Each spring, parents face one of the biggest decisions they can make for their child’s future: What school environment will their child will spend about 1,000 hours in next year?
Making that decision with confidence starts with knowing what options you have. In fact, you may have more school choices than you realize! Understanding these options can help you find a a great school for your child. And remember, each child is different. So, a great school for your neighbor’s child may look different than a great school for your child.
As you know, most children in Wisconsin (and in America) attend traditional public schools. Traditional public schools are free to attend, open to all students, operated by school districts, and funded by taxpayers like you. Did you know that, on average, Wisconsin spends $12,558 per public school student each year?
Wisconsin has restricted open enrollment for public school. Open enrollment refers to whether parents can choose to send their child to any public school in Wisconsin, regardless of where they live or where the school is located. Based on Wisconsin’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. Traditional public schools aren’t all the same: They may differ in learning methods and one may just “feel different” than another to you.
Another public school choice for Wisconsin 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 are allowed extra freedom to innovate with curriculum and learning methods and held accountable to authorizing bodies for results.
As of the 2019-2020 school year, Wisconsin families can choose from 236 public charter schools. Each school has a charter which explains the school’s purpose and what specific community need it serves, whether that be providing a language immersion 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 also choose magnet schools! These free public schools allow kids to narrow in on a specific learning track, such as engineering or the arts. Magnet schools teach all subjects through the lenses of that specific track. Wisconsin has several magnet schools scattered throughout the state. These might be a good option if your child learns best by focusing on a subject they are passionate about.
Private schools offer a unique learning environment that may be smaller in size, pass on a specific religious tradition, or provide a different curriculum than is available in your district school.
Wisconsin’s private schools come in all shapes and sizes. While private schools do charge tuition, any Wisconsin taxpayer can deduct the cost of private school tuition. Also, Wisconsin students who meet certain income limits, or students with special needs, may qualify for state-run scholarship programs. Additional funding may be available from other sources.
Don’t overlook virtual learning just because it is off the beaten track. 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.
Wisconsin offers several free, full-time online learning options for students, such as Wisconsin Connections Academy and Destinations Career Academy of Wisconsin. For part-time classes, middle-school and high-school students in Wisconsin can enroll in online classes through Wisconsin Virtual School, for a fee. Students at public and private schools should enroll through their schools; homeschooled students can enroll directly.
Wisconsin 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 parents to homeschool. Check here and here for resources about homeschooling specific to Wisconsin.
For additional information about school choices in Wisconsin, visit these resources:
National School Choice Week 2020 will be held from January 26 – February 1, 2020. We encourage all schools, homeschool groups, organizations and individuals to sign up to receive a free box of NSCW supplies for celebrations in 2020. Click here for more information.
Wisconsin celebrated National School Choice Week 2019 with a record-breaking 907 events and activities across the state.
"Shining a spotlight on effective educational options for every child"