Guide to School Choice in Tennessee

By: National School Choice Week Team

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

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Tennessee Traditional Public Schools

Most Tennessee families choose traditional public schools, which are operated by school districts, free to attend, open to all students, and funded by taxpayers. Did you know that, on average, Tennessee spends $9,694 per public school student each year? 

We wrote about a Tennessee public school’s partnership with the Memphis police department to combat graffiti here

In Tennessee, 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. 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. Open enrollment is an important way that parents have access to a broader variety of public schools. 

Tennessee Charter Schools

As of 2019, there were 119 charter schools in Tennessee, many of them in Memphis. 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 entities for student results. 

Each school has a charter which explains the school’s purpose and what specific community need it serves, whether that be providing a language immersion 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. 

Tennessee Magnet Schools

You can also choose 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. A magnet school teaches all subjects through the lenses of that specific track. Tennessee has several magnet schools throughout the state. If your child learns well through diving deeply into a particular subject, a magnet school could be a good fit. 

Tennessee Private Schools

Tennessee families can also choose private schools. These nonpublic schools charge tuition and offer a unique learning environment that may be smaller in size, pass on a specific religious tradition, or provide a different curriculum than is available in your district school. 

Students with special needs may be eligible for a publicly funded Individualized Education Account. In addition, Nashville and Memphis students whose families meet certain income guidelines can qualify for a state-funded voucher. Additional funding may be available from other sources.

Tennessee Online Learning

Don’t overlook virtual 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, stress-free environment in which to focus, you may be interested in trying online school. Tennessee offers several free, full-time online learning options for students, like Tennessee Virtual Academy and Tennessee Connections Academy

Tennessee Homeschooling

Families can also choose to homeschool. This option allows for high levels of customized learning and flexibility. All 50 states allow homeschooling, the process of parents educating students at home. Check here and here for great resources about homeschooling specific to Tennessee. 

Education Resources for Tennessee Parents 

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

School Choice Celebrations in Tennessee

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! 

Tennessee celebrated National School Choice Week 2020 with a record-breaking 1,381 events and activities across the state. Click the button below to learn more about school choice in Tennessee.

Visit State Page


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