Public schools are provided mainly by local governments. Curricula, funding, teaching, and other policies are set through locally elected school boards by jurisdiction over school districts. The school districts are special-purpose districts authorized by provisions of state law. Generally, state governments can and do set minimum standards relating to almost all activities of primary and secondary schools, as well as funding and authorization to enact local school taxes to support the schools — primarily through real property taxes. The federal government funds aid to states and school districts that meet minimum federal standards. School accreditation decisions are made by voluntary regional associations. The first free public school in America was the Syms-Eaton Academy (1634) in Hampton, Virginia, while the first tax-supported public school in America was in Dedham, Massachusetts. In the United States, 88% of students attend public schools, compared with 9% who attend parochial schools, 1% who attend private independent schools, and 2% who are home-schooled.
Public school is normally split up into three stages: elementary school (kindergarten to 5th or 6th grade), middle (also called "intermediate" or "junior high") school (6th or 7th grade to 8th or 9th grade), and high school (9th to 12th).
The middle school format is increasingly common, in which the elementary school contains kindergarten through 5th grade and the Middle School contains 6th through 8th grade. In addition, some elementary schools are splitting into two levels, sometimes in separate buildings: primary school (usually K-2) and intermediate (3-5).
The K-8th format is also an emerging popular concept, in which students may attend only two schools for all of their K-12 education. Many charter schools feature the K-8 format in which all primary grades are housed in one section of the school while the traditional junior high school aged students are housed in another section of the school. Some very small school districts, primarily in rural areas, still maintain a K-12 system in which all students are housed in a single school.
In the United States, institutions of higher education that are operated and subsidized by U.S. states are also referred to as "public." However, unlike public secondary schools, public universities charge tuition, though these fees are usually much lower than those charged by private universities, particularly for "in-state" students. Community colleges, state colleges, and state universities are examples of public institutions of higher education. In particular, many state universities are regarded as among the best institutions of higher education in the U.S., though usually they are surpassed in ranking by certain private universities and colleges, such as those of the Ivy League, which are often very expensive and extremely selective in the students they accept. In several states, the administrations of public universities are elected via the general electoral ballot.
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