2015 School Choice Series: Pacific States

Noodle’s 2015 series provides a state-by-state overview of school choice options. In this article, you'll find descriptions of the available options in each of the Pacific states, relevant state and regional news items and debates, and resources for further research.

Whether you’re an advocate or a critic of school choice, it only directly affects you if it’s an option where you live.

Noodle has put together a state-by-state overview of school choice options in 2015. You can find descriptions of the available options — such as charter schools and voucher programs — relevant state and regional news items and debates, and resources for further research. This article focuses on the Pacific states: Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington. You can also follow this link to learn more about what school choice is.

School Choice in Alaska

Alaska is currently thought to have a weak school choice program. This is due to its lack of a private school choice program as well as its limited charter school options.

Vouchers for private schools are a hotly-debated issue. Many politicians want a constitutional amendment that would allow state money to fund private religious schools. The public reportedly favors a state voucher program.

While Alaska does allow charter schools, these are subject to regulations from the state’s Board of Education. Charter school advocates find this type of oversight limiting.

Open enrollment exists for intradistrict transfers. Policies favor transfers for low-income students.

Alaska employs online education through Alaska's Learning Network and Alaska Virtual School, among others.

Resources for Further Research

School Choice in California

Despite not having a private school choice option, California has strong school choice overall, thanks to its large system of charter schools. Well above 1,000 charters are currently in operation, collectively enrolling nearly half a million students across the state. The charter system is still a hot-button issue, with school choice advocates and teacher unions on either side.

A private school voucher program is unlikely to be enacted given the state's interpretation of the Blaine Amendment, which prohibits state monies from funding religious endeavors; many private schools would fall into such a category. Advocates of private school choice feel that tax credits may be a better option for the state.

The state also offers open enrollment, though there are many policies governing transfer options. For instance, if a student transfers outside of her home district, the receiving school must approve her acceptance. If a student transfers from a low-performing school into a better-performing one, the state will provide the necessary transportation.

At present, California offers more than 70 online charter schools — a greater number than can be found in any other state.

Resources for Further Research

School Choice in Hawaii

The state of Hawaii is itself one large school district.

Hawaii offers intradistrict open enrollment, but the acceptances are competitive. Some schools implement lotteries, and each school has its own admissions criteria. Usually students attend a school close to their neighborhood, unless they receive a geographic exception.

Hawaii has just above 30 charter schools.

The state doesn't have a fully online school, but it does have several supplemental options through the Hawaii Virtual Learning Network, the Hawaii Technology Academy, and others.

Resources for Further Research

School Choice in Oregon

Oregon recently ranked 32nd among the nation's states for school choice options.

The state does not have a private school choice program. Advocacy groups are hoping to advance legislation for tax credits and education savings accounts in the future.

Oregon does have about 120 charter schools, as well as an interdistrict open enrollment policy. Receiving schools can make the choice to accept students or opt out. Space issues are solved with lotteries. Transportation remains an issue, as districts are not obligated to provide it beyond their own boundaries.

Oregon has approximately 12 full-time online charter schools and supplemental education options through the Oregon Virtual School District.

Resources for Further Research

School Choice in Washington

Washington's primary mode of school choice can be found in interdistrict and intradistrict open enrollment transfers.

The state does not have a private school choice option, nor does it have charter schools. While Washington has passed legislation to allow charter schools, the law has not yet been implemented.

The state recently sought a waiver for the No Child Left Behind Act, but it was denied. This decision may open more school choice options in the state — including a greater number of students seeking to transfer out of low-performing schools. The majority of Washington's schools are labeled "failing" under the NCLB act, though education officials dispute this designation.

Washington does not have a state-led online education program, but multiple districts provide supplemental virtual courses.

Resources for Further Research

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