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State School Systems for Expats in the United States Of America

Submitted: September 2013

Public schools are supported by the government and are administered at federal level by the United States Department of Education. At public schools, education is free and compulsory for children under the age of sixteen, residing in the United States of America. There are minimal costs associated to attendance such as book rental fees and transport. Funding for public schools come from three levels, state, local and federal, which directly impacts the educational prospects within each district. With government contributing approximately 13 percent of funds and the balance almost evenly shared between state and local in most states, the disparity in funding is attributed to the districts’ varying degree of wealth as both state and local rely on taxes to fund schooling.

The education system in the United States is a structured system categorised by years and referred to as ‘Grades”. Children are required to commence their school life between the ages five (5) and six (6) (The commencement age varies by district). They are required to attend until they attain the age of sixteen (16), however most will attend until they graduate, usually around the ages seventeen (17) to eighteen (18). A child’s school life is divided into the following stages;

  • Pre-school or Nursery Schools - Though not compulsory, most children attend from ages three (3) to four (4)
  • Kindergarten – Categorised as K. A child enters kindergarten between the ages five (5) and six (6). The age of induction varies by state.
  • Elementary School – Elementary school runs from grades one (1) to five (5), and a child’s school life as part of elementary school will range from ages six (6) to thirteen (13)
  • Middle school –Middle schools begins at grade six (6) and ends at grade eight (8) for children ranging from age ten (10) to (13). However not all districts have middle school and the progression will be from elementary school to high school.
  • High school – High school begins at grade seven (7) and ends at grade twelve (12). A child will enter high school at around the age of fourteen (14) and will graduate between the ages seventeen (17) to eighteen (18).  
    • In some cases high school is split into junior high schools (grades seven (7) to nine (9)) and senior high schools (grades ten (10) to twelve (12)).

The school curricula and policies are set out through local school boards and follow a varying range of subjects, including core subjects such as Mathematics, English, Social Sciences, Sciences, and Physical Education, though it should be noted that not all schools teach foreign languages. The main language of instruction is American English.

The public school system acknowledges that there are children with special needs. These children are catered to by the state as law states that every child between the ages of five and sixteen is entitled to an education. These children are usually entitled to receive additional services or accommodation. Different states have different criteria for eligibility and it is important for a parent to be aware of these. If this is a concern, as a parent you are entitled to request an evaluation of your child to determine his/her needs, or if his/her existing needs are being met.

Free public transportation exists for students of public schools. At the last government survey in 2008, it was estimated that 55% of children relied on state funded transportation to and from school. The existence of the service varies by district, as this service is reliant on funding. Where available, this service is recognisable  by the distinct  “yellow” painted buses. However most times, if your residence is within in close proximity to the school (1 mile/3 km) you may be required to make your own travel arrangements. School transportation is also available in cities, and students can either access this via the yellow school bus service or via public transportation, such as the use of the subway system in New York.

When choosing a school you should consider the student teacher ratio, as classrooms may get large. See the following link for student teacher ratios by state. https://high-schools.com/

If you elect to send your child to a public school, the next step is registration. The registration process entails some procedures. Contact the United States Department of Education, to determine the name of the school district you currently reside in and into which school your residential address places your child. You can then contact the school and arrange a meeting to enroll your child. The school district will confirm whether the student is a resident of the district. Proof of residence within the district as well as proof of sate of birth will be required for enrollment. In some cases a child’s medical record may be requested.

 

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