6 Free Alternatives to Public School

6 Free Alternatives to Public School6 Free Alternatives to Public SchoolWhether you are choosing a kindergarten for the first time or moving onto a new middle school or high school, there is no decision more difficult - and more important - than your child's education.
When my oldest was in kindergarten, I never gave a thought to where she would go to school. The elementary down the street posted a sign for kindergarten roundup, and I showed up. The year was just pretty blah, but I had nothing to compare it to. She wasn't excited about school. She wasn't excited about learning. But, I still had no idea there was really any other option - short of moving out of our recently built home.

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The next few years were a little better. Her third grade was awesome - we had a young teacher with fabulous ideas that made for an interesting experience for our daughter. I finally saw hope. Until the fourth grade. It was pretty much a nightmare, but it's so hard to change schools. In our school system, fifth grade transitions to intermediate school, so we decided to give it another go.

But, I knew I couldn't start the process all over again with our middle child. This time, we did our research. We landed on private Montessori, which turned out to be no where near the expense I had feared. We now have three children at that same Montessori school (let's just say the new school wasn't a good fit for her either), but I've spent the last several months doing my research all over again.

Our school teaches through the eight grade, and our oldest will be in high school next year. And, private high school? Um, it costs more than our three girls' tuition all together! That is very clearly out of the question, so it was back to the drawing board for us. Here are a few alternatives we've found along the way:

Charter Schools: Charter schools are public schools - sponsored by universities, non-profits or corporations - and typically specialize in a certain field or educational style. Because they are publicly or privately funded, charter schools are free statewide, where available. Here in Indiana, we have more than 70 charter schools, and every resident is eligible to attend for free. There is typically an application process and may be a lottery or wait list.

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Homeschool: While it is completely free to educate your own child, there will be plenty of expenses involved in books, curriculum, supplies, and field trips. (Family memberships can help a lot here!) We (okay, I) decided early on that this was not the right fit for us, but I admire those who take education into their own hands.

Magnet Schools: Magnet schools are similar to charter schools in that they are publicly available and usually specialize in curriculum or style. These are fully publicly funded, though, so the scope is more limited. Your child can attend a magnet school if there is one in your district, but there will be an application process and likely a long waiting list.

Online Schools: If homeschooling isn't completely your thing, you can be a learning coach through an online school instead. Courses are provided online, while the parents supervise to keep the child's learning on track. You will find both private online schools and tuition-free public schools.

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Parochial Schools: There are a few private, parochial schools in this area that are tuition-free for parish members. I don't know much about the process, but my understanding from friends is that as long as you are members in good standing (typically including tithing requirements), you can apply. You're probably looking at another wait list, but it is a strong option if you have one available.

Private School Scholarships: While not necessarily free, I did want to include private schools on the list because people are not always aware of discounts, grants, and scholarships that may be available to them.

Of course, like any school, even these options are not all created equally. Do your homework, ask around, tour the schools.

The teen's current teachers were very knowledgeable about the charter schools in our area. We eliminated several on their recommendations and found a charter school based in classical education that our daughter loves. And, while I'm not a big fan of the drive, we are thrilled to find a school that feels like such a good fit for her - without a massive tuition bill for us.

- By Heather Sokol
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