Guide to School Choice in Washington

By: National School Choice Week Team

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, and homeschooling.

Washington celebrates school choice

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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, operated by school districts. They are funded by taxpayers like you. Did you know that, on average, Washington spends $11,125 per public school student each year? 

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. 

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 10 operating charter schools in Washington. These are located in Highline, Tukwila, Kent, Seattle, Tacoma, Walla Walla, and Spokane and can be found on this map. 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. 

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. Washington has several magnet schools scattered throughout the state. If there is one in your area with a theme that interests your child, this could be an exciting option to consider. 

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. Unfortunately, there are no state-run scholarship options in Washington at present, but private scholarships may be available. Also, effective in 2018, the federal government allows parents to save for K-12 private school tuition using tax-preferred 529 savings accounts.

Washington Online Learning

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 the Insight School of Washington and Washington Connections Academy. 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. While you and your child may experience a learning curve with online learning, for many families it becomes the perfect fit. 

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. If you think homeschooling could be a good fit for your family, check here for a 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.

Education Resources for Washington Parents 

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

Washington celebrates school choice week

School Choice Celebrations in Washington

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! 

Washington celebrated National School Choice Week 2020 with a record-breaking 549 events and activities across the state. Click the button below to learn more about school choice in Washington.

Visit State Page


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