Alabama School Choice Roadmap
By: National School Choice Week Team
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 Alabama and make a choice, you can do it! And remember, every child is unique. So, the “best” school for your child may look different than the “best” school for your neighbor’s child.
A good starting point for choosing a school is knowing your options. That’s why this post will break down the six main learning environments available in Alabama. In short, you can choose from traditional public schools, public charter schools, public magnet schools, private schools, online academies, and homeschooling. Also, you can consider learning pods to supplement your school choice.
If you’re looking for special education options, you can learn about services available in Alabama at the Ultimate Guide to Special Education.
Alabama Traditional Public Schools
First of all, most families in Alabama choose for their children to attend traditional public schools. 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 public schools spend an average of $10,116 per pupil in Alabama? If you’d like to learn more, then you can search your school’s spending and that of nearby schools at Project Nickel.
In most states, families have some open enrollment options for public school. Open enrollment refers to whether you can enroll your child in a public school outside of your assigned neighborhood school. In Alabama, you can transfer your child to a different public school if you are zoned for a “failing school.” In other cases, if you choose a traditional public school, it will likely need to be the school assigned by your district.
Find out more about public schools in your state at the Alabama State Department of Education.
Additionally, depending on where you live in Alabama, you may have access to another public school option: public charter schools. Essentially, these schools are tuition-free public schools that have extra freedom to innovate and are accountable to authorizers for student achievement.
Alabama enacted a charter school law in 2015, but only had one charter school until 2018. That year, the state’s second charter school — University Charter, operated by the University of West Alabama — opened. For the 2022-2023 school year, Alabama has thirteen operating charter schools serving about 6,000 students. Currently, more charter schools are in the approval process.
Each public charter school has a charter which explains the school’s purpose and what specific community need it serves. For example, that might be providing a STEAM program or offering a rigorous, literacy-based curriculum. If there are more families seeking admittance to a charter school than there are seats, the school typically uses a lottery system (like drawing random names out of a hat!) to determine admittance.
If you’d like to learn more, check out New Schools for Alabama (Charter Schools) or the Alabama State Department of Education’s charter school resources.
Magnet schools are another free public school option in Alabama. Magnet schools allow kids to narrow in on a specific learning track, such as engineering or the performing arts; all the subjects at a magnet school are taught through the lenses of that specific track. If your child applies to and is accepted into a public magnet school, they can attend that school rather than their assigned public school.
Alabama has more than 30 magnet schools. For instance, the Mobile County Public School District (Alabama’s largest school district) offers a list of its eight magnet schools. As the district explains, “Our choice schools embody the belief that highly motivated and academically focused students have interests and talents that are better cultivated in a magnet school program. Our magnet schools have focused themes and curricula in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), Fine and Performing Arts, and International Baccalaureate.” In Mobile County, students are accepted into magnet schools based on a lottery system, and must meet entrance criteria. Other Alabama districts with magnet schools include Huntsville, Montgomery, Tuscaloosa, Phenix, and Decatur.
If you want to learn more, then you may want to take a look at U.S. News & World Report’s ranking of magnet high schools in your state.
In addition, you can choose private schools, nonpublic schools that charge tuition. Private schools definitely come in all shapes and forms, from religious schools to schools designed for children with special needs. Alabama’s Indian Springs School offers a boarding school option with the motto of “learning through living,” for instance, while The Altamont School uses a college preparatory program where every class is an honors class.
All in all, there are more than 400 private schools across the state of Alabama. The average tuition for private schools in the state is $7,452 per year for elementary schools and $7,921 for high schools.
While tuition may seem like a barrier, Alabama has two scholarship programs for families who wish to attend private schools. Firstly, children from families who qualify for the federal free and reduced-price lunch program can apply to the Education Scholarship Program. Secondly, the Alabama Accountability Act of 2013 allows parents who transfer their student from a failing public school to a non-failing public school or accredited private school to apply for a refundable tax credit. During 2022, legislators voted to improve and strengthen this tax credit scholarship program.
Whether your child wants to accelerate learning or needs a quieter environment in which to focus, you may be interested in trying virtual school. Alabama offers several free, full-time online learning options for students. Statewide options include Alabama Connections Academy, Alabama Destinations Career Academy, and Alabama Virtual Academy. Genesis Innovative School is based out of the Conecuh County system but is available to students statewide. Similarly, Athens Renaissance School is a district-run option that offers a fully virtual program for students statewide, as well as a blended program for students in-district. Jefferson County Virtual Academy of Learning is also available to students statewide, but in-district students can participate in extracurriculars at their zoned school. Alabama families willing to travel to Elmore County a few days a year for state testing can also consider The Edge Virtual School.
For free part-time classes, ACCESS Alabama functions as the state’s virtual school and is designed for high school students to take courses that may not be available (or easy to schedule) at their schools. Public school students in grades 9-12 can take classes for free; nonpublic school students can take courses for a fee.
As a graduation requirement, all Alabama students are required to take at least one online or technology-enhanced course.
To read more about online learning in Alabama, check out the Digital Learning Collaborative’s state profile.
Another school choice is homeschooling, the process of parents educating students at home, which is permitted in all 50 states. As both technology and school choices have spread in Alabama, homeschooling is an increasingly popular choice with more support and resources than ever.
In Alabama, the state requires a notice of your intent to homeschool within 5 days of your start date. It is recommended that you formally withdraw from your current school so that your student is not marked truant.
You are not required to teach specific subjects or use specific standardized tests if you choose to homeschool in Alabama. Your homeschooled child might still be eligible to participate in sports at your local public school, provided he or she meets the district’s requirements.
In the case that you want to switch back to public school, the school you are enrolling in may require records and placement testing.
Learn more about homeschool laws and how to homeschool in Alabama. You can also check out Homeschool Alabama, Home School Legal Defense Association – Alabama, the Alabama State Department of Education’s Nonpublic Schools section, and the Alabama Homeschool Activities Facebook Group.
Especially during the pandemic, many families turned to learning pods to bolster their child’s learning. While micro-schools, pods, pandemic pods, and learning pods may be different terms, they all refer to the same concept: students gathering together in a small group – with adult supervision – to learn, explore, and socialize. Pods themselves can take a variety of legal forms, but in general they can be separated into two categories: self-directed pod (homeschool, homeschool collaborative, or micro-school) and learning support pod. Obviously it’s important to understand what kind of pod you are signing up for and the requirements that go along with it. Learn more about learning pods.
If your learning pod or micro-school is choosing its own curriculum and each family is directing their own children’s schooling, then it likely qualifies as a homeschool in Alabama. Read more about the requirements for homeschooling and get tips from HSLDA.
If your learning pod contains multiple families and will have parents or other teachers leading unique classes just for your school, then it may qualify as a private school. You can read more about what Alabama classifies as a private school, how they’re regulated, and how to start one.
Learning Support Pods:
If your child is enrolled in an existing online school or local public, charter, or private school, and uses that school’s curriculum under the supervision of an adult in a learning pod, you do not need to register as a homeschool or private school.
For additional information about school choices in Alabama, visit these resources:
- Alabama State Department of Education
- New Schools for Alabama (Charter Schools)
- Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund
Original article from https://schoolchoiceweek.com/guide-school-choice-alabama/, 9/9/2022