Welcome to FindLaw's Education Options section. The journey of education is vast. There are many school options available to students. Today, school enrollment is mandatory for most children of a certain age range. State laws govern this age range.
For instance, parents have the option of sending their kids to public school. They can also choose to send their child to a private school or religious school. Some parents choose to keep their children home for home education.
In any event, state laws mandate students receive an education. This education should be comparable to public school education. State compulsory attendance law education requirements have a few exceptions. Regardless, all states have the same goal. They work to provide a high-quality education. This education must meet state requirements and prepare students for the future.
Why the Government Requires Education
School wasn't always required in the United States, but the concept of compulsory education dates back to the Aztecs in the 15th century. Massachusetts became the first state to enact a compulsory education law in 1852. This spread to other states in the early 20th century. These laws helped immigrant children assimilate to the New World and were also seen as a way to discourage employers from exploiting child labor.
Today, all U.S. states mandate children to attend school, typically beginning at about age six. These laws are compulsory attendance laws. Education lays the foundation for a well-informed, skilled, and active citizenry. Compulsory attendance laws ensure children receive an education. They help them gain skills in several subject areas. These areas include English language arts, mathematics, social studies, and more.
State law and federal law provide a few exceptions, such as allowing parents to homeschool their children. They may do so as long as they meet the same standards required of established schools. They also must allow for work release programs. The U.S. Supreme Court also ruled in 1972 that Amish children were exempt past the eighth grade.
Compulsory Education: A Brief Overview
Every state, from Alabama to New York to Hawaii and Wisconsin, has a compulsory attendance law. This means children must attend school for a set period of time each school year. The State Board of Education and local school boards determine the specifics. They will work with the State Department of Education. Together, they create policies for students.
They work to decide on the age range. They will make decisions on the compulsory school attendance requirements in their jurisdiction. Many students attend their local school district's public institutions, while some families opt out of nonpublic school options. These options include private and church schools.
Educational Flexibility and Homeschooling
Homeschool families have the right to offer instruction at home. The U.S. granted the right to provide schooling for children at home in the 1920s. Through a pair of Supreme Court cases, the right to homeschool children was born. Before starting homeschool instruction, parents will need to complete a few tasks. For example, parents often submit a notice of intent to homeschool their child. This notice goes to the local school district.
States often need parents to submit the planned curriculum. They also have to report on their child's progress. They must provide equal hours of instruction. Some states need homeschooled children to take certain standardized tests or achievement tests. These reports are often seen as an affidavit or proof of learning.
There is sometimes confusion over what is an equal education. Some states give parents of homeschooled children more latitude. These parents can choose their child's curriculum with greater flexibility. Homeschooled students must follow state requirements. Parents may teach themselves or hire a certified teacher or private tutor to provide the home instruction.
Home school regulation is generally done at the state level. Some states need the parent-teacher to prove their teacher qualifications. This is through state teacher certifications. Homeschool regulations, including those on immunizations, vary by state. In general, homeschooling itself doesn't inherently exempt children from immunization requirements.
Choosing Private and Religious Schools
Private and church schools offer distinct educational experiences for students. These schools might have a specific religious focus or offer specialized curricula. Accreditation ensures these schools meet or surpass local school standards. These schools are often funded through tuition and donations.
These schools do not receive federal funding. As a result, they do not have to follow the same regulations as public schools. For example, a Catholic school can begin each morning with a prayer. They also can tailor the curriculum to religious beliefs. Likewise, private schools can choose to focus instruction on the arts.
Some parents may choose to send particularly gifted children to high-achieving private schools. They might do this to ensure their child is fully engaged and challenged. Or maybe their child learns better at a Montessori school. Whatever their reasons, parents have choices beyond the public school system.
Attending Charter Schools
Charter schools are another alternative to the traditional public school option. These schools can offer unique curricula and learning environments. Nonprofit organizations manage many charter schools. These institutions operate with a contract, or charter. These charters are by the state or local education authority. The charter gives the school more flexibility in its approach. This allows many schools to adopt innovative programs and methodologies.
Upon graduation from a charter school, these students receive a high school diploma. Many charter schools focus on specific areas of learning. For example, some schools focus on technical education. At these schools, students receive hands-on skills. This knowledge usually caters to particular industries and careers.
Supporting Students With Disabilities
Students with disabilities are required to be afforded quality educational experiences. These experiences should be as enriching as any other educational program. Every local public school offers special education services. These tailored services help meet the unique needs of these students. The goal is to ensure these students obtain a free appropriate public education (FAPE). Sometimes a goal for these students is that they should progress through grade levels alongside their peers.
Students with special needs may receive an Individualized Education Program or IEP. An IEP is a customized plan developed specifically for a student. It details the support and modifications needed by the student. It also discusses goals for the student's academic success during high school and beyond. Determining eligibility for an IEP involves evaluation by educational professionals.
This document serves as a roadmap for tailoring the student's school day. It helps ensure each student receives the appropriate resources and accommodations. IEPs also ensure students receive the right teaching methods to flourish.
Getting Legal Help
Considering the different educational options available for American students can be daunting. It can be difficult to understand homeschool laws or teacher qualification requirements. Perhaps you have questions about homeschool eligibility or graduation requirements.
If you're uncertain about any aspect, you should consider seeking legal help. The U.S. Department of Education and State Departments of Education provide resources. State boards and local school boards also provide guidelines. Consulting with a legal professional can help you navigate these regulations.
Speak to an education law attorney about your legal issue today.
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