If you’re wondering about school choice in Virginia, here are two things to remember. First off, you’re not alone. Every year, tens of thousands of parents in Virginia make K-12 school decisions for their children. Secondly, you can do it! Understanding your state’s different school 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.
This post will break down the six school choice options available for the nearly 2 million children living in the Old Dominion State. In short, families can choose from traditional public schools, public charter schools, public magnet schools, private schools, online academies, and homeschooling.
Most Virginia families choose traditional public schools. These are operated by school districts, free to attend, open to all students, and funded by taxpayers. Did you know that, on average, Virginia spends $10,530 per public school student each year?
In Virginia, 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 should contact their local school district to see if this is possible. Open enrollment is a valuable public school choice, increasing parents’ options and ensuring that zip code isn’t the sole determiner of their education.
Also, depending on where you live in Virginia, public charter schools may be another free option for you to consider. Like traditional public schools, charter schools are public, free, and usually have no requirements for entry. What distinguishes charter schools is that they have extra freedom to innovate with learning methods. Charters are accountable to authorizing entities for results.
Virginia has eight public charter schools, you can find a list of them on this page. Each school has a charter which explains the school’s purpose and what specific community need it serves, whether that be providing a Spanish immersion program or offering a rigorous STEAM curriculum. If there are more families seeking admittance to a charter school than there are seats, a lottery system is usually used to determine admittance.
Additionally, Virginia families have a third public school option in 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. In 2019, there were 139 magnet schools in Virginia; these can be good options for children who learn best through the lenses of their favorite subject.
Families in Virginia can even consider private schools, nonpublic schools that charge tuition. Private schools may offer a unique curriculum, smaller class sizes, or a faith-based tradition. Virginia’s private schools come in all shapes and forms, from religious schools to schools designed for children with special needs. In Virginia, a public-run scholarship program is available to Virginia families under a certain income level and if students have special needs. Also, effective in 2018, the federal government allows parents to save for K-12 private school tuition using tax-preferred 529 savings accounts.
Also, 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.
Virginia students in middle and high school can take online classes full-time or part-time. Tuition is covered by the public or private school in which the student is enrolled, or the parents if the student is homeschooled. Find out more about one online school, Virginia Virtual Academy, here and here.
In all 50 states, 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. Check here for resources about homeschooling in Virginia.
For additional information about school choices in Virginia, visit these resources:
National School Choice Week 2020 will take place January 26 – February 1, 2020. We encourage all schools, homeschool groups, organizations and individuals to sign up for a free box of NSCW supplies for 2020 celebrations. Click here for more information.
In 2019, Virginia celebrated National School Choice Week with a record-breaking 853 events and activities across the state.
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