The American school system

If you are a Green Card winner and are moving to the USA with your children, then it is very important to become familiar with the American school system. Every state has their own rules and regulations for how long children must attend school or when they start. To help you get started on the right foot, we have prepared some information that will help guide you.

Do children have to attend school in the USA?

The chance to live in a foreign country is a very enriching experience for a child. It is often easier for a child to settle in, learn the language and make new friends. Despite this, the first day at their new school can be scary. It is not possible for the child, though, to simply stay at home since the USA has strict regulations for attending school. Depending on the state, children are required to be in school until a specific age.

State

Ages

State

Ages

Alabama

6-16

Montana

7-16

Alaska

7-16

Nebraska

6-18

Arizona

6-16

Nevada

7-18

Arkansas

5-17

New Hampshire

6-16

California

6-18

New Jersey

6-16

Colorado

6-17

New Mexico

5-18

Connecticut

5-18

New York

6-16

Delaware

5-16

North Carolina

7-16

Florida

6-16

North Dakota

7-16

Georgia

6-16

Ohio

6-18

Hawaii

6-18

Oklahoma

5-18

Idaho

7-16

Oregon

7-18

Illinois

7-17

Pennsylvania

8-17

Indiana

7-16

Rhode Island

6-18

Iowa

6-16

South Carolina

5-17

Kansas

7-18

South Dakota

6-18

Kentucky

6-16

Tennessee

6-17

Louisiana

7-18

Texas

6-18

Maine

7-17

Utah

6-18

Maryland

5-16

Vermont

6-16

Massachusetts

6-16

Virginia/D.C.

5-18

Michigan

6-16

Washington

8-18

Minnesota

7-16

West Virginia

6-16

Mississippi

6-17

Wisconsin

6-18

Missouri

7-16

Wyoming

7-16

U.S. childcare for children under 5 years old

If you are moving to the USA with a child under the age of 5 years that is not yet ready for school, then you can send your children to so-called day care centers, Preschool or Kindergarten. In the USA, this is a great way for children to learn the English language and meet new friends.

Day care centers 

In most families, both parents usually work which is no problem if you are living in the USA with a Green Card. During this time, parents have the choice to send their young children to so-called day care centers or nursery schools. These centers offer professional childcare for children who are not yet old enough to attend school. For the most part, parents must pay for these services and can provide either half or full day care. Normally, day cares accept children over the age of six weeks.  

 Picture of two children in the USA

Preschool

Preschool in the USA is the step between a day care center and kindergarten. In the USA, preschools are either state-owned or, in most cases, private. The difference between day cares and preschools is that preschools offer more of an educational setting. They run programs to prepare children for being in a school setting and use play to educate. Most parents move children from a day care to a preschool when they are between 3-4 years old. A preschool is a great place for children to learn the English language as well.

Private schools which require you to pay usually put emphasis on one or more education direction, for example: mathematics, language, music or the arts so that children can focus on a subject they like.

Kindergarten in the usa

All around the world, you will find the German word Kindergarten to describe schooling for young children. In the USA, Kindergarten is usually the first year of school for children and the year of schooling before first grade. In comparison to preschools, kindergarten is less about using play to learn, but has a full curriculum taught be professional teachers. Here, children start to learn how to read and calculate.

There are 15 states that require children to attend kindergarten. Depending on the state you live in, kindergarten is either a half or full day. Most children are between the ages of five and six when they start.   

What do I need to sign my child up for school in the USA? 

Immigrants in the USA are required to register their children for school. Once you have settled down in the state of your choice, you must contact the local school district responsible for your neighborhood. The school district gives the family a list of school options to choose from. Children don’t necessarily have to go to the school that is closest to them.

In order to apply, the family must provide the following documents:

  • Proof of the child’s age: e.g. passport or birth certificate
  • Proof of residency: e.g. an American driver’s license, utilities bills, housing/apartment contract or tax return
  • Vaccination record: Vaccination requirements differ from state to state
  • Generally, the child’s Social Security Card
  • The results of a medical examination and a completed tuberculosis test

Fundamentally, each school has their own rules and requirements which is why we recommend contacting your school district for more information.

Questions and answers to the American school system

Signing your child up for school is the first thing you should do when you get settled in the USA. The following FAQs provides answers questions parents may still have about the school system in the USA.

1. Question:
How long is the school year?

ANSWER:
The American school year usually starts in August/September and end in May/June. In some places, children attend school year-round. Children go to school from Monday to Friday. Some schools offer after-school programs to children whose parents work longer. Parents usually have to pay for these programs.  

2. Question:
What do I do if my child does not speak English?

ANSWER:
The school is responsible for evaluating and placing your child in the right class. Schools receive support from the U.S. government as well as the state to provide English language courses, such as “English as a Second Language (ESL)” for children as well as bilingual teaching in some cases. You should contact your school to inform yourself about how to test your child and place them in the right class. Even if your child does not speak English, they are required to complete the curriculum for their age. English language (ESL) and bilingual courses will help.  

3. Question:
My child has a disability. Where do I start?

ANSWER:
Schooling for children with physical or mental disabilities is free. Depending on the type of disability, your child has the option to attend regular classes. If the child requires special care, the child can still attend school and take part in courses geared specifically for them. They may also have someone accompany them during the school day.

4. Question:
How long can my child go to school for free?

ANSWER:
In most states, children can attend school for free up until the age of 21 years. If your child does not complete their high school education, then they can apply to take the “General Educational Development (GED)” test. Adults can take prepare for this test at an adult education institution. Call the educational department in your town to get more information on preparing and taking the GED.

5. Question:
How does my kid get to school?

ANSWER:
Sometimes children are able to walk to school in the USA. If the school is too far away, then children can take the bus or drive. Public schools have their own buses that pick-up schoolchildren for free. The school has a map of the bus stops closest to your house or apartment and children wait at these stops in the morning. If you don’t know if there is a bus stop close to you, then you should contact the school. If you have a car, you can either carpool or drive your child to school. It is also possible to contact other parents around you and make a driving schedule.

6. Question:
What does my child eat for lunch at the school?

ANSWER:
Children can either eat in the cafeteria or bring their own lunches to school. The U.S. government does provide free or reduced-price meals for children who cannot afford to buy lunch at the school cafeteria. Call your school to get more information about meal programs for your child and if you are qualified.  

7. Question:
Who pays for books and field trips?

ANSWER:
Public schools, for the most part, provide all the books for the school curriculum. The child’s parents though are responsible for buying school supplies such as notebooks, pens, folder, etc. If you are not able to afford your child’s school supplies, then you should contact the school. There are programs to help parents in need get school supplies for their children. Depending on the event, schools usually require children to pay a small fee for field trips. Many schools provide support to children in need who want to play an instrument or take an art class.

Sources:

https://www.infoplease.com/us/elementary-and-high-school-education/state-compulsory-school-attendance-laws

http://www.differencebetween.com/difference-between-preschool-and-vs-kindergarten/

http://ecs.force.com/mbdata/mbquestRT?rep=Kq1403

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