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 learning, homeschooling, and microschooling and mix-and-match learning.
Looking for special education options? You can learn what special education services are available in Washington at the Ultimate Guide to Special Education.
- Traditional Public Schools
- Public Charter Schools
- Public Magnet Schools
- Private Schools
- Online Schools
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 $15,570 per public school student each year? You can search your school’s spending and that of nearby schools at Project Nickel.
Washington offers some 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). You can also learn more about open enrollment at “Public Schools Without Boundaries: A 50-State Ranking.”
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 15 operating charter schools in Washington, serving nearly 5,000 students. A charter may be an option for you if you live in Bremerton, Midway, Tukwila, Seattle, Vancouver, Renton, Bellingham, Walla Walla, Pullman, Wenatchee, or Spokane. One of the state’s newest charter schools is Rooted School in Vancouver, which aims to graduate students with “a diploma in one hand, a job offer in the other.”
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 actually established one of the nation’s first magnet schools in 1968. Today, Washington has several magnet schools and programs throughout the state. For instance, Lake Washington School District launched 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 about 750 private schools across the state of Washington. As of the 2022-2023 school year, Washington private schools served more than 81,000 students. The average tuition for private schools in the state is $12,392 for elementary schools and $14,060 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.
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, Virtual Prep Academy of Washington, Columbia Virtual Academy and 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. The Office also offers a helpful Frequently Asked Questions sheet for families.
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.
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, more than 29,000 students homeschooled as of the 2022-2023 school year. 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 Microschools and Mix-and-Match Learning
Today, many Washington families are mixing and matching school options to come up with new ways to personalize education. Microschools are one of these ways. A microschool refers to students gathering together in a small group – with adult supervision – to learn, explore, and socialize. Microschools can take a variety of shapes and legal forms, from homeschoolers coming together at an enrichment center to a private school committed to small classrooms. What microschools share in common is a distinct commitment to small-group learning, close-knit relationships, and an emphasis on children as individual learners.
Here are real examples of microschools and related resources in your state:
- KapKa Cooperative School is an independent school focused on experience-based curriculum and serving grades K-5 in Seattle.
- LEADPrep is an independent, nonprofit microschool with campuses in North Seattle and Kirkland.
- WEEKDAYS offers small-group learning with unique focus areas like music, STEM, and outdoor learning for young children.
- 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.
Remember, microschooling is more a mentality than a specific legal distinction in most cases. Often, a family participates in a microschool while legally homeschooling, or being enrolled in a private or online school.
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