Families who can afford it often choose their neighborhood public schools by moving to a residence within their desired school’s assigned district. For many families, that option is enough. But there are many more ways for families to choose the best educational setting for their kids.
Scroll down to learn more about how the many educational options are funded and how families can access them. Remember, every state is different, so be sure to click through to our additional information and resources.
ESAs allow parents to withdraw their children from public district or charter schools and receive a deposit of public funds into government-authorized savings accounts with restricted, but multiple, uses. Those funds—often distributed to families via debit card—can cover private school tuition and fees, online learning programs, private tutoring, community college costs, higher education expenses and other approved customized learning services and materials. Some ESAs, but not all, even allow students to use their funds to pay for a combination of public school courses and private services.
Vouchers give parents the freedom to choose a private school for their children, using all or part of the public funding set aside for their children’s education. Under such a program, funds typically expended by a school district would be allocated to a participating family in the form of a voucher to pay partial or full tuition for their child’s private school, including both religious and non-religious options.
Tax-credit scholarships allow taxpayers to receive full or partial tax credits when they donate to nonprofits that provide private school scholarships. Eligible taxpayers can include both individuals and businesses. In some states, scholarship-giving nonprofits also provide innovation grants to public schools and/or transportation assistance to students choosing alternative public schools.
Individual tax credits and deductions allow parents to receive state income tax relief for approved educational expenses, which can include private school tuition, books, supplies, computers, tutors and transportation.
Charter schools are independently run public schools exempt from many rules and regulations in exchange for increased accountability. Typically, if charters receive more applications than they have open seats, they must accept students based on a lottery. Families do not need to use ESAs, vouchers or tax-credit scholarships to pay to enroll their children in charter schools as these schools are already publicly funded.
A magnet school is a public school that offers specialized curricula and programs not available in traditional neighborhood public schools. Magnets are designed to attract students with a common interest or skillset, and students must apply and be accepted to enroll. Families do not need to use ESAs, vouchers or tax-credit scholarships to pay to enroll their children in magnet schools as these schools are already publicly funded.
Sometimes referred to as open enrollment, inter- and intra-district choice laws allow families to choose traditional public schools other than the ones the government assigned based on their ZIP Codes. Intra-district choice, allows families to choose from among more than one public school within their assigned district. Inter-district choice allows families to send their children to any traditional public school in their resident state or a defined region. Typically, these open enrollment options still allow public schools to give enrollment preference to students within their assigned district lines.
Homeschooling is an alternative form of education for children outside of public or private schools, typically within their own homes. Homeschooling is regulated differently from state to state.
Online learning allows students to work with their curriculum and teachers over the Internet—in combination with, or in place of, traditional classroom learning. Online schools can be public or private. Families may also use some educational choice options, such as ESAs and vouchers, to pay for online and virtual schooling.
Customized learning is unique to every child. As an example, some students might use ESA or course choice programs to mix courses from public schools with privately tutored classes at home, online courses, special education therapies and a work-study internship. The possibilities are endless, especially as new innovations in learning continue to emerge.
Generally speaking, town tuitioning allows students who live in towns that don’t have district public schools to receive their per-pupil education tax dollars to pay tuition at a neighboring town’s public school or a private school of their choice—sometimes even across state lines for families who live close to state borders. This type of school choice functions much like a school voucher, and only a handful of rural states in the northeast use it. Learn more about how town tuitioning works in the oldest program in the nation below.