Gone are the days when "choosing a school" meant you were opting out of the public-school system. Nowadays, within the public and private school systems, there are a variety of choices. To help Columbus parents navigate this process, we have compiled some useful information with help from School Choice Ohio (a non-profit organization that provides resources and support to families), the Ohio Department of Education, and local educators and administrators.

Gone are the days when "choosing a school" meant you were opting out of the public-school system. Nowadays, within the public and private school systems, there are a variety of choices. To help Columbus parents navigate this process, we have compiled some useful information with help from School Choice Ohio (a non-profit organization that provides resources and support to families), the Ohio Department of Education, and local educators and administrators. Key Terms *Public Schools: traditional publicly-funded schools, operated by a local school district and board of education *Magnet/Lottery Schools: public schools offering specialized curricula; they may have competitive entry procedures *Charter Schools: public schools operated on different state guidelines and also called "community" schools; they sometimes focus on particular teaching philosophies or subject areas, but are not based on religious faith. *Private Schools: charge tuition and are largely independent from the public-school system *Parochial Schools: charge tuition and include religious instruction as part of their mission and daily curricula *Homeschool: when parents educate their children on their own *Rolling Admissions: Students can apply and be admitted at any point in the school year. In a non-rolling admissions system, applications generally are made by early February with acceptance notification coming on March 1. Doing the Research *Start early, at least eight months prior to the start of a new school year, say school administrators, and be mindful of the various deadlines (whether applying for admission or financial aid). *Visit a school during open houses and during a normal school day *Talk to other parents and students at the school: "The grapevine is a fantastic resource," said Wuorinen. *Check out these websites: scohio.org; education.ohio.gov; greatschools.org/ohio; ilrc.ode.state.oh.us; and pickyparent.com (also offers a companion workbook to aid in decision making) Paying for It Families might be tempted to rule out a school that charges tuition once they see the price tag, but they shouldn't because scholarships and financial aid aren't just for college anymore: Public Scholarship Funds The state of Ohio has three types of scholarships available to qualified students: *EdChoice Scholarship Program: Gives students who attend the lowest-rated schools in Ohio the opportunity to attend a private school (about 25,000 children in Columbus currently qualify). "It's the best kept secret in the state!" said Sarah Pechan, director of community programs with School Choice Ohio. EdChoice provides up to $4,250 a year for K-8 students and up to $5,000 for high-school students. It's up to the tuition-charging school to decide if they'll accept this scholarship money. The 2012 deadline for scholarship applications is April 13. *Autism Scholarship: Any child in Ohio between the ages of 3 and 22 who has autism can apply. Recipients receive up to $20,000 in tuition. *Special Needs Scholarship: Currently in its first year, this fund is for a child with a special learning need or disability. Scholarships range from $7,000 to $20,000. To learn more about these scholarship programs and their deadlines, visit the Ohio Department of Education.
Private Scholarship Funds Most private schools, and even many parochial schools, have access to either grants or endowment money (interest-earning investments) that enable them to offer students financial aid. Most private scholarships are based on demonstrated financial need, but there can be scholarships based on merit. Just ask what's available, say school representatives: "If a family is really interested, there are options," said Village Academy Head of School Susan Lasley.