There’s a misconception that school choice is anti-public schools, or about just one form of choice – whether that be charter schools, private schools, or any other specific type. The truth is that school choice for families means extending educational opportunity to everyone and finding the right school fit for EVERY individual child.
I learned that when I needed a different educational option for my youngest son but faced obstacles in being allowed to choose a school that fit him better than our district school. In the two decades that have passed since I started my personal quest for school choice, I’ve fought for more educational rights for all parents.
For me, it’s about parents and children – not politics.
The terms “school choice” and “parental choice” are really interchangeable when talking about picking what is best for kids. Yet, so many people do not understand what school choice (parental choice) means.
To me, it means finding an educational environment that best meets a child’s needs.
My children all had different learning styles so I looked for schools and programs that would nurture their particular needs. I realized that traditional public schools, public charter schools, public magnet schools, private schools, online schools, homeschooling and hybrids of these all have qualities that parents should look at in determining the best education for their children. After all, we are our children’s first teachers. We know what they need.
Offering different options to parents through school choice programs is just what is needed to make sure every child receives a quality education. That is what “school choice” actually means. It’s not about preferring one type of school over another. It’s about offering many excellent options that parents can utilize to best develop their children.
Let’s take a look at the rundown of the most common kinds of school choice and what it looks like in various forms:
Traditional public schools
Traditional public schools exist in communities all across the nation. They are funded by taxpayers and do not charge any tuition to attend. They are managed by public school districts. People typically think of the “neighborhood school” concept when it comes to public elementary, middle and high schools and in some areas, children are assigned to a traditional public school based solely on geographic zones.
In other places, parents have the flexibility to send their children to any public school within a district, or even to a public school outside of their district. This is actually a form of school choice. These public school choice options, which are referred to as “open enrollment” policies, are becoming more popular.
Public charter schools
Charter schools are another form of public school choice. These public schools are funded by taxpayers and cannot charge tuition. Charter schools must accept all students who enroll, as long as space is available. In the U.S., 44 states currently allow for the creation of public charter schools.
There are some differences between charter and traditional public schools managed by school districts, though.
For example, charter schools are not always created or managed by school districts. In many states, state authorizing boards, universities, mayors, and nonprofit organizations can also authorize the opening of a new charter school. Specific metrics and goals are outlined by these entities in contracts with the school. Those items must be met for the school to remain open.
Charter schools must follow the rules set in place for them, but in exchange they can tap innovative themes, educational strategies and curriculum. Right now, nearly 7,000 charter schools are open across America and they serve 2.6 million children.
Public magnet schools
Magnet schools are also public schools that do not charge tuition to families and are funded by taxpayers. These schools are the result of teamwork between individual school districts or groups of school districts. In some cases, public school districts partner with colleges or universities to create magnet schools.
Magnet schools have a specific focus, or theme. There are some magnet schools that zero in on performing arts, while others have a math and science focus. Magnet schools can magnify technology, robotics, aviation, foreign languages, and other topics. The schools are not limited to the theme topic though. Proficiency in all subject areas is required.
Many magnet schools are open to all children, no matter what their academic achievement or history. Some magnet schools do require students to pass tests to attend.
Currently, there are 3,200+ magnet schools or programs in all 50 states and the District of Columbia and they serve 2.6 million children.
In America, there are more than 33,000 private, or nonpublic, schools that serve 5.4 million students. These schools charge tuition to attend but that’s where the similarities end. Though most people immediately think of religious schools when the topic of private schools is broached, there are many different types of these nonpublic entities. Independent schools, programs that serve children with special needs, and boarding and military academies are a few other examples of private schools.
Unlike traditional public, charter and magnet schools, private schools are not accessible to all families based on tuition costs – but that is changing. More than half of US states have created scholarship programs to help increase access to educational opportunity through make private, nonpublic schools.
These state-approved programs include:
- Opportunity scholarship programs, which allow parents to use all or part of the tax funding set aside for their children’s education to choose private education.
- Tax credit scholarship programs, which allow individuals and corporations to receive state tax credits for donating to nonprofit organizations that provide tuition assistance for children.
- Personal tax credits and deductions, which allow parents who send their children to private schools to receive state income tax credits, or deductions.
- Education savings accounts, which allow parents to access the state and/or local funds set aside for their child for a variety of educational needs, including private education.
In some cases, any family can apply for these programs. Others are limited to low-income families or those families whose children have special needs.
Online academies (also known as virtual/cyber schools or e-schools) teach students through a structured online curriculum. Many of these are public online schools that do not charge tuition and are funded by taxpayers. In fact, more than half of US states allow students to attend online schools full-time, statewide, with no tuition. In those states that do not offer public online schools, online learning is still available but families must pay tuition.
Online school students are assigned teachers and they complete assignments and take tests just like students in traditional, bricks-and-mortar schools.
Full-time online schools are just part of the bigger picture. Many other schools – from traditional public to charter to magnet to private – offer online learning components to their curriculum. This is called “blended learning” and allows students flexibility to be in typical classroom settings but have only options built in.
As the name implies, homeschooling happens within the family unit, at home. Parents provide curriculum and instruction but often other outside entities help, including homeschool groups/co-ops or online support groups.
Homeschooling is regulated by each state, though it is permitted in all 50 states. Specific legal requirements for homeschooling vary by state but common requirements include homeschool notification, record keeping, and academic assessment.
As one of the original types of school choice, homeschooling continues to gain in popularity, with 100,000 new students graduating from home education each year. More than 2.3 million students are educated at home.
(hat tip to National School Choice Week for the information I compiled on types of school choice)
There is so much value in each of the school choice options I’ve listed above, with each offering different opportunties for individual families, and within those families.
For me, having more choices to meet the needs of our children is a priority. It’s why I started fighting for school choice and continue to vocalize my support for it today.