Choosing a school? You’ve got options.
Arkansas parents, this post is for you. Each year you face one of the biggest decisions you can ever make for your child: Where they attend school. Knowing all your school choice options in Arkansas can help you select the best fit for your family.
There are a variety of school choices available to Arkansas families, and you can find one where your child is eager to attend and actively learning. You can choose from traditional public schools, public charter schools, public magnet schools, private schools, online learning, homeschooling, and microschooling and mix-and-match learning.
Interested in learning more about Arkansas’s ESA program? Check out our deep dive blog on the LEARNS Act!
- Traditional Public Schools
- Public Charter Schools
- Public Magnet Schools
- Private Schools
- Online Schools
Arkansas Traditional Public Schools
Most families in Arkansas choose traditional public schools for their child. Traditional public schools are free to attend, open to all students, operated by school districts, and funded by federal, state, and local government. Did you know that Arkansas spends about $11,266 per public school pupil each year? You can search your school’s spending and that of nearby schools at Project Nickel.
“Open enrollment” refers to whether parents are allowed to send their child to any public school, regardless of where it is located. In Arkansas, there are some limits on open enrollment, like seat capacity, but families may be able to transfer to a public school of choice beyond their neighborhood school. The LEARNS Act, passed in 2023, eliminated a cap on the number of students allowed to transfer, making open enrollment more accessible to families statewide.
If you would like to participate in open enrollment, contact your local district. Arkansas law prohibits districts from charging tuition for transfer students, so open enrollment is always free. Generally, transportation is not covered by the school you use open enrollment to select, unless that school district is under facilities distress or a special agreement is made between the receiving and sending districts.
Open enrollment can be a valuable way for you to have options within the public school system; you can visit multiple public schools and decide which is best for your family.
Arkansas Charter Schools
Additionally, you can consider charter schools. Charter schools are tuition-free public schools that are allowed extra freedom to innovate with curriculum and learning methods. As of 2023, Arkansas has about 95 public charter schools for parents to choose from.
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 is usually used to determine admittance.
In Arkansas there are both conversion schools and open-enrollment schools. Conversion schools are traditional public schools that have converted to charter schools. They usually only serve students within their district. Open-enrollment charter schools are run by a governmental entity, higher learning organization, or non-sectarian organization and can draw students from various districts. In 2023, the LEARNS Act eliminated a cap on the number of charter schools that can be opened by nonprofit organizations in the state, paving the way for more schools.
As the Arkansas Department of Education puts it, “Beyond the two basic types of charters, the concepts put in place by a public charter school are as broad as the imagination.” For one example of what charter schools offer Arkansas families, check out LISA Academy, a system of high-performing STEM charter schools. Another Arkansas charter school we talked to, Founders Classical Academy, makes classical education available to families in a free, public school environment.
Arkansas Magnet Schools
Magnet schools are another option. These are free public schools that allow kids to narrow in on a specific learning track, such as engineering or the performing arts. A magnet school teaches all subjects through the lenses of that specific track. These might be a good option if your kid learns best by focusing in on a subject he or she is passionate about.
You can find a list of Arkansas’ more than 30 magnet schools and programs at the Arkansas Department of Education Data Center. For example, one of Arkansas’ magnet schools is Hot Springs Park Magnet, which has an International Baccalaureate focus. Districts with magnet schools include Hot Springs, Marion, and Texarkana Arkansas School District No.7.
Arkansas Private Schools
Private schools are nonpublic schools that charge tuition. There are about 190 private schools across the state of Arkansas. These private schools come in all shapes and forms, from religious schools to schools designed for children with special needs. The average tuition for private schools in the state is $5,910 for elementary schools and $6,689 for high schools.
In 2023, Arkansas created a new scholarship program to help families afford nonpublic learning environments. Families who participate in the Arkansas Children’s Educational Freedom Accounts program can have 90% of their child’s state education funding (about $6,600 in 2023-24) deposited in an online account. Parents can then use that funding to pay for approved expenses, like tuition at an eligible private school.
For 2023-24, the program is open to students with disabilities, homeless students, foster students, first time kindergarteners, students currently in the Succeed Scholarship program, children of active duty military personnel, and students enrolled in the previous school year in F-rated public schools or Level 5 Intensive support school districts. Eligibility will expand next year, and any Arkansas student can apply by 2025! Find all the details in our Arkansas LEARNS Act Explainer.
Arkansas also has a tax-credit scholarship program for low-income children. This Philanthropic Investment in Arkansas Kids Scholarship Program offers scholarships of up to about $6,000 that eligible students can use for private school expenses. You can learn more at ACE Scholarships.
Learn more at Private School Review: Arkansas.
Arkansas Online Learning
There are many reasons to give online learning a try, from sports schedules to bullying issues to medical needs. Arkansas offers several free, full-time online learning options for students, like Arkansas Connections Academy and Arkansas Virtual Academy. These are multi-district, fully online options. More options are launching too: Two additional statewide virtual charter schools have been approved to open, and several more are in the pipeline for approval.
For part-time classes, Virtual Arkansas offers online options for any Arkansas student, though online classes for students in grades K-6 are limited. Students enrolled in a public school can take all or some of their Virtual Arkansas classes online. While Virtual Arkansas’ website lists fees for courses, the local school district pays those, not students and their families.
There are also some district online school options, some of which allow out-of-district students to apply using open enrollment. For example, Bentonville Schools, Rogers School District, Little Rock School District, Siloam Springs School District, and the Van Buren School District offer full-time virtual learning. Hybrid learning options include the Springdale School District’s Virtual Innovation Academy and LISA Academy Arkansas Hybrid School.
To read more about online learning in Arkansas, check out the Digital Learning Collaborative’s state profile.
Parents can also choose homeschooling! Homeschooling is the process of parents educating students at home. As both technology and school choices have spread in Arkansas, homeschooling is an increasingly popular choice.
In Arkansas, the state requires notice of your intent to homeschool your child by August 15 of each school year. If you are making the decision to homeschool mid-year, you must provide notice 5 days prior to withdrawing. In the case that you move, you must file your notice to homeschool within 30 days of establishing residency at your new location.
You are not required to teach specific subjects or use specific standardized tests if you choose to homeschool in Arkansas. Your child might still be eligible to participate in sports, activities, or classes at the local public school, though restrictions may apply. Additionally, homeschooled students with disabilities in Arkansas may be eligible to access special education services from their local school districts.
In the case that you want to switch back to public school, the school will require a transcript with courses taken and grades, as well as a portfolio, for placement into classes.
In 2023, Arkansas created a new scholarship program to help families afford nonpublic learning environments. By 2025, homeschoolers will be able to opt into the Arkansas Children’s Educational Freedom Account program and keep homeschooling, using the program funding for their approved homeschool curriculum. Just keep in mind that homeschoolers who participate in the Educational Freedom Account program will be required to take an annual test and may need to meet additional requirements that other homeschoolers statewide are not obliged to meet.
Check out The Education Alliance, Cabot Area Home Education (CAHE), the Arkansas Department of Education’s homeschool page, or Home School Legal Defense Association – Arkansas for more resources about Arkansas homeschooling.
Arkansas Microschools and Mix-and-Match Learning
Today, many Arkansas 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 commitment to small-group learning, close-knit relationships, and emphasizing children as individual learners.
Here are a few examples of innovative learning options in Arkansas:
ACRES is a new microschool opening in Brookland in fall 2023. Families will register as homeschoolers but come together for mixed-age learning with a Socratic style.
The Decker School in central Arkansas reimagines education through child-led exploration. Families can enroll part-time as homeschoolers, or participate in a full-time program.
Arkansas’ new Educational Freedom Account, which is phasing in over the next three years, will provide participating families with flexible funding that can be used for private school expenses, tutoring, and more.
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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