English Language Learners / School Enrollment / Early Childhood Learning / Ages 2-18

What Types of Schools Are in My Neighborhood?

When you’ve recently moved to a new country, state, or even local area, it can be confusing to figure out what your school options are. Here’s what you need to know.

"Where should I send my child to school?" It can be a tough question to answer, especially if your neighborhood has multiple types of schools. Here’s what you need to know about the types of schools you might find, and what to consider.

In the United States, all children are guaranteed a “free and appropriate education.” This includes children with disabilities. It also includes all children regardless of their immigration status or the immigration status of their parents or family.

Several types of schools are common in the US:

  • Public schools: Every city and town offers public schools to all children at no cost to residents. In areas with lower populations, middle schools (usually for students in 5th or 6th grade through 8th grade) and high schools (for students in 9th through 12th grades) might be combined with other neighboring towns. If your child lives far from school, there will usually be bus transportation offered.
  • Specialized schools: Some school districts offer “magnet” or “specialized” schools, including those that focus on the arts or STEM. Your district may also offer schools that enroll students who meet certain academic criteria, like accelerated learning programs. These schools will have their own application process. They may admit students through a lottery, or they may include a special entrance test, audition, or other application process.
  • Charter schools: Charter schools are privately funded schools that are also free for families to attend. They are usually enrolled through lotteries that take place a few months before the start of the school year.
  • Religious schools: Many religious institutions, including churches, synagogues, and mosques, run schools. These require families to pay tuition, but tuition is usually lower than non-religious private schools. Many religious schools also offer financial aid for families that qualify. Requirements for enrollment at these schools vary: Some schools require families to be members of the religious institution that runs the school. Others will be open to anyone in the surrounding community. These schools will include some religious instruction as well as other subjects, so make sure you are comfortable with the curriculum before enrolling your child.
  • Private schools: Private schools charge families tuition to attend. (In many cases, financial aid will be available to families that qualify.) They might also have a slightly shorter school year with longer breaks.
  • Therapeutic schools: For students with more significant educational needs that can’t be met in public schools, therapeutic schools may be an option.

Here are a few other things to know:

  • Your child might be automatically assigned to a public school, or you might be given some choice about their school placement. Some public school districts have “zoned” schools. This means your child will be assigned to a school based on your home address. (This includes families living in shelters.) Other school districts have lotteries for school placement, or offer parents the choice of several schools.
  • Schools that are privately funded are not required to support students with special needs. Only public schools are legally required to provide support services for all students who need them. If your child’s needs go beyond what the public schools can offer, your school district is required to pay for an appropriate placement for your child. At private, religious, or charter schools, there may be special education support services available, but these vary by school and are not guaranteed by law.
  • For families experiencing homelessness, students are allowed to stay in the same school for the whole academic year. The McKinney-Vento Act protects that right for families experiencing homelessness, even if your family moves out of that school district. Transportation must also be provided for your child. This ensures that students who move from one temporary placement to another do not have their education disrupted.

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