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Last Upated: September 27, 2021
“What are my school choices in Washington?” It’s a great question. There are a variety of K-12 education options available for Washington families. Knowing these options can help you find a learning environment that inspires your child and equips them for success. Even if your current school works well for you, it’s good to know the other options available for families in Washington!
Looking for special education options? You can learn what special education services are available in Washington at the Ultimate Guide to Special Education.
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First, most children in Washington (and in America) attend traditional public schools. Traditional public schools are free to attend, open to all students, operated by school districts. They are funded by taxpayers like you. Did you know that, on average, Washington spends $14,223 per public school student each year? You can search your school’s spending and that of nearby schools at Project Nickel.
Washington has restricted open enrollment for public school. Open enrollment refers to whether parents can choose to send their child to any public school in Washington, regardless of where they live or where the school is located. Based on Washington’s laws, a parent may or may not be able to choose a traditional public school in another district.
Check with your local school district if you wish to participate in open enrollment. If this is an option for you, you can visit multiple public schools in your area and discover which is the best fit for your family. After all, traditional public schools aren’t all the same. They may differ in learning methods and one may just “feel different” than another to you.
Besides traditional schools, Washington also has 14 “Skill Centers” that serve high schoolers across multiple school districts who want to gain specialized career training.
Another public school choice for Washington families are charter schools. 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 and are accountable to authorizing bodies for results.
There are currently more than a dozen operating charter schools in Washington, located in Highline, Tukwila, Kent, Seattle, Tacoma, Walla Walla, and Spokane. Also, five more charters are approved to open in Fall 2020.
Each school has a charter which explains the school’s purpose and what specific community need it serves. For example, that might be providing a STEAM 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 learn more at the Washington State Charter Schools Association.
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 engineering or the performing arts. At a magnet school, all the subjects are taught through the lenses of that specific track. If there is one in your area with a theme that interests your child, this could be an exciting option to consider.
Washington has several magnet schools and programs throughout the state. For instance, any Lake Washington School District student entering 9th grade for the upcoming school year is welcome to apply to Tesla STEM High School. Look to your local district to see if there are any magnet choices available to you.
Families in Washington can also consider private schools, nonpublic schools that charge tuition. Private schools may offer a unique curriculum, smaller class sizes, or a faith-based tradition. Washington’s private schools come in all shapes and forms, from religious schools to schools designed for children with special needs.
There are more than 750 private schools across the state of Washington. The average tuition for private schools in the state is $11,756 for elementary schools and $13,458 for high schools. Unfortunately, there are no state-run private school tuition assistance in Washington to help families with the cost of private school. But, private scholarships may be available.
Whether your child wants to accelerate learning or needs a quieter environment, you may be interested in trying virtual school. Fortunately, Washington offers several free, full-time online learning options for students, like Washington Virtual Academies, Washington Connections Academy, and Virtual Prep Academy of Washington. The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction has compiled a list of districts with online learning options, some of which may offer free courses. Additionally, students in grades 9-12 looking for extra academic support may consider the Insight School of Washington.
In order for funding to follow the student, families of a child switching to online school must get a choice transfer release from their school district each year. To learn more about online learning in Washington, you can also check out the Digital Public School Alliance – WA.
At Washington Connections Academy, the last day to register for the fall semester is October 18. After that, students in grades K-11 can still apply for the second semester. At Insight School of Washington, there are multiple cohort start dates for each trimester. But, if you do not start at the beginning of a semester the number of courses that can be taken are limited.
As of September 2021, Washington Connections Academy, Washington Virtual Academies, Virtual Prep Academy of Washington, and the Insight School of Washington are still enrolling.
Washington Connections Academy does not typically provide technology, but a family may submit a technology hardship application. At the Insight School of Washington, families may request a laptop based on financial need, but internet is not provided. Washington Virtual Academies does not provide technology and wifi to students.
Washington 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 this option.
In Washington, notice of your intent to homeschool is required by September 15 or within two weeks of any quarter, trimester, or semester. 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 in the middle of the school year, your homeschool records will be reviewed for placement. Testing may be required to determine your student’s placement.
Washington offers limited funding assistance if you are homeschooling through a Parent Partnership Program.
If you think homeschooling could be a good fit for your family, learn more about how-to and resources specific to Washington. You may also want to check out Washington Homeschool Organization, Christian Family Home Educators, or Christian Heritage Home Educators of Washington.
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 Washington. Read more about the requirements for homeschooling and get tips from HSLDA here. Note that homeschooled students in Washington may still be eligible to participate in sports, activities, or classes at local public schools. In addition, Washington homeschoolers are eligible to receive ancillary services, including “counseling, psychological services, testing, remedial instruction, speech and hearing therapy, health-care services, [and] tutorial services” offered by local school districts, at no additional cost.
If your learning pod contains more than two families and will have teachers leading unique classes just for your school, it may qualify as a private school. You can read more about what Washington classifies as a private school, how they’re regulated, and how to start one.
If your child is going to be enrolled in remote learning through your local public school and supervised by an adult in your learning pod, you do not need to register as a homeschool or private school. Keep in mind that you have multiple online learning options, including several permanent, full-time online schools that are available to students statewide.
According to Washington state law, childcare services for less than four hours a day are license exempt, but childcare services for more than four hours a day require a license.
In addition, visit these resources to learn more about school choices in Washington:
National School Choice Week 2022 will take place January 23 – 29, 2022. We encourage all schools, homeschool groups, organizations and individuals to join the celebration. Check out ideas, inspiration, and more information!
Washington celebrated National School Choice Week 2021 with 322 virtual events and activities across the state. Click the button below to learn more about school choice in Washington.
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