Type of School Choices

Forty-six states and the District of Columbia have adopted various public school choice options for parents and guardians. Currently, nearly half—46 percent—of parents report that they have a choice of schools, and 16 percent of students attend a school of their choice, up from 11 percent in 1993.1

School choice options vary in both supply and demand. On the supply side, states and districts have created a wide range of schooling options from which parents might choose. On the demand side, states and districts have established laws and policies that allow parents to make particular choices or restrict their choices from among a set of schools. The Federal Government has encouraged some forms of school choice, for example, by providing funds for the creation of magnet schools and charter schools.

The following is a description of the major choice policies that allow parents to choose schools for their children:

Interdistrict Choice

About 15 states allow parents to choose to have their children attend any school within the state, in any school district. However, some states restrict such choices to students attending low-performing schools or allow receiving districts to restrict choices if space is limited. No state provides transportation to students crossing district boundaries.

Intradistrict Choice

Most states, and many school districts, allow parents to enroll their children in any school within a district. In some cases, though, districts “control” the choices to limit racial segregation. Not all districts provide transportation for such students, however. Under the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2002, the Federal Government requires districts to allow students who attend schools in need of improvement to transfer to higher-performing schools.

Voucher Programs

Ohio and Wisconsin provide vouchers to enable a limited number of low-income families to enroll their children in private or parochial schools in Cleveland and Milwaukee, respectively. The Federal Government had established a similar program for families in Washington, DC, but that program has been suspended. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of voucher programs in 2002; however, state courts have struck down voucher programs in Arizona and Florida.

Next, learn about additional school options created by states and districts.

1. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2009). The Condition of Education 2009 (NCES 2009–081), Indicator 32.