South Dakota School Choice Roadmap

By: National School Choice Week Team

Last Upated: January 19, 2023

Choosing a school? You’ve got options. 

Choosing where your child goes to school is one of the biggest decisions you face. While it may feel intimidating to navigate your school options in South Dakota and make a choice, you can do it! The best starting point for choosing a good school fit is knowing your options. This post will break down the main learning environments available in your state. In South Dakota, families can choose from traditional public schools, private schools, online academies, homeschooling, and learning pods. While not currently options in South Dakota, most other states also offer families public charter schools and public magnet schools

Looking for special education options? You can learn what special education services are available in South Dakota 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.

      South Dakota Traditional Public Schools

      Most South Dakota families choose traditional public school for their child. Traditional public schools are operated by school districts, free to attend, open to all students, and funded by taxpayers. Did you know that, on average, South Dakota spends $10,208 per public school student each year? 

      South Dakota has unrestricted open enrollment for public school. What this means is that you can send your child to any public school in South Dakota, regardless of where you live or where the school is located. For an example of the transfer process and timeline, check out Rapid City Area Schools’ guidelines. Generally, parents are responsible for their children’s transportation to a school they’ve selected through open enrollment, but districts can choose to cooperate to provide transportation.

      You can take advantage of open enrollment by visiting multiple public schools near you and discovering which is the best fit for your family. 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 South Dakota Department of Education.

      South Dakota Charter Schools

      South Dakota is one of only five states that have not yet passed laws allowing public charter schools. Charter schools are tuition-free public schools that have extra freedom to innovate. They are accountable to an authorizing entity for student achievement. Each school’s charter describes what unique community need the school seeks to fill, and the school may be authorized by a governing body, a college, or a school board. 

      While South Dakota families cannot yet choose public charters, this may be an option in the future. 

      South Dakota Magnet Schools

      Magnet schools are free public schools that allow kids to narrow in on a specific learning track, such as an International Baccalaureate program or the performing arts. Magnet schools teach all subjects through the lenses of that specific track. If your child learns well through diving deeply into a particular subject, a magnet school could be a good fit. 

      South Dakota is one of five states that do not currently have any freestanding magnet schools. There may be magnet programs in traditional public schools, and the law allows for independent magnet schools, so stay tuned in the future! 

      South Dakota Private Schools

      Families can also choose private school. South Dakota’s private schools are nonpublic schools that charge tuition and have more freedom in the curricula and structure of learning environment.  Private schools may offer a unique curriculum, smaller class sizes, or a faith-based tradition.

      There are more than 80 private schools across the state of South Dakota. The average tuition for private schools in the state is $3,644 for elementary schools and $6,717 for high schools.

      In South Dakota, families with income below 150% of the federal free and reduced-price lunch program ($73,538 for a family of four in 2021) may be eligible for a private school scholarship through the Partners in Education Tax Credit Program. Currently, about 41% of South Dakota families are eligible for the scholarship. In 2022, a bill passed that made students in foster care eligible for the program and increased the scholarship cap.

      Additional funding may be available from other sources. Learn more at Private School Review: South Dakota.

      South Dakota 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 his or her learning or needs a quieter environment in which to focus, you may be interested in giving virtual school a try. South Dakota families may be able to take free, online learning courses through their local school district if it participates in an online learning community.

      The South Dakota Virtual School, in conjunction with the state Department of Education, offers a list of approved providers for online courses. Students coordinate with and register through their local district to take these online classes. Whether the student’s district will absorb the cost of the classes or will require the student to pay a fee varies by district. Some districts allow students to take online classes full-time, some allow students to take online classes part-time, and some do not allow for online learning. Students taking online courses remain enrolled in their home district and follow their district’s policies. Typically, registration is only open at certain times of the year and families must supply their own computer and internet access. 

      Besides the South Dakota Virtual School offerings, a few districts offer their own online options, like Rapid City Area Schools’ online learning program.

      Finally, keep in mind that there are paid, full-time online school options that are available to students in all 50 states, South Dakota included. Some of these are George Washington University Online High SchoolThe Keystone School, Excel High School, and K12 Private Academy.

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

      South Dakota Homeschooling

      South Dakota families can also choose to homeschool, which allows for high levels of customized learning and flexibility. Homeschooling is the process of parents educating students at home; all 50 states allow it.

      In South Dakota, it is required that you provide notice of your intent to homeschool within 30 days of beginning homeschooling. It is required that you formally withdraw from your public school. In the case that you decide to switch back to public school, South Dakota schools may use a credit-by-exam program for placement.

      The state requires homeschooling parents to include language arts and math in their curriculum, but standardized tests are not currently requiredAccording to a bill passed in 2021 to empower parental choice, any homeschool student in South Dakota is eligible to participate in athletics, fine arts, or other activities sponsored by the South Dakota High School Activities Association.

      Learn more details about homeschooling specific to South Dakota

      South Dakota 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 South Dakota. 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 South Dakota 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. 

      Education Resources for South Dakota Parents 

      For additional information about school choices in South Dakota, visit this resource: 

      South Dakota celebrates school choice week  

      Visit State Page


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