Practical Help for New Houston Immigrants

Schools for children

Enrolling your children in school

Texas law requires all children between ages 7 and 16 to attend school. Free public schooling is available for children ages 5 to 21 (or until the child graduates high school). Children ages 3 or 4 may be able to attend school too, especially if the child is from a non-English speaking family or a poor family. A child may attend public school in Texas no matter what the parents’ immigration status.

How do I enroll my child in a public school?

There are different schools for different ages of children. (See How are American schools organized? below for more information.) If you are unsure which school is appropriate for your child, you can visit the school nearest your home and talk to the office staff. They will tell you which school is appropriate for each of your children, based on the child's age, educational level, and your current address.

When you locate the correct school for your child, you should go to the office of that school to enroll your child. You will need to bring these documents with you:

  • The child’s birth certificate, or another legal document showing the child’s name and birth date.
  • Proof of your identity, such as a driver license or your immigration papers.
  • Proof of your residential address. If you have a driver license, it will show your address. If you don’t have a driver license or if the address on the license is incorrect, you should bring a utility bill (electric bill, water bill, etc.) showing your name and your current address. You may also bring a copy of your apartment lease documents.
  • A record of your child’s immunizations, signed by a doctor or nurse. Every child must receive certain immunizations before attending school, to prevent the spread of disease to other children. At the school there is a nurse who can tell you good places to get the immunizations your child may need.

A parent or legal guardian of the child must go to the school to enroll the child. A brother, sister, aunt, uncle or friend cannot enroll your child. If you need someone to assist you or translate for you, you can bring that person with you. But the parent or legal guardian is required to be there. The school will record the parent or legal guardian’s name, address, and date of birth.

How much does school cost?

There is no charge for tuition at public schools for grades K-12 (Kindergarten through 12th grade). However, you will need to purchase school supplies for your child. The school will give you a list of required supplies, and you must buy these supplies at a store. Many stores such as Wal Mart, Office Depot, CVS, Walgreens, Target, and others sell school supplies. Supplies may cost $25-$50 depending on the age of the child.

Some schools also require the children to wear uniforms. The school staff will give you a list of uniform requirements, and you will need to buy these clothes from a clothing store such as Wal Mart, Target, Ross, etc. If you cannot afford the expense of school uniforms, tell the school office staff. Sometimes the school may have a supply of donated clothing which they can give you.

Your child may purchase lunch at school, or may bring lunch with them from home. If you have a low income, your child may be able to get a free or reduced-price lunch at school. Ask the school staff how to apply for free lunches.

When are schools open?

Schools in Texas generally begin classes in August and finish in May. The months of June and July are “summer vacation” months for students.

Each school has its own hours. Most schools start between 7:30-8:30 in the morning, and most finish between 2:30-3:30 in the afternoon. Sports or other activities may take place before or after these hours.

How are American schools organized?

Public schools in America are organized into “grades”, based on the child’s age and educational level. The first year of school is called Kindergarten, for 5-year-old children. The next year is called 1st grade, and the grades continue each year through 12th grade. After completing grade 12, the child graduates from high school.

A particular school will usually have several different grades in one campus or facility. Each grade will have separate classrooms, but the students share the same cafeteria and play areas.

  • School for Kindergarten and grades 1-5 is called elementary school.
  • School with grades 6-8 is called middle school.
  • School for grades 9-12 is called high school.

Each classroom has one or more teachers. The head of the school is called the “principal.” A large school may have assistant principals who work with the principal and teachers. Some classes also have “aides” who assist the teacher in the classroom.

Public schools in Texas are paid for by taxes, but the government does not run the schools. Most schools in Texas are operated by independent school districts, which are separate from the government. The school district (or “ISD”) has an elected council known as the school board. The administrator in charge of the school district is called the superintendent. Each school district has a certain territory assigned by the state government, and it operates all public schools within that area. The school district has the authority to charge taxes to property owners within the boundaries of the district. The school district also receives money from the state of Texas. The district uses its money to pay for school buildings, teacher salaries, utility costs, etc. In Harris County there are 23 school districts, including Houston (HISD), Spring Branch ISD, CyFair ISD, Alief ISD, Aldine ISD, and many others.

Will my child receive religious training in a public school?

No, in public schools in the U.S. no religious training is provided, and there are no religious activities such as prayers. If you wish to provide religious training for your child, you should contact a church or other place of worship. Many churches and religious organizations offer free religious training for children.

Can I send my child to a religious or private school?

Yes, many church schools and private schools exist in Houston. These schools do not receive any financial assistance from the government, so they charge tuition. Tuition at Houston private schools is usually $500-600 per month per child, sometimes more. Some schools offer scholarships with reduced costs for certain types of students, so you may want to ask the school about this possibility.