Rhode Island School Choice Roadmap

By: National School Choice Week Team

Last Upated: January 19, 2023

Choosing a school? You’ve got options. 

If you’re looking for a great school for your child, you’re not alone. Thousands of other Rhode Island parents are making K-12 educational options for their children every year. You can do it!

There are a variety of K-12 education options available for Rhode Island families. Knowing these options can help you find a learning environment where your child is able not just to “get by” at school, but to learn and thrive.  

In Rhode Island, 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 Rhode Island 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.

      Rhode Island Traditional Public Schools

      Most Rhode Island families choose traditional public schools, which are operated by school districts, free to attend, open to all students, and funded by federal, state, and local government. Rhode Island spends, on average, $16,857 per public school pupil each year. 

      In Rhode Island, the state allows each district 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. Rhode Island parents wanting to transfer their child to a different public school than the one they are assigned should contact their local school district to see if this is an option. In some cases, the state provides transportation for students who attend a school outside their city or town. 

      The transfer process and timeline will vary by district. For a real-world example, check out North Providence School Department’s guidelines for transfers within the district.

      Open enrollment can be a valuable form of public school choice, widening parents’ options and ensuring that their zip code isn’t the sole determiner of their children’s education. You can find out more about public schools in your state at the Rhode Island Department of Education.

      Rhode Island Charter Schools

      Rhode Island families can currently choose from about 35 public charter schools. 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. 

      Each school has a charter which explains the school’s purpose and what specific community need it serves. That could be providing a STEM program or offering 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. 

      Rhode Island first passed charter school legislation in 1995. Charter schools may be authorized by school districts, nonprofit organizations, colleges, or even the mayor of a city or town. Learn more about the state’s charters at The Rhode Island League of Charter Schools.

      Rhode Island 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 track. Rhode Island has just a couple of magnet schools at present, such as Classical High School in Providence, which focuses on study of the arts, languages, and humanities.  If you live near a magnet school and its theme interests your child, it could be an exciting option to consider. 

      Rhode Island Private Schools

      Families can also choose private schools. These are nonpublic schools that charge tuition and come in all shapes and sizes. Private schools offer a unique learning environment that may be smaller in size, pass on a faith tradition, or provide a curriculum not available in your district school. 

      At Providence Hebrew Day School, for instance, students receive an education rooted in Jewish tradition. “My perspective is never on removing or taking away from the public schools, but much more just to highlight the strengths of a strong private school education and how the kids end up and where they go,” said dean Rabbi Scheinerman. “Every parent should be entitled to pick and choose the education that works best for their kids.”

      There are more than 170 private schools across the state of Rhode Island. The average tuition for private schools in the state is $12,907 for elementary schools and $26,675 for high schools.

      Additionally, Rhode Island students whose family incomes are at or below 250% of the poverty level ($66,250 for a family of four in 2021-2022) are eligible for private school scholarships of varying amounts. In 2021-2022, nearly 500 students participated in the program and received an average of $2,569 in scholarship funding. 

      Learn more at the Diocese of Providence Catholic School Directory and Private School Review: Rhode Island.

      Rhode Island Online Learning

      Don’t overlook online learning! It offers a uniquely flexible learning environment that meets a variety of family needs. Whether your child wants to accelerate learning or needs a quieter, stress-free environment to focus in, you may be interested in trying virtual school.

      Since fall 2021, Rhode Island Connections Academy has offered a free, full-time online learning option for Rhode Island students. Participating students remain enrolled in their school district and must have the approval of their superintendent.

      There are also paid, full-time online learning options available to students in all 50 states, Rhode Island included. These paid options include George Washington University Online High SchoolThe Keystone School, Excel High School, and K12 Private Academy.

      Plus, most Rhode Island students can enroll in part-time online courses through their local school district. You can contact your local public school to ask whether there are free or paid online options available to you. The Rhode Island Department of Education’s All Course Network is one option for taking individual online courses.

      Finally, some districts offer hybrid programs, including the Village Green Virtual Public Charter High SchoolNowell Leadership Academy, Pleasant View Elementary School, and Providence Career and Technical Academy.

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

      Rhode Island Homeschooling

      Rhode Island families can also choose to homeschool, a great option if you are looking for high levels of personalization in learning. All 50 states allow homeschooling, which is the process of parents educating students at home.

      In Rhode Island, it is required that you provide notice of your intent to homeschool prior to starting. The state requires homeschooling parents to teach certain subjects (like reading, writing, and physical education), but does not require homeschoolers to take standardized tests. 

      Formally withdrawing from public school is required in some districts and recommended in all. In the case that you decide to return to public school, notify your district committee. 

      You can learn more about Rhode Island homeschooling at the state’s Department of Education page, or check out this great how-to from the Home School Legal Defense Association

      Rhode Island 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 Rhode Island. 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 Rhode Island 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. 

      Sometimes learning pods are even district-run. For example, the Central Falls School District has won a grant to develop an innovative learning pod model to give high schoolers a more flexible path to a diploma.

      Education Resources for Rhode Island Parents 

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


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