All children have a right to free public education in every state in the USA. Learn about public school in the United States. Find helpful information and know what to expect.
Children from kindergarten through grade 12 in high school can go to public school for free. The city, state, or federal government fund public schools so you do not have to pay.
Education law says everyone has a right to free education. You don’t have to be a U.S. citizen or permanent legal resident to register your child in school.
Depending on the school, you’ll have to pay for some school supplies, materials, and activities.
Students can’t be discriminated against for origin, race, or color.
Teachers can’t ask students for a Social Security number or their immigration status.
All students have the right to freedom of religion. Public schools and libraries can’t prohibit hijabs, headscarves, or religious-mandated clothing. Read more about education law and rights.
Public schools offer mathematics, reading, writing, social studies, arts, and science classes. In some schools, students can learn foreign languages. Some offer vocational and technical skills like woodworking or cosmetology.
In the USA, there are education levels. Public school starts between 4 and 6 and continues until 16 to 18 years old.
Some public schools offer sports programs. Each school is different; some specialize in one academic subject or art.
There are full inclusion schools, with special education students integrated into the classes. There are public schools offering lessons for students with limited English knowledge. Check with the school.
Some public schools are open enrollment, meaning they welcome any student. Others required specific grades and high test scores. Visit the school before registering your child. Learn how to register your child in school.
Many different people work in U.S. schools. There are teachers and other people who are there to help your child.
Public school teachers prepare lessons and activities. They grade the students’ work and track how each student is doing. Teachers usually need to have a university degree and a license to teach in a school.
In the United States, students with low income can get breakfast and lunch for free or at low prices. Schools send school meal applications at the beginning of each school year. But, you can apply any time during the school year. You’ll need to send your application to your school or district.
Going to school is both exciting and hard. You will need to help your child in school. Learn how to support your child and help them succeed.
What other types of schools are there?
You can choose what type of school to send your children to. Most children go to public school because it is free. There are other ways to educate children in the USA instead of public school.
Students must pay to attend private school. Some are very expensive and offer scholarships to help children from families with low income.
Churches or religious organizations manage many private schools.
Private schools often have different rules than public schools.
Charter schools are free. Your child needs to apply to enroll; many charter schools have a waiting list.
They have the same academic and legal requirements as public schools.
Charter schools do not have to follow all the rules that public schools must follow.
Homeschooling is when a tutor or the parents teach children at home.
The parent must know and follow the state’s rules for homeschooling. These rules can vary from state to state.
There are many free homeschooling resources. but you’ll have to spend on books, computer programs, and school supplies.
Are there other things about U.S. public schools I should know?
Parents have responsibilities
Children must go to school in the United States. As an adult, you are responsible for sending your children to school. If you do not send your children to school, you can get in trouble and face legal issues. This varies by state.
Other parent responsibilities include:
- Send your child to school clothed, rested and ready to learn. (If there is a school dress code, your child must follow it)
- Review your child’s report card
- Be aware of your child’s homework and class expectations.
- Be part of school programs for parents
- Read and sign parent notices
- Be involved and maintain communication with your child’s teacher.
School Dress Code: Rules explaining what students can wear to school. These rules can be different for each school. The dress code is what the school considers appropriate. (Longer shorts, clothing that doesn’t promote the use of drugs, no low-cut tops, and no pajamas)
Safety in schools is essential
In the United States, it’s common for students to take part in emergency drills. Students learn what to do in case of a fire, a natural disaster, the presence of an intruder, and shootings.
Unfortunately, violence in schools is a common problem. Some types of school violence include
Recent school shootings have become a great concern for authorities, educators, and parents. Schools use different strategies to keep their students and staff safe.
Many schools have cameras to watch the main areas of the school. Others control the entries to the school and request picture IDs for teachers and staff. Some schools have installed metal detector checks too.
You can ask your child’s teacher or visit the school to learn more about the safety measures the school takes.
Preventing school shootings: resources
Causes for school shootings and how to prevent them
Gun safety resources in Spanish, Korean, Arabic, Persian, Amharic, Urdu, Vietnamese, Chinese and other languages
Video about school shootings and what can be done by parents, teachers, students
10 things you can do to prevent violence in your school. Tools for parents to start conversations with their children.
Say Something Program: Students can anonymously report a classmate at risk of harming themselves or others
The information on this page comes from the Department of Education and other trusted sources. We aim to offer easy to understand information that is updated regularly. This information is not legal advice.