Charter Schools

5 Ways to Get Your Child in a Good School Without Paying Tuition

Parents everywhere ask themselves the same question I did: What are my choices when choosing a school for my child? Since moving back to Atlanta, many of my friends have suggested I move to the neighboring city of Decatur—easier said than done. After weighing my options, I arrived at the same incomplete conclusion that other families draw: Expensive private school would provide the only alternative to a traditional public education. When my child was preschool age, I knew little to nothing about charter public schools. But just before her pre-K year began, postcards started to arrive from Chattahoochee Hills. A friend sent her daughter there, so I looked into it. It is a tuition-free public charter school, and my child could learn hands-on about nature and the environment, agriculture, arts and more. On her first day of kindergarten at our private school choice, I put my daughter’s name on the waitlist for Chattahoochee Hills. Three weeks later it was drawn in the lottery, and she’s been there ever since. I didn’t find out until much later that more than 15,000 Georgia kids are on charter school waitlists. That Atlanta parents will pay more to live in neighborhoods with a higher probability of charter school admission.

We Want the Same Choices For Our Kids That Other Children Have

We want excellent options somewhere between the failing schools we’re zoned for and private schools with tuition that might require parents to mortgage their homes. My daughter’s journey through public education is still unfolding—and we’re trying to navigate as best we can through a complex system with more barriers for some families than others. Although I’m still finding my bearings, here’s what I can share if my story sounds like yours.
  • Get informed Where did I turn when I learned that my zoned school wasn’t good enough for its teachers’ kids? Free online resources like GreatSchools.org and Niche. The Governor’s Office of Student Achievement publishes school report cards, as well—and other parents can often provide meaningful answers to your questions. What matters most is that you’re not afraid to ask them, or to continue asking until you have the information you need.
  • Understand your choices From traditional and charter public schools to Georgia’s tax-credit scholarship and permissive transfer policies, there are so many ways to wind through the education system. Inventory all of your options, and figure out what comes next in pursuing them for your child. The more choices the better.
  • Start early The best time to weigh your options—and to explore charter public schools—is when your child is in pre-K or younger. Tons of parents are starting down the same path, and planning ahead will give your child an advantage. If you’re getting ready to buy a house, use the opportunity to learn about local school options, too. The sooner your child’s name is on a waiting list, the more likely they’ll have a shot at enrollment.
  • If you can, and if you must—move No one should have to uproot their home to avoid a failing public school, but the reality is, we sometimes do. I save this advice for last, because I know how it felt when I heard it myself.
  • If you can’t—fill in the gaps When all else fails and your child must attend a public school that’s underperforming, make it your mission to round out their education with affordable or free community-based programs, after-school resources from local nonprofits or the school district, and more.
Just an update to my story, after waiting on over 10 waitlists, we were lucky to find a spot at Centennial Academy this fall.
Tressa Walker is a currently a mom of a third-grader in Atlanta Public Schools. She's a property manager.

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