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Curriculum Standards and Funding

Welcome to FindLaw's Curriculum Standards and Funding section, with articles and resources to help you understand the federal and state laws that determine curriculum and funding sources. This section covers everything from the manner in which curriculum is decided, exit testing for high school seniors, sources of school funding, the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, and more. In addition, you will find information about the history of school curriculum, the various methods of teacher accountability, and how school districts spend education funds.

The Basics of School Curriculum

The term "curriculum" refers to a mandated set of studies for a particular course, as determined by the school or school district. States and individual school districts determine a school's curriculum, but typically give teachers limited leeway to add to or augment the manner in which the required subject matter is presented. Curriculum is different for different grades and age groups, as certain topics are more important for younger students while others are appropriate for older children. For instance, elementary school curriculum doesn't include chemistry or complex discussions of how the U.S. government works.

How Curriculum Standards are Determined

There isn't one single entity responsible for determining a school's curriculum, since virtually all levels of government are somehow involved. While the executive branch of the federal government sets nationwide educational goals, primarily based on concerns about international competitiveness, the U.S. Department of Education manages federal funding on schools and certain standards are set by Congress. Most state governments set broad curriculum goals, while local school boards take these broad goals and create more specific curriculum for their schools.

But since teachers are the ones who ultimately do the teaching, they have considerable control over what is actually taught in the classroom. They create specific lesson plans, select materials for the students, and sometimes even choose their own textbooks.

School Funding at a Glance

Virtually every public school from elementary schools to public universities receive some form of funding from the federal government. The proportion of funding from federal sources tends to vary from state to state. The U.S. Department of Education provides most of the direct federal funding to schools, although states provide substantially more. In fact, federal funding accounts for an average of 10 percent of a school's funding.

Additionally, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services contributes through its Head Start program, while the U.S. Department of Agriculture contributes through the School Lunch Program.

The vast majority of public elementary through high school funds come from the state, raised through various taxes and sometimes official state lotteries. But it's challenging to determine the best way in which to distribute these funds, often leading to heated exchanges among different communities. Some larger cities sometimes approach local business for donations of equipment and other necessities. In addition to state sources, schools also receive funding based on their local tax revenue.

Learn more about curriculum standards and school funding by clicking on one of the links below.