Choosing a school? You’ve got options.
Choosing where your child goes to school is one of the biggest decisions you face. While it may feel intimidating to navigate your school options in South Dakota and make a choice, you can do it!
The best starting point for choosing a good school fit is knowing your options. This post will break down the main learning environments available in your state. In South Dakota, families can choose from traditional public schools, private schools, online learning, homeschooling, and microschooling and mix-and-match learning. While not currently options in South Dakota, most other states also offer families public charter schools and public magnet schools.
Looking for special education options? You can learn what special education services are available in South Dakota at the Ultimate Guide to Special Education.
- Traditional Public Schools
- Public Charter Schools
- Public Magnet Schools
- Private Schools
- Online Schools
South Dakota Traditional Public Schools
Most South Dakota families choose traditional public school for their child. Traditional public schools are operated by school districts, free to attend, open to all students, and funded by taxpayers. Did you know that, on average, South Dakota spends $10,952 per public school student each year?
South Dakota has unrestricted open enrollment for public school. What this means is that you can send your child to any public school in South Dakota, regardless of where you live or where the school is located. While the deadline for transfers between districts is the last Friday in September, a transfer within your district may be possible throughout the year.
For an example of the transfer process and timeline, check out Rapid City Area Schools’ guidelines. Generally, parents are responsible for their children’s transportation to a school they’ve selected through open enrollment, but districts can choose to cooperate to provide transportation.
You can take advantage of open enrollment by visiting multiple public schools near you and discovering 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.
Find out more about public schools in your state at the South Dakota Department of Education. You can also learn more about open enrollment at “Public Schools without Boundaries: A 50-State Ranking.”
South Dakota Charter Schools
South Dakota is one of only four states that have not yet passed laws allowing public charter schools. Charter schools are tuition-free public schools that have extra freedom to innovate. They are accountable to an authorizing entity for student achievement. Each school’s charter describes what unique community need the school seeks to fill, and the school may be authorized by a governing body, a college, or a school board.
While South Dakota families cannot yet choose public charters, this may be an option in the future. You can sign up for updates at South Dakota Charter Schools.
South Dakota Magnet Schools
Magnet schools are free public schools that allow kids to narrow in on a specific learning track, such as an International Baccalaureate program or the performing arts. Magnet schools teach all subjects through the lenses of that specific track. If your child learns well through diving deeply into a particular subject, a magnet school could be a good fit.
South Dakota is one of five states that do not currently have any freestanding magnet schools. There may be magnet programs in traditional public schools, and the law allows for independent magnet schools, so stay tuned in the future!
South Dakota Private Schools
Families can also choose private school. South Dakota’s private schools are nonpublic schools that charge tuition and have more freedom in the curricula and structure of learning environment. Private schools may offer unique programming, smaller class sizes, or a faith-based tradition.
There are more than 80 private schools across the state of South Dakota serving about 15,000 students. The average tuition for private schools in the state is $3,837 for elementary schools and $6,369 for high schools.
In South Dakota, families with income below 150% of the federal free and reduced-price lunch program ($77,006 for a family of four in 2022) may be eligible for a private school scholarship through the Partners in Education Tax Credit Program. Currently, about 41% of South Dakota families are eligible for the scholarship. In 2022, a bill passed that made students in foster care eligible for the program and increased the scholarship cap.
Additional funding may be available from other sources. Learn more at Private School Review: South Dakota.
South Dakota Online Learning
Don’t overlook online learning! 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. South Dakota families may be able to take free, online learning courses through their local school district if it participates in an online learning community.
The South Dakota Virtual School, in conjunction with the state Department of Education, offers a list of approved providers for online courses. Students coordinate with and register through their local district to take these online classes. Whether the student’s district will absorb the cost of the classes or will require the student to pay a fee varies by district. Some districts allow students to take online classes full-time, some allow students to take online classes part-time, and some do not allow for online learning. Students taking online courses remain enrolled in their home district and follow their district’s policies. Typically, registration is only open at certain times of the year and families must supply their own computer and internet access.
Besides the South Dakota Virtual School offerings, a few districts may offer their own online options, like Rapid City Area Schools’ online learning program.
Finally, keep in mind that there are paid, full-time online school options that are available to students in all 50 states, South Dakota included. Some of these are George Washington University Online High School, The Keystone School, Excel High School, and K12 Private Academy.
To read more about online learning in South Dakota, check out the Digital Learning Collaborative’s state profile.
South Dakota Homeschooling
South Dakota 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 it.
In South Dakota, it is required that you provide notice of your intent to homeschool within 30 days of beginning homeschooling. It is also required that you formally withdraw from your public school. In the case that you decide to switch back to public school, South Dakota schools may use a credit-by-exam program for placement.
Currently, the state requires homeschooling parents to include language arts and math in their curriculum, but standardized tests are not currently required.
Is your child an athlete? According to a bill passed in 2021 to empower parental choice, any homeschool student in South Dakota is eligible to participate in athletics, fine arts, or other activities sponsored by the South Dakota High School Activities Association.
Learn more details about homeschooling specific to South Dakota.
South Dakota Microschools and Mix-and-Match Learning
Today, many South Dakota 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 is one example of an an innovative, microschool-style learning environment in your state: Grounding Roots is a homeschool co-op of holistically minded families teaching project-based learning and nature learning, from candle-making to art techniques.
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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For additional information about school choice in South Dakota, visit these resources: