Washington School Choice Roadmap

By: National School Choice Week Team

Last Upated: January 19, 2023

Choosing a school? You’ve got options. 

“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! 

In Washington, 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 Washington 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.

      Washington Traditional Public Schools

      First, most children in Washington (and in America) attend traditional public schools. Traditional public schools are free to attend, open to all students, and operated by school districts. They are funded by taxpayers like you. Did you know that, on average, Washington spends $14,556 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, families are able to apply for transfers within their school district. Whether families can choose to transfer between districts will depend on local policies, so check with your school district if you are interested in this option. For a real-world example, you can check out Lake Washington School District’s open enrollment forms and guidelines.

      If open enrollment is an option for you, 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 public schools, Washington also has 14 “Skill Centers” that serve highschoolers across multiple school districts who want to gain specialized career training. Find out more about public schools in your state at the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI).

      Washington Charter Schools

      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. One of the state’s newest charter schools is Whatcom Intergenerational High School, which opened in Bellingham in 2021.

      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.

      Washington 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 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, and any rising 6th grader in the district is welcome to apply to the International Community School or the Environmental and Adventure School. The Bellevue School District offers a Mandarin magnet, and Vancouver Public Schools offers the STEM-focused Vancouver iTech Preparatory

      Washington Private Schools

      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 $11,999 for elementary schools and $14,249 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. Also, the federal government allows parents to save for K-12 private school tuition using tax-preferred 529 savings accounts.

      Learn more at the Washington Federation of Independent Schools and Private School Review: Washington.

      Washington Online Learning

      Whether your child wants to accelerate learning or needs a quieter environment, you may be interested in trying virtual school. Washington offers several free, full-time online learning options open to students statewide, like Washington Virtual Academies, Washington Connections Academy, and Virtual Prep Academy of Washington. Students in grades 9-12 looking for extra academic support can also consider the Insight School of Washington

      The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction has compiled a complete list of the more than 100 districts that offer online learning options, either full-time or part-time.  Many of these online options are multi-district, allowing students to enroll from across districts. 

      In Washington, if your child’s school district doesn’t offer online learning options, you may request a “choice transfer” into another approved online school program. Getting a choice transfer release from your school district each year allows for funding to follow your student.

      To learn more about online learning in Washington, you can also check out the Digital Public School Alliance – WA and the Digital Learning Collaborative’s state profile.

      Washington Homeschooling

      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, homeschooling parents must teach specific subjects (including math, reading, and history) and annual assessments are required for homeschooled students.

      If you switch to homeschooling, 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 or testing will be reviewed for placement.

      Homeschoolers in Washington may still be eligible to participate in sports at local public schools. Plus, 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. Some Washington school districts even offer academic and enrichment activities for homeschool families through Parent Partnership Programs.

      If you think homeschooling could be a good fit for your family, learn more through 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.

      Washington 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 Washington. 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 Washington 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. 

      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

      Education Resources for Washington Parents 

      In addition, visit these resources to learn more about school choices in Washington: 

      Washington celebrates school choice week


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