Alternative high schools for at-risk students

Local governments can invest in this strategy using State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF) from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).
  • This strategy can help address educational disparities, promote healthy childhood environments, and prevent violence. The U.S. Department of Treasury has indicated that strategies that help achieve these outcomes are eligible for the use of Fiscal Recovery Funds
  • Investments in this strategy are SLFRF-eligible as long as they are made in qualified census tracts or are designed to assist populations or communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.

Program basics

  • Alternative high school programs aim to increase the likelihood that students at risk of academic failure receive either a high school diploma or a General Educational Development (GED) diploma.
  • Programs take many forms and may be delivered in schools or alternative community facilities affiliated with an accredited school.
  • Programs may have a single focus, such as mentoring, or they may include multiple services such as regular academic instruction, counseling, behavioral services, social skills and support, and career education.
  • Many school districts provide services in collaboration with the justice system, community mental health agencies, child protective services, substance use clinics, and crisis intervention centers.
  • Referrals to alternative schools are often based on recommendations from school staff; committees of teachers, administrators, and counselors; district-level administrators; or parent requests.

Strength of evidence

Evidence level: Proven (highest tier)

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Proven (highest tier)

Ranked as having the highest level of evidence by County Health Rankings and Roadmaps


Target population

High school-aged children

Program cost

$1,700 to $12,900 per student

Implementation locations

  • Nationwide

Dates active

Not available

Outcomes and impact

  • Strong evidence of improved high school graduation rates
  • On average, improved graduation rates among high-risk students by 15.5 percent
  • Studies show that all types of prevention strategies have success in reducing school dropouts

Keys to successful implementation

  • Note: This content is under review
  • Track student progress through unified databases.
  • Improve teacher effectiveness by providing specialized training and professional development.
  • Prioritize physical space and sufficient staffing in order to allow for a larger student capacity.
  • Follow the models of charter schools, career-focused schools and dropout-recovery programs by providing small classes staffed by caring professionals and offering career counseling. These are more successful than alternative high schools that closely resemble highly disciplinary correctional programs.
  • Hold high academic standards for students and set clear learning goals.
  • Programs that foster a close internal community and connect with outside organizations and the local business community successfully give students a sense of safety and connection, and provide them with further opportunities.

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