Chapter 4: Schools in the United States

Unlearning Box
As a student, you may have enjoyed going to school with friends who lived in your neighborhood. But did you know that where you live also can impact how well-funded and well-resourced your school is? Because schools get much of their funding from property taxes, areas with more expensive houses have higher taxes, resulting in more school funding. While the United States believes education should be accessible to all, where you live can determine which resources will or will not be available to benefit your learning.

This chapter will start with a discussion of the models of schools present in the United States today, including their funding, enrollment policies, and key characteristics. Within these models of schools, varying configurations of classrooms and instructional models are present. Governing and financing of schools varies at the federal, state, and local levels. Finally, the variety of schools in the United States present some families with the option of school choice. Current policies surrounding school choice, including charter schools and vouchers, will be explained.


Models of Schools

One central tenet of the U.S. education system is that all people in our country deserve access to education, regardless of the language you speak, how much money you make, where you live, or the color of your skin. Some other countries employ tracking, which means that certain individuals are channeled into certain educational “tracks” based on their perceived capabilities for future success. Tracking limits access to education for certain groups of people. In the United States, all children and youth have access to K-12 educational opportunities.


While the U.S. does not “track” students in the ways some other countries do, we do still engage in some forms of tracking. For example, you may have heard of–or even experienced–ability grouping. This term refers to placing students in homogeneous groups by ability levels. In secondary school, tracking may result in college prep, honors, or AP-level courses. Historically, these different curricula were developed when more Black and working-class students were entering schools, and elite educational opportunities were reserved for upper-middle-class students, who were often White, wanting to attend college (Education Week, 2004). Therefore, tracking “quickly took on the appearance of internal segregation” (para. 2), which is a problem since racial discrimination in education is illegal. So, while U.S. educational systems do not force a student into a specific educational track for a specific career at an early age like some countries do, tracking by ability level is still a harmful practice in many U.S. schools. Teachers need to be aware of potential biases toward students in certain tracked groups (i.e., AP students are “good” and college prep students are “bad”).

The majority of schools in the United States fall into one of two categories: public or private. A public school is defined as any school that is maintained through public funds to educate children living in that community or district for free. The structure and governance of a public school varies by model, but shares the characteristics of being free and open to all applicants within a defined boundary. A private school is defined as a school that is privately funded and maintained by a private group or organization, not the government, usually by charging tuition.  Private schools may follow a philosophy or viewpoint different from public schools; for example, many private schools are governed by religious institutions.

There are a variety of public school models, including traditional, charter, magnet, Montessori, virtual, alternative, and language immersion. Private school models include traditional, religious, parochial, Montessori, Waldorf, virtual, boarding, and international schools. Some school models may be public or private. Table 4.1 includes a breakdown of school models, their funding source, and key characteristics.

Table 4.1: School Models by Funding, Enrollment, and Key Characteristics

School Model Public or Private Enrollment Key Characteristics
Traditional Public Public Open/School Boundary Lines State and local governance, policy and curriculum.
Magnet Public Open across school district/Application or lottery Specializes in program (art, science, math, etc), promotes diversity across a district.
Alternative Public Students that cannot attend traditional school due to a variety of factors. State and local governance, policy and curriculum. Small class sizes and alternative scheduling. Individualized support.
Language Immersion/ Bilingual Both Open across school district/Application A portion of instruction is taught in a language other than English. Students are immersed in a second language for part of instruction.
Charter Both Open across school district/Application or lottery Autonomous from local and state authority as long as the school meets charter mission and performance measures.
Montessori Both Open across school district/Application Philosophy that children need connection to the environment. Focuses on real life experiences.
Waldorf Private Application/Tuition Believes each child has unique potential that should be developed through education to better humanity as a whole. While not specifically religious, Waldorf schools are based on general spirituality. Focuses on imagination and fantasy.
Virtual Both Open across school district/Application The majority of instruction is provided in an online environment.
Traditional Private Private Application/Tuition Curriculum decided upon by the governing body (board, organization, or company). May be non-profit or for profit.
Religious Private Application/Tuition Mission is to teach religious values in addition to teaching core curriculum.
Parochial Private Application/Tuition Mission is to teach religious values in addition to teaching core curriculum. School is sponsored by a local church through funding.
Boarding Private Application/Tuition Community of scholars, artists, and athletes. School provides food and housing.
International Private Application/Tuition Follows a curriculum different from that of the country in which the school is physically located. May use International Baccalaureate curriculum, among others. Students consist of a diverse population that is often highly mobile.
Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) Public Serves military and Department of Defense dependents serving overseas and in the U.S. U.S. contractor dependents may attend for a fee. Follows a standard curriculum across schools. Makes up the 10th largest school district in the U.S. Consists of two parallel districts: Department of Defense Dependents Schools (DoDDS) operating in Europe and the Pacific and Department of Defense Domestic Dependent Elementary and Secondary Schools operating in the Americas.

One type of school not listed in the table is homeschool. Homeschooling is a type of schooling that would not fall into either the public or private category. Homeschooling is defined as a child not enrolling in a public or private school, but receiving an education at home. Each state has its own rules and regulations that families must follow and report on if homeschooling. For example, the Virginia Department of Education (2021) requires that families inform the school division of their decision to homeschool their child, update the school district with the student’s annual academic progress, and provide evidence that the homeschool instructor (such as a parent) meets specific qualifications to fill the role.

Pause & Ponder

Which type(s) of school model(s) did you experience as a student? What were some benefits and drawbacks you experienced in that model of schooling?

Enrollment Policies

In addition to the schools being separated by their funding source, schools are defined by their process of enrollment. The majority of public schools operate on two basic enrollment guidelines: boundary or open. Districts with enrollment policies using school boundary lines allow all students within a geographic area to enroll in the school. If a school has an open enrollment policy, then the school will also allow students from other geographic areas within the district to enroll if space permits. School boundary lines are often highly politicized. Schools are publicly rated and this affects everything from property values to the quality of teachers recruited.  Ratings may be based on data sources like the school report card, which may include data on teacher education levels, teacher retention, student demographics, student performance on standardized tests, and student and teacher attendance rates. However, ratings also can be culturally biased: one nonprofit rating site called GreatSchools, which often is integrated into online realtor websites as families are choosing where to move, redid their rating formula in 2017 after it realized that their previous rating system prioritized schools in predominantly White neighborhoods (Barnum & LeMee, 2019).

Critical Lens: Redlining

Although the Supreme Court made segregated schools illegal in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, you will see many schools today that continue to have student populations that are separated by race or socioeconomic status. This trend is due to a practice called redlining, in which housing was allowed or denied in certain areas based on people’s race or socioeconomic status. Redlining has resulted in ongoing de facto segregation, which means that while overt segregation was outlawed, it still continues in other ways. In this map from EdBuild[1], you can see the relationships between racial/socioeconomic segregation and access to educational resources.

This map shows the results of redlining in Philadelphia in 1937. The hazardous, declining, and business and industry sectors align with lower-income areas, while the best, still desirable, and future development sectors align with higher-income areas. Therefore, schools would reflect these demographic distributions.

Some public school models, including charter, magnet, and language immersion, may have more students desiring to apply than there is space. In these schools, applications or lotteries may be used. An application system allows the schools to choose students based on characteristics, such as grades, demographic diversity, or geographic area. Often these schools are looking for high-achieving students or have a mission of diversifying the school. A lottery system gives each student that has applied an equal chance of attending and is decided by randomly selecting names from the pool of students.

Pause & Ponder

Look up some schools you attended as a student and, if you are in a new setting, some schools in your current area. How are they rated? What are their demographic compositions?

Key Characteristics

Schools also differ in several key characteristics beyond funding and enrollment. One key characteristic of schools is what individuals or entities provide supervision or oversight of the school’s functioning. A school’s ability to follow curriculum (how instruction is organized and managed) and policies (such as rules, expectations, and norms that school community members must follow) is directly tied to their funding.  We will learn more about how schools are funded later in this chapter.

For the majority of public schools (excluding charter schools), state and local entities supervise curriculum and policies. In private schools, boards, organizations, or companies often supervise curriculum and policies. In addition, a school’s curriculum is often defined by its mission or philosophy. Schools may differ in how curriculum is presented or in specialized programs. For example, language immersion schools present standardized curriculum in two languages, while magnet schools place an emphasis on a certain part of the curriculum like science or art. Religious schools may focus on presenting curriculum based on a religious viewpoint or values.

Classroom/Instructional Models

Within each school a variety of classroom models may be utilized. Traditionally, schools have different grade levels with a different teacher for each grade. However, some schools may incorporate multi-age classrooms. Multi-age classrooms allow for students of different grades to be in one class. For example, students in second and third grade may be combined in one classroom. While this may seem difficult to manage, a traditional classroom model does not guarantee that all students with the same chronological age will be at the same developmental stage. Children develop at different rates and have different academic skill levels. Many multi-age classrooms recognize this and are able to provide both homogeneous and heterogeneous groupings in the classroom. When students are grouped homogeneously for small group lessons, a younger student may benefit from instruction at a higher level that they may not have had access to at their grade level. Heterogeneous grouping of students also provides peer modeling and support from more advanced students (Carter, 2005).

Many multi-age classrooms and traditional classroom models utilize co-teaching. Co-teaching is when teachers are paired up in a classroom and share the responsibility of planning, teaching, and assessing students. Having more than one teacher in a classroom provides additional support for students that need one-on-one instruction or additional supports. This is often seen in classrooms where special education or bilingual teachers are paired with a classroom teacher to make instruction for students with disabilities or English Language Learners more inclusive. Co-teaching also may elevate instruction by having two teachers plan together. The division of teaching responsibilities may present itself in a variety of ways, including the following: one teacher teaches and the other observes, one teaches and one drifts, teachers teach at stations, team teaching (both tag team at teaching same lesson), and parallel teaching (class is divided into two groups that receive the same instruction simultaneously) (Trites, 2017).

Sometimes an individual teacher may loop with their students. Looping occurs when a classroom teacher moves with a group of students from grade to grade. For example, a teacher may have a group of students for third grade, and then move with them to fourth grade. Early looping, or teacher cycling, has foundations in one-room schoolhouses. In the early 1900s, looping was also promoted in urban school districts as a way to improve relationships between students and teachers. Looping is also a key component of Waldorf schools. Looping may increase student-teacher relationships and family-teacher relationships, but it also may increase instructional time from year to year. When teachers loop with students, the classroom routines and structure remain the same, so valuable instructional time is not spent on teaching new routines and classroom structure. Teachers may also spend less time on initial assessment of students. Research has shown that when teachers loop, less retention and referral of students occurs (Grant, Richardson & Forsten, 2000). For looping to be successful, a teacher must feel comfortable teaching across grade levels and be seen as effective. If a teacher is ineffective, then students looping would be at a disadvantage. A teacher wanting to loop may also have difficulty doing so if it is not common in their school or district. Many teachers only teach one grade, but if a third-grade teacher loops to fourth grade, it means a fourth-grade teacher at the school must also be willing to leave that grade level.

Different classroom and teaching models vary from school to school and district to district. Multi-age classrooms, co-teaching, and looping may be implemented by choice, or as a way to consolidate or expand resources. For example, multi-age classrooms may help schools save space when classroom space is limited within the physical school. These practices may also help students when academic or developmental needs are highly diverse. If a school has a large percentage of children that are academically diverse, then dividing them by chronological age may not be appropriate. These decisions are often made at the school level by the principal.

Pause & Ponder

Have you experienced any of these instructional models? Do any of these instructional models intrigue you for your future classroom? Why or why not?

Governing Structures in Schools

When considering how decisions concerning schools are made, there are various levels of involvement in educational governance at the federal, state and local levels. The federal government has limited powers, but maintains influence through promoting educational policies and reforms. The state government determines standards and policies for the state. The school district, sometimes called the local educational agency, is responsible for reporting and working with the state educational agency. At the local level, schools are combined by geographical lines to make up school districts. Finally, schools themselves follow a local governing structure. Figure 4.1 shows how schools are governed at the federal, state, district, and school level. The following section will discuss the structure and models at each level.

Figure 4.1: School Governance at Federal, State, District, and School Levels (adapted from Powell, 2019)


As you learned in Chapter 3, the United States federal government does not have direct authority over schools in each state. It does not tell schools what to teach or how. However, it does have the power to lead by:

  • promoting policies and reform efforts;
  • providing federal assistance appropriated by Congress;
  • enforcing civil rights laws pertaining to education; and
  • collecting and providing statistics on education (U.S. Department of Education, 2010).

President Andrew Jackson created a cabinet-level Department of Education in 1867, and Congress officially established the United States Department of Education in 1979. The department maintains its power through the distribution of federal education assistance. The head of the U.S. Department of Education is nominated by the president and approved by the Senate (U.S. Department of Education, 2010).

Stop & Investigate

Who is the current U.S. Secretary of Education? What policies have they enacted during their tenure? What educational background do they bring with them to the position?

Many educational reforms have been promoted over the years. Table 4.2 outlines major educational acts and their impact on the U.S. education system. An act is an individual, stand-alone law. Major components of these acts and policies were designed to increase student achievement, which is measured through standardized testing. These acts also work to promote desegregation, protect against discrimination, and provide funding for underresourced students.

Table 4.2: Major Federal Acts in Education

Year Title/Act Outcome
1958 National Defense Education Act (NDEA) Provided federal school funding tied to testing and assessment requirements.
1964 Title VI of the Civil Rights Act Prohibits discrimination “on the basis of race, color, and national origin in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance.”
1965 Title 1 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Created federal funding to support local schools in funding children in disadvantaged localities.
1973 Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act Prohibited discrimination based on disability.
1975 Education for all Handicapped Children Act Required public schools to provide free, appropriate education to students with disabilities.
2002 No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001 Reauthorized ESEA (1965), but increased student testing, resources for recruiting teachers, and implementing research-based education programs.
2009 American Reinvestment and Recovery Act; included Race to the Top Initiative (U.S. Department of Education, 2009) Earmarked $90 billion for education; designed to spur educational reform through $4.35 billion in competitive grant funds. This act also became the catalyst for the adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).
2015 Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) reauthorized (ESSA, NCLB, and ESEA all refer to the same law, but differed in authorizations) (U.S. Department of Education, 2019) Protections for disadvantaged and high-need students (English Language Learners) put in place. Requires states submit plans for academic standards, annual testing, and school report cards.

It is important to note that all of these acts include federal funding formulas and methods of distributing federal funds. The progression of reform progressively ties funding to standardized assessment and curriculum, while also providing earmarked funds for Title 1 schools, which will be discussed below.


At the state level, there are three major positions that make decisions related to education.

  • The governor acts as the chief officer and oversees policy. The governor also has the ability to veto and approve legislation.
  • The state board of education includes members that act as policy makers and liaisons for educators.
  • The chief state school officer, also called the state superintendent, is responsible for administrative oversight of state education agencies. The chief state school officer may be a member of the state board of education, but is directly responsible for making sure policies and state laws are followed.

These positions are elected or appointed in four different governance models. In the first model, the electorate elects the governor, who then appoints the state board of education and the chief state school officer. In the second model, the electorate elects the governor, who appoints the state board of education, who then appoints the chief state school officer. In the third model, the electorate elects the governor and the chief state school officer, then the governor appoints the state board of education. In the fourth model, the electorate elects the governor and the state board of education, who then appoints the state chief state school officer. There are also states that use modified versions of these models. It is important to understand your own state’s structure to see where accountability and authority are positioned.

At the state level, there are many central decisions made for all of the local school districts. First, the state allocates funds to each school district. Later in this chapter, school funding will be discussed, but the state makes up a considerable portion of funds for students. The state also sets standards for assessment and curriculum. It is then up to each locality to decide how the curriculum is implemented. The state is also responsible for licensing public and private schools, charter schools, and teachers and public-school staff (Chen, 2018). In addition, states establish compulsory education laws, which dictate between which ages students must attend school, often from ages five or six through 17 or 18, reflecting the range of the K-12 spectrum.


Most states give responsibility for the operations and accounting to local school systems. These local school systems are defined by school districts. School district boundaries are often determined by geographic lines that may be drawn by county or centers of population. The majority of school districts are then run by school boards. School board members are either appointed by the mayor or city council, or they are elected by the public. The school board then elects a superintendent to oversee the district. The local school district makes decisions on allocation of funding within the district, curriculum, school policies, and employment policies and decisions.

Stop & Investigate

What school districts are near you? How are their boundaries determined? How many schools do they contain?


The most local governance structure occurs in individual schools. Each school has its own leadership structure, usually headed by the principal (Chen, 2018). Other members of the school administration include assistant principals, with the number of assistant principals corresponding to the size of the student body. Administrators of individual schools are responsible for supporting their faculty and staff to fulfill district and state educational policies. Administrators are also liaisons between schools, families, and local communities.

Financing of Schools

School funding follows a similar pattern as school governance. The federal government distributes monies to State Education Agencies (SEAs), who then distribute monies to Local Education Agencies (LEAs). The following section will discuss how these funds are distributed and equality issues that arise.


As you orient yourself to the existing structures for funding education in the U.S. in the following section, be aware that these current structures aren’t perfect. The organization EdBuild researched challenges with existing school funding systems in the U.S. Their research explains how the existing funding system is broken[2], some ideas for fixing it[3], and provides other tools to learn more[4].

Federal Funding

The federal government is responsible for providing around nine percent of a school’s budget. While this may not seem like very much, in 2013, that amounted to $71 billion dollars in federal funding (Census Bureau, 2015). The amount of federal funding for schools depends on the annual budget proposed by the president and set by Congress through a budget resolution. SEAs then submit plans to the federal government outlining how they will assess student progress and what their learning outcomes are.

The federal government supplies about 9% of a school’s budget. The remaining 91% comes from state and local sources, often derived from taxes.

In 1965, Congress passed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). In this act, Title I, Part A (Title I) provides federal assistance to LEAs and schools with large percentages of students from low-income, under-resourced families. These funds are to help ensure that all students are able to meet the state academic standards. Schools that receive these funds are often known as Title I schools or districts. The federal government provides funds to SEAs, who then allocate the money to LEAs. The LEAs are then responsible for allocating the funds to each school based on a funding formula. In general, these funds are used for targeted assistance programs, or if more than 40% of the students are eligible for Title I funds, then the funds may be used for school-wide improvement (EdBuild, 2020). The goal of distributing funds in this way is to make schools more equitable; however, these funds only account for nine percent of a school’s funding. The other 91 percent comes from state and local funding.

State and Local Funding

State and local school funding is based on complex funding formulas, with income often sourced from taxes on income, property, or sales. In general, most states use one or a combination of three different types of funding formulas: a student-based formula, a resource-based formula, or a hybrid formula. A student-based formula assumes a set amount that estimates how much it costs to educate one student. Adjustments are then made for students that are low income or receive special services for special education or English Language Learners. A resource-based formula uses the cost of resources or programs to fund specific programs. A hybrid funding formula will rely on multiple formulas. In 2020, 38 states used a student-based or hybrid funding formula. Across the nation, each state sets its own education budget, thus creating variance in funding and equitable education across states.

Stop & Investigate

On the Data Dashboard from EdBuild[5], choose your state and see which school districts have the highest and lowest distributions based on per pupil revenue. Do your findings surprise you? Why or why not?

This funding disparity is further widened at the local level. Local funding makes up around 45 percent of a school’s budget. Once a state distributes funds to LEAs, the LEAs are then in charge of distributing funds to each school. In 47 states, funding for education is raised through property taxes (EdBuild, 2020). Thus, schools within wealthy districts will raise more funds than schools in economically disadvantaged areas. The federal funds distributed to low income areas through Title I do not make up for the inequities in funding.

Critical Lens: Inequitable Funding

Funding public schools based on local property taxes can perpetuate issues of inequity when it comes to accessing resources needed for high-quality education. This NPR article (Lombardo, 2019) explains how predominantly White school districts can receive up to $23 billion more than districts that serve predominantly students of color. Watch this video to learn more about how systemic racism impacts school funding.

School Choice

With so many school models available in the U.S., how do families choose which type of school their child should attend? School choice is a complex issue for families to navigate. What may be best for one student is not always best for another. The choices for students also vary by geographic and socioeconomic boundaries. Many families make school decisions based on the following factors:

  • transportation and distance to chosen school;
  • cost or tuition of school;
  • curriculum and programs available;
  • religious affiliation; and
  • fit for the individual student.

Families in some areas of the U.S. also have greater access to the different models of schools presented at the beginning of this chapter than others. Small rural towns may only have one school within the immediate area. However, federal reform policies, such as No Child Left Behind (NCLB), have increased the number of charter schools and use of vouchers.

Stop & Investigate

Go to to explore what resources are available to support families with school choice options.

Charter Schools

In 2001, when NCLB was signed into law, federal and state funds required schools to make an Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) report, based on assessment data. Schools that did not meet AYP for two consecutive years were often required to earmark money for student tutoring or allow students to transfer. When a student transfers, the school’s funding formula decreases by one student, resulting in a loss of funds for the school. If a school continues to not meet AYP, then the school may be closed. When a school is closed, it often becomes a charter school (Brookhart, 2013).

As shown earlier in Table 4.1, charter schools are often publicly funded, but they do not have the same requirements as a traditional public school. When a student transfers out of a traditional school to a charter school, the funds follow the student. Charter schools are autonomous from public schools and to operate must meet the educational goals set forth in their charter. Charter school admittance is also application based, usually being first come, first served or by lottery. In 2010, charter schools comprised six percent of public school students, but now the number is closer to 30 percent in some localities (Prothero, 2018).

Why does it matter if public schools become charter schools? In many regions, like Minneapolis-St. Paul, California, and Texas, charter schools are more segregated than the public schools within those same boundaries, which were already highly segregated (Institute on Race and Poverty, 2008). Because charter schools rely on applications for admission, parent participation in the admission process also separates students by socioeconomics (Frankenberg et al., 2011).


One reason that school choice has become so politicized is the use of school vouchers. School vouchers are defined as “a government-supplied coupon that is used to offset tuition at an eligible private school” (Epple et al., 2017, p. 441). In the 1960s, some of the first school vouchers were awarded to promote desegregation. School voucher policies and programs today vary across localities and are present in over thirty states. Students who receive vouchers enroll in a private school, which receives those funds. The voucher may cover tuition in full, or offset it significantly. This video explains some of the pros and cons of vouchers.

Voucher Funding

Vouchers are funded by one of the following: tax revenues, tax credits, or by private organizations (Epple et al., 2017). The majority of states that use tax revenues to fund their vouchers provide vouchers to under-resourced students. For example, Milwaukee, Cleveland, New Orleans, and Washington, DC provide vouchers to students whose family income is just above the poverty line. Some areas, such as in Ohio and Indiana, provide vouchers using tax revenues to all students in failing school districts.

Some states (including Florida, Iowa, Georgia, Indiana, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island) utilize tax credits to fund vouchers. Businesses in these states that fund vouchers are provided a tax credit. For example, Florida businesses can receive 100 percent corporate tax income credit up to $559.1 million dollars (EdChoice, 2019). In addition to tax revenues and tax credits, many states also have privately funded voucher programs. One notable voucher program is the Children’s Scholarship Fund, which was founded with contributions from the Walton Family Foundation (Epple et al., 2017).

Voucher Outcomes

When a student uses a voucher to attend a private school, this changes the funding formulas for a local school. This student is no longer included in the funding formula for the LEA or SEA. This means that the local and state budget is lowered because one less student is being counted in that funding formula. School vouchers are provided and promoted to give underresourced students school choice, but not all students have equal opportunities.

Public schools allow and are required by law to provide services for all students. While policies prohibit private schools from discriminating against students based on race, many religious private schools may consider religious affiliation, sexual orientation (except Maryland, which has laws prohibiting private schools utilizing vouchers to do so), and disability in their admission decisions. Private schools are not exempt from discrimination laws, but the application process allows them to choose which students to admit. For example, a private school receiving government funds must provide students with disabilities with accommodations, unless these accommodations change the philosophy of the academic program, or create “significant difficulty or expense.” A large portion of private schools do not hire teachers trained to provide accommodations; thus, many claim they do not have the resources to serve students with disabilities. Vouchers are not beneficial for students with disabilities that cannot attend private schools, but vouchers also hinder these students further by diverting funds from the public schools, who do provide these services, when other students use vouchers.


While many individuals and groups call for school reform in order to provide equity to all students, the process is complex. As you have seen in this chapter, federal oversight of schools is somewhat limited, allowing school governance to be different within each district and state. What may seem beneficial for students in one school or community may not be beneficial for students in another school or community; therefore, the federal government leaves many decisions about education to the discretion of state and local agencies. Many school, district, and state policies are also tied to federal, state, and local funding, which all use a variety of funding formulas. In order to create change, it is important that an individual understands how policy and funding decisions are developed and implemented.

School choice and the varied school models within the U.S. also makes school reform highly political. While families are given the right to choose their own child’s education, many families’ choices are constrained by geographic and economic resources. The landscape of schools in the U.S. is constantly changing, but one principle will remain as the foundation of schools in this country: everyone deserves access to education.



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