Public schools are a relatively new concept in Western culture. Not until the nineteenth century did states officially begin to take responsibility for educating children. Before that time education was a private matter, either handled by parents, churches, or communities that joined together and paid a teacher to educate their children.
Some early state constitutions and territory charters specifically stated that the government was responsible for the training of children in morals and the overall knowledge necessary for them to become responsible citizens. Often this responsibility was acted upon merely by subsidizing the building of schools; minimum requirements for the type of education or the number of years of education that were required of students were not set.
Today education is a responsibility that local, state, and federal governments take seriously. The teaching of morality has given way to standard academic focuses, and compulsory education laws, requiring public school attendance of all children generally between the ages of seven and sixteen, have been enacted. However, these rules frequently exempt children with permanent or temporary mental or physical disabilities, and a few states exempt students who live more than two miles from a public transportation route. Alternatives to state-run schools, including private and parochial schools and home schools, are also available.