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Last Upated: January 19, 2023
Wondering about school choice in Texas? There are a variety of options available for Texas families. Knowing these options can help you find a learning environment where your child is not just “getting by” at school, but actually thriving and inspired to learn.
In Texas, 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 Texas at the Ultimate Guide to Special Education.
Most Texas 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, Texas spends $10,342 per public school student each year?
In Texas, 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. As an example, Socorro Independent School District allows families to switch schools within the district for qualifying reasons, including afterschool care needs or having a sibling at another school. Note that if your child attends a school on the Texas Public Education Grant list of poorly-performing schools, you are automatically allowed to request a transfer.
Open enrollment is a valuable choice, widening parents’ options and ensuring that their zip code isn’t the sole determiner of their education. Texas’ public schools come in all different flavors. Burbank Middle School, for instance, has a strong dual-language program. Meanwhile, De Zavala Elementary is serving low-income students and helping them beat the odds.
Find out more about public schools in your state at the Texas Education Agency.
Texas has had charter schools as an option for more than 20 years. 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 they are accountable to authorizing bodies for results.
Parents can choose from more than 700 charter schools in Texas. 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.
You can read more about these charter offerings at the Texas Public Charter Schools Association.
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.
Texas has many magnet schools. For example, Aldine ISD, Dallas ISD, DeSoto ISD, Galveston ISD, Houston ISD, and Richardson ISD all offer magnet choices. These schools have themes ranging from linguistics to applied technology. You may also be interested in checking out U.S. News & World’s report ranking of Texas’ magnet high schools. Please note that the list may not be exhaustive and you should check with your local district about options near you.
Private schools, nonpublic schools that charge tuition, offer a unique learning environment that may include a smaller class size, pass on a specific religious tradition, or provide a different curriculum than is available in your district school.
There are more than 1,800 private schools across the state of Texas. The average tuition for private schools in the state is $9,762 for elementary schools and $11,249 for high schools.
There are no state-run scholarship options in Texas, but private scholarships may be available to help families access private school. Also, the federal government allows parents to save for K-12 private school tuition using tax-preferred 529 savings accounts.
Learn more at ACE Scholarships-Texas, the Texas Catholic School Directory, the Texas Private Schools Association, and Private School Review: Texas.
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.
Texas offers several free, full-time online learning options for students, including tuition-free online schooling through the Texas Virtual School Network’s Online Schools. For the 2022-2023 school year, full-time online schools to choose from in the Texas Virtual School Network include: iUniversity Prep, Texas Virtual Academy at Hallsville, Texas Connections Academy at Houston, Texas Online Preparatory School, eSchool Prep, and iSchool Virtual Academy of Texas. Students can also choose part-time options through the network.
For Texas district and charter schools, state funding has historically been based on the number of students physically present in classrooms, which has made it tough for schools to fund virtual learning. Still, some school districts and charter networks have developed online schools, such as Harmony Public Schools’ new virtual offering. In 2021, Texas lawmakers passed a funding bill to help districts cover the costs of virtual learning. According to the law, district and charter schools that received a C or higher in the latest accountability ratings can receive funding for students enrolled in full-time remote learning in their boundaries. In some cases, district online options may be available to out-of-district students through open enrollment.
To read more about online learning in Texas, check out the Digital Learning Collaborative’s state profile.
Texas 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 and all 50 states allow it.
The state requires homeschooling parents to teach certain subjects (including math, spelling, and good citizenship), but does not require homeschoolers to take standardized tests. In some cases, homeschooled students may still be eligible to participate in sports or activities at local public schools.
In Texas, it is not required that you provide notice of your intent to homeschool; however, it is recommended that you formally withdraw from your public school so your student is not marked truant. In the case that you decide to return to public school, contact your local school to find out their placement process.
You may also want to check out the Texas Education Agency’s Homeschooling page, the Texas Homeschool Coalition, the Home School Legal Defense Association – Texas, and the Arlington Association of Home Educators.
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.
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 Texas. 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 Texas classifies as a private school, how they’re regulated, and how to start one.
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.
For example, KaiPod Learning offers learning support pods for students enrolled in accredited virtual schools (and homeschoolers!), and is expanding its locations in Texas for the 2022-2023 school year.
In an effort to keep learning pods a flexible choice for families, Texas legislators passed a bill in May 2021 to protect learning pods from burdensome government regulations.
For additional information about school choices in Texas, visit these resources:
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