Alternative schools for students at-risk of not completing high school

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 overview

  • Educational approach for students at risk of dropping out: Alternative schooling is a dropout prevention strategy for students who are at an increased risk of not completing high school. By providing students with a range of social and educational supports, alternative high schools may increase high school completion rates.

  • Flexible academic structure: Alternative high schools offer students the chance to earn a high school diploma or GED with an academic structure that differs from traditional schools. These schools have low student to teacher ratios and emphasize the relationships between teachers and students as central to academic success. They also often offer flexible enrollment policies and schedules, such as allowing students to attend classes in the evening or on a part-time basis.

  • Offering supplemental services and supports: Alternative schools often offer students additional support services beyond what is available in a traditional high school. This may include childcare, counseling, drug rehabilitation, and support groups. Alternative schools also sometimes offer intensive vocational training and hands-on work experiences.

  • Varied locations and use cases: Typically, alternative schools are operated by traditional public school districts or charter schools, though other entities, like state education agencies or juvenile justice programs, may also administer alternative schools. They are often run as a school within a school inside of a traditional school building or on dedicated campuses.

Cost per Participant
$1,700 to $12,900 per student

Multiple studies with rigorous designs demonstrate that alternative high schools are a well-supported strategy for increasing high school completion for students at risk of dropping out.

  • Offer adaptable, personalized academic instruction: Students in alternative high schools typically struggle in a traditional academic environment, so teachers should emphasize relevant and individualized learning opportunities. This may include tailoring instruction to students’ education and career interests, ensuring that learning is relevant to their life outside of school, or integrating applied learning opportunities such as internships and guest speakers. In addition, students should have personalized learning plans and set learning goals in collaboration with teachers.

  • Utilize flexible disciplinary systems: Before attending an alternative school, many students have had behavioral challenges in traditional school settings. As such, alternative schools should incorporate different approaches to building school culture and addressing student behavior. This may involve a focus on conflict resolution, including the implementation of restorative justice practices.

  • Establish systems and resources to support transitions: Students in alternative school settings should have access to resources to support them in transitioning to college or career after graduating. This may include offering robust college and career planning guidance, including counseling on the college search and application process, and internships or guest speaker presentations from local businesses.

  • Emphasize family engagement: Alternative schools are best equipped to support students when they collaborate and build trust with parents and families. Teachers should regularly communicate with parents to share updates on student progress, and parents should be valued as equal partners in decision-making for the student. This may involve, for example, establishing weekly phone calls to check in with parents, or offering parents the chance to assume volunteer roles within the school (e.g., staffing an event).