvania Private Schools

Private schools are nonpublic schools that charge tuition. Private schools offer a unique learning environment that may be smaller in size, pass on a religious tradition, or provide a curriculum not available in your district school. We recently spoke to one private Catholic high school about the mock trial they conducted with fourth-grade students about a fictional cupcake thief

Pennsylvania families in low-achieving school zones or who fall below a certain income level may be eligible for state-run scholarship programs that can make private schools more accessible. Additional funding may be available from other sources. 

Pennsylvania Online Learning

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 learning or needs a quieter environment, you may be interested in considering virtual school. Pennsylvania offers several free, full-time online learning options for students, such as PA Virtual Charter School, Reach Cyber Charter School, and Insight PA Cyber Charter School.

Pennsylvania Homeschooling

Homeschooling is another school option for Pennsylvania families. All 50 states permit homeschooling, which is the process of parents educating students at home. Check here for resources about homeschooling specific to Pennsylvania. 

A student holds up a sign celebrating school choice in Pennsylvania

Education Resources for Pennsylvania Parents 

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

School Choice Celebrations in Pennsylvania 

National School Choice Week 2020 will take place January 26 – February 1, 2020. We encourage all parents and schools to sign up for a free box of NSCW supplies for 2020 celebrations. Click here for more information.

Pennsylvania celebrated National School Choice Week 2019 with 1,803 events and activities across the state.

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