Guide to the U.S. School System and Enrolling Kids in Tennessee Schools


The Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) is the state’s education authority that oversees and provides all education-related services and information in Tennessee. Even though there are some exceptions, the TDOE requires all legal custodians to enroll minors between the ages of six and 17, both ages inclusive, in either public or nonpublic schools. Since education is a right in the United States, it is unnecessary for children to be citizens or permanent residents to enroll in school.

Important: Please note that this article is based on the latest official information provided by the state and should only serve as a guide.

Understanding the United States School System

School-level education consists of three levels: elementary (K-5 grade), middle (6-8 grade), and secondary (9-12 grade). Schools are usually divided by and specialized in one of these three, making it rare to find an establishment that includes all of them in the same building or campus. So, if you have children in different age groups, they will most likely go to different establishments based on what grade they fall into. In addition, you can choose from different types of schools depending on your needs and preferences.

Types of Schools


You do not need to pay to enroll your child in public school, as they are funded by the city, state, and/or federal government. Students are not required to wear uniforms; however, depending on the school, you might need to pay for some school supplies or activities.

Depending on where they live, students are assigned to their schools through zoning. This is important to remember when looking to rent or buy a home, as your children will be assigned to the school in that district.


You must pay tuition to attend private schools, usually managed by religious organizations. They are not subject to zoning, and their rules might differ from those of public schools, as no level of government runs them. Some advantages to private schools include smaller class sizes and a more customized educational experience.


The Tennessee Home School law defines homeschools as: "A school conducted or directed by a parent or parents or a legal guardian or guardians for their children." Tennessee recognizes three types specifically: Independent Home Schools, Church-related Umbrella Schools, and Accredited Online Schools. For further information on each of these, please review Kid Central TN’s website on Home School Education.

Documents for Enrollment

Once you know what school you will enroll your child in, you must provide some documents to begin the process. We recommend you check in with the school regarding their specific requirements, but generally, you will need:

  • Certified birth certificate

  • Evidence of a current medical examination

  • Proof of immunization*

  • Official copy of records/transcripts from the most recently attended school

  • Two (2) proofs of home address (e.g., a rental agreement, current utility bills, or tax statement)

Requirements for public schools in Tennessee may vary by county. Here is what you will need for enrollment in Knox County.

*If you bring immunizations from anywhere other than Tennessee, you must transfer them through the Knox County Department of Health.

Class and Grade Placement

It is up to the school to decide the grade placement for students new to the United States. This might depend on their educational history, time of the year, test results, and/or English level. Children who have already started school abroad are usually placed accordingly, but if you think they were assigned to the wrong grade, you can always talk to the school staff. Specific accommodations can be discussed as well.

Children still learning English might be required to enroll in English as a Second Language (ESL) classes while taking other level-appropriate classes. Please review Knox County’s English Language Learners program for more specific information.

Public Schools in Knox County

As per the Knox County Schools website, the system has over 60,000 students in 91 schools, with around 7,900 staff. You can find the elementary, middle, and high schools assigned to your district through their School Zone Search. You can reference these rankings of the best public K-8 schools and the best high schools in Knox County.

Screenshot from the Knox Country Zone Search.

Before you begin the enrollment process in Knox Country, we recommend you read through these resources:

Click here to contact Knox County Schools directly.

If you are looking for childcare resources, visit our Guide to Childcare in Tennessee and Finding a Program in Knoxville.

For more information and guides, please refer to the Resource List on the ISSS website.