Many of Virginia’s public schools charge significant tuition to transfer students
Photo 27072315 © Joe Sohm |


Many of Virginia’s public schools charge significant tuition to transfer students

Research finds 55 Virginia public school divisions charge non-resident tuition rates to transfer students.

Last year, six states signed strong K-12 open enrollment proposals into law. Half of these were passed with major bipartisan support. Already, policymakers in 16 states, including Virginia, have introduced at least 32 open enrollment proposals in 2024. These policies would let students attend public schools other than their residentially assigned schools.

While Virginia, along with most states, lets school divisions accept transfer students voluntarily, only 16 states have policies that require schools with extra space to accept transfer students from other school districts. Yet, even this doesn’t mean that every applicant has access. Virginia and 24 other states let school districts charge transfer students out-of-pocket tuition. 

After reaching out to every Virginia school division that didn’t publish their tuition rates on their websites, Reason Foundation collected data on 81 of Virginia’s 131 school divisions, as shown in Table 1. Of these, 55, or 42%, of Virginia public school divisions charged non-resident tuition rates to transfer students. In some cases, public school tuition rates exceeded the average tuition rate in Virginia private schools by thousands of dollars.

For example, Falls Church Public Schools charged non-residents $24,000 per new enrollee for the 2023-24 school year at Meridian Public High School. Meanwhile, Alexandria City Public Schools charged non-resident students $18,500 for elementary students and $19,250 for secondary students.

For the divisions for which data was available, Table 1 shows if cross-division transfers are permitted and the rate charged to cross-division transfer students.

Table 1: Virginia Public School Divisions’ Tuition Rates Charged to Transfer Students

School DivisionAre cross-division transfers permitted? (Y/N)Tuition Rates
Accomack CountyN
Alexandria CityY$18,500 (elementary); $19,250 (secondary)
Amelia CountyY$0
Amherst CountyY$500
Appomattox CountyY$1,000 for first child; $500 for each additional child
Arlington CountyN
Augusta CountyY$750
Bath CountyY$0
Bedford CountyYTuition for 2023-24 is $4,250 per student
Botetourt CountyY$1,000
Bristol CityY$100
Buchanan CountyY$0
Buckingham CountyY$1,000
Buena Vista CityY$0
Campbell CountyY$2,757
Caroline CountyY$4,567
Carroll CountyY$500
Charlottesville CityY2022-23 Tuition Rates Grades K-8:
$1,337 for the first child in a family;
$1,094 for each additional child from the same family
Grades 9-12:
$1,701 for the first child in a family; $1,458 for each additional child from the same family
Chesapeake CityN
Chesterfield CountyY$8,988
Clarke CountyY$7,882
Colonial BeachY$0
Cumberland CountyY$0
Danville CityY$1,000
Dinwiddie CountyN
Essex CountyY$0
Fairfax CountyY$900 for the first student, $450 for the second student, $225 for third student and thereafter
Falls Church CityYTuition varies based on the school:
Mt. Daniel and Oak St- $18,400; Mary Ellen Henderson—$21,200; Meridian—$24,000
Fauquier CountyY$10,000
Fluvanna CountyY$5,224
Frederick CountyY$8,914
Fredericksburg CityY$5,372 for each of the first two children; $2,686 for each additional child
Galax CityY$0
Gloucester CountyY$5,255
Goochland CountyY$4,000
Grayson CountyY$0
Greensville CountyN
Harrisonburg CityY$1,200
Henrico CountyY$6,000
Henry CountyY$0
Highland CountyY$0
Isle of Wight CountyY$5,216
King William CountyY$3,850
Lancaster CountyY$0
Lexington CityY$1,100
Loudoun CountyY$14,000
Louisa CountyY$7,730
Lynchburg CityY$3,400
Madison CountyY$4,300
Martinsville CityY$0
Middlesex CountyY$1,000
Montgomery CountyN
Newport News CityY$6,165
Norfolk CityY$7,718
Northampton CountyY$0
Northumberland CountyY$0
Nottoway CountyY$0
Orange CountyY$4,875
Poquoson CityN
Portsmouth CityY$1,696
Powhatan CountyN
Prince William CountyY$8,531
Radford CityY$750
Rappahannock CountyY$9,876
Richmond CountyY$0
Roanoke CountyY$1,000
Rockbridge CountyY$200
Rockingham CountyY$1,000
Russell CountyY$0
Salem CityY$900 for the first student, $450 for the second student, $225 for the third student and thereafter
Shenandoah CountyY$5,032
Southampton CountyY$1,000 first child and $500 for each sibling
Stafford CountyN
Suffolk CityY$11,886
Tazewell CountyY$500
Warren CountyY$5,451
Waynesboro CityY$750
West PointY$12,800
Williamsburg-James City CountyY$12,978
Winchester CityY$8,127
York CountyY$7,081
Source: School divisions’ personnel and websites. This table excludes tuition rates and transfer options exclusively available to division or county workers. 

Overall, 55 school divisions charge non-resident tuition. At least eight school divisions charge more than $10,000 per transfer student.

Lexington City and Radford City Public Schools charge families $400 and $250 just to apply for a cross-division transfer. At least nine divisions prohibit student transfers from other divisions or significantly limit it. 

At least 17 school divisions charge $1,000 or less per pupil for annual public school tuition, and 18 school divisions charge no tuition to transfer students. For the 72 school divisions for which data was available, the average per-pupil cost of tuition for parents enrolling their first child in elementary school was approximately $4,000.

These examples show the importance of robust statewide open enrollment laws that make public schools open to all students regardless of where they live or if their parents can pay expensive tuition. 

Research from Florida and California shows that open enrollment benefits students since it lets them access schools with specialized courses, such as Advanced Placement (AP), escape bullying, that are highly ranked, or are a better fit. At the same time, reports from Ohio, Wisconsin, and California indicate that open enrollment encourages school districts to improve their competitive edge, helping them get better. 

Currently, 14 states have robust statewide open enrollment policies and stop public schools from charging transfer students tuition. These states still give priority in admission to students residentially assigned to schools, but transfer students have access to them when the schools aren’t full. 

For instance, Wisconsin’s Ashwaubenon School District and Waukesha School District accepted 1,203 and 1,211 cross-district transfer students during the 2022-23 school year, respectively. However, other districts, such as Pepin and Mercer School Districts, had fewer than 20 transfer students. More than 73,000 students used open enrollment in Wisconsin during the 2022-23 school year. On average, school districts enrolled 174 cross-district transfer students across the state’s 421 school districts. Moreover, none of these transfer students were charged a dime.

While half of states completely prohibit public schools from charging tuition to any public school students, more states need to adopt robust open enrollment policies to ensure that transfer students can fill empty seats. 

Public schools should not block access to students whose families cannot afford to move into their boundaries or pay public school tuition out-of-pocket. Open enrollment laws that make public schools free to all students are key to weakening the barriers that stop many students from finding a school that’s a good fit.