Policies for the Jurisdiction of the Education Committee
Below are the policies of the NCSL Standing Committee on Education as of the annual business meeting, which was held on August 15, 2013.
Common Academic Standards
State legislators support the voluntary state standards initiatives so long as the initiatives remain voluntary, state-led and state-administered, and so long as the federal government does not overstep its role, and the U.S. Department of Education complies with its statutory authority and programs and does not condition the receipt of federal dollars on state participation in common standards efforts.
Past federal attempts to create national standards or a national test have proven partisan, divisive and unsuccessful. Federal legislation creating the U.S. Department of Education prohibits direct federal involvement in a national test. Similar language in NCLB prohibits federal involvement in standards, assessments and curricula. These protections against federal involvement in state issues should be adhered to and continued. It is the position of the National Conference of State Legislatures that there is no authorized role for federal mandates regarding national academic standards or a unified national test.
State legislators support the need to improve elementary and secondary education so that all students have access to a challenging and rewarding public education. Students in our schools need rigorous state standards that are anchored in real world demands students will face after high school, that are aligned to K-12 curriculum, assessments, high school graduation requirements, college placement standards and other related policy tools and practices. This can be most readily accomplished through individual state refinement of standards or the voluntary participation of states in joint efforts like the Common Core Initiative led by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. The Common Core and other consortiums have worked diligently to develop a set of standards in Math and English that will enhance the standards set by many states. It is critical that such standards not represent a step backward for some states.
Legislators applaud the efforts and results thus far of these state-led consortia. However, federal actions have contributed to our concerns that this effort may have as its ultimate result a nationalized K-12 system that will not remain voluntary and may have already been compromised by actions of both the state-led consortia and the federal government. Specifically:
- The federal government required a state commitment to adopt the common standards as an eligibility criterion for federal Race to the Top funds even before the common standards were fully developed, released or endorsed.
- The federal government has committed $350 million to develop the common assessments that match up to the common standards and the Common Core Initiative has acknowledged the need for on-going public support for its activities.
- The current administration’s blueprint for reauthorization of ESEA suggested that Title I funds for disadvantaged children be contingent upon each states’ acceptance of a set of voluntary common standards.
- The federal government has a history of co-opting successful state policy initiatives by effectively making them mandatory through the ‘condition of grant’ process.
The preceding actions raise concerns that this voluntary, state-led effort will prove too attractive for federal officials to ignore. Therefore, state legislators assert that the U.S. Department of Education should refrain from the actions described above that are in conflict with its statutory authority, and specifically that it does not condition the receipt of federal dollars on state participation in common standard efforts.
The State-Federal Partnership in Early Learning (Joint with Human Services & Welfare Committee)
The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) supports early care and education and its benefits, especially in lessening the adverse effects of childhood poverty. Evidence shows that for all children these programs can help improve children's intellectual and social performance in school and ultimately can help children achieve greater school success and possibly greater socioeconomic success and social responsibility.
State legislators have been in the forefront of efforts to create and improve opportunities for children. Many states have maximized the use of the state and federally funded Child Care Development Fund (CCDF) and used even more of their own funds to increase the supply, quality and safety of child care. States have voluntarily supplemented the federal Head Start program, and states have created their own pre-kindergarten programs. States have encouraged parental involvement to enhance children's early learning experience. Several states have special initiatives to improve the training and compensation of early learning teachers, as well as other programs to enhance early learning. State legislators believe that a smooth transition between early learning programs and the K-12 education system is crucial to academic achievement.
NCSL supports federal efforts to improve early learning opportunities for young children. Efforts to support early learning must provide states with the flexibility to meet local needs. Constitutionally and historically, states are responsible for public education. States are accountable to their citizens for the results of public education and are committed to improving learning for all students and closing the achievement gap.
Any federal legislation must take into account current state fiscal conditions. Maintenance of effort requirements may make it difficult for states to take advantage of new federal funds when they face difficult decisions about how to fund all state services programs.
If the federal government expands its involvement in promoting early learning for young children before they enter school, these are the tenets on which such an effort should be built:
- Preservation of state flexibility, including maintaining the states' authority to determine how the program is administered, evaluated and what population is served;
- Preservation of state authority;
- Avoidance of unfunded mandates;
- Support for flexibility that allows states to use ESEA Title I funds for children from birth to school entry, including professional development for early educators;
- Support for early learning challenge grants that assist the development of the statewide infrastructure of integrated early learning supports and services for children from birth through age five; and
- Support for research and evaluation of new state initiatives.
To establish such programs on a broader basis than is currently available through Head Start or other state and locally initiated programs may require an enhanced commitment from and partnership with the federal government. Any proposal to create a pool of federal funds for early learning programs must:
- Give states the opportunity to provide assistance to a range of early learning programs;
- Give states the opportunity to support initiatives to train and adequately compensate early learning providers;
- Allow states to supplement existing programs which already are improving children's early learning;
- Ensure state legislative authority to appropriate the funds;
- Use state-selected administrative structures;
- Ensure that state legislators are included in all aspects of these programs including advisory panels;
- Give states the opportunity to use a wide range of existing resources including, but not limited to, state and local funds that are not used to match another federal program, private funds, and in-kind contributions (facilities, equipment, and services) to match the federal funds;
- Allow eligibility requirements to be set at the state level; and
- Be flexible to allow states to meet the increased demand for early learning services.
It is especially important that efforts to support early learning programs complement but are not at the expense of efforts to expand CCDF. NCSL’s Policy Directive on Child Care details state priorities in CCDF.
With the numbers of children in poverty increasing and the need for more child development/child care services for low-income families increasing, it is essential that Head Start be fully-funded to assure school readiness for all eligible children. It should be emphasized that parental involvement, which benefits both parents and children, is the critical component of Head Start. Additionally, staff development and training is critical for quality Head Start programs.
Head Start must be leveraged to support both school readiness and the needs of low income working families. NCSL supports:
- Improving educational opportunities for disadvantaged populations through greater coordination among Head Start, early childhood and child care programs, and elementary schools;
- Funding for quality and access;
- Allocating funding for training staff and enriching program curricula;
- Improving coordination of quality efforts in Head Start with state quality improvement efforts;
- Expanding opportunities for federal grantees to use Head Start funding to best meet the needs of communities in ways that complement state effort;
- Disseminating research findings from evaluations; and
- Encouraging legislative involvement in Early Childhood Advisory Councils.
If the option arises for states to have more control over Head Start and/or the authority to coordinate Head Start with other state early childhood education efforts, NCSL must be included in such deliberations.
Family Support and Parental Involvement
NCSL further recognizes that we cannot continue to treat family conditions as a matter separate from education and that such a focus is particularly important for younger children. Programs to support parents and family members as the first teachers of their children should be promoted and strengthened in both public and private sectors. NCSL supports efforts to expand community-based, including faith-based,state-federal partnerships to work with parents and caregivers to promote pre-literacy skills. Faith-based partnerships are an important resource to assist parents in their communities.
States continue to implement strategies to support parents with young children. A majority of states currently operate one or more home visiting programs to support parents, prevent child abuse, improve child development, identify delays or provide referral to services. In some cases states are also supporting both home visiting and center-based approaches which have proven to improve child outcomes and pre-literacy skills. NCSL supports continued federal funding for these approaches:
- Funds should support state initiatives to implement a broad range of home visiting strategies and support new initiatives designed to make them more effective.
- Funds should not be limited to one approach or mandate specific administration but should allow for state flexibility in both design and implementation.
- The federal government can play an important role in supporting further research about effective programs and state pilots to test program options.
Federal Funding for Special Education
The nation's legislators support equal opportunity for all citizens and support the purposes and spirit of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975. This law and its subsequent amendments mandate that states provide a free and appropriate education (FAPE) and procedural safeguards for all children with disabilities without regard to costs incurred by the states and local school districts.
The original federal special education law and its subsequent amendments include a provision that authorizes the federal government to fund 40 percent of the average per pupil expenditures (APPE) in K-12 nationwide, an estimate at the time of the excess cost for educating a special education student that the federal government would bear. Since its enactment, the federal government has appropriated funds at levels between 8 and 17 percent of APPE. Congress attempted to address this issue in the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in 2004 by setting voluntary spending targets in a “glide path” to full funding by 2011. However, Congress failed to appropriate the authorized level of funds, and states received $57.1 billion less than they would have had if Congress had kept its commitment.
Federal support for special education is critical. State and federal laws and regulation, combine with the extensive and increasingly complex case law that has developed around special education, have made the practice of delivering services to students with disabilities complex and costly for states and communities. In fact, recent reports indicate that actual spending for special education services is 95 percent above APPE – not 40 percent.
Given these circumstances, NCSL strongly urges Congress to appropriate the moneys to fully fund the 40 percent of Average Per Pupil expenditures (APPE) statutorily authorized in Part B of IDEA. One way for Congress to strengthen its commitment to special education would be to move the Part B allotments for special education from the discretionary to the mandatory side of the federal budget.
The State-Federal Partnership in PostSecondary Education
The nation’s legislators remind our federal partners of the increasingly complex and important role postsecondary education plays in maintaining and fostering a dynamic and productive economy. A strong higher education system supports individual financial success, provides a foundation for healthy state economies and ensures our nation’s position in a global economy. When students fall through the cracks, they do not achieve their full potential and neither does our country. The federal government has an important role to play in supporting low-income students, conducting research on innovation and productivity, monitoring national and regional programming efforts, and providing data and technical assistance to help states examine and analyze our institutions.
Legislators strongly urge the federal government to defer to the states’ leadership in ensuring the quality of postsecondary education, and to facilitate state efforts to emphasize accountability. While the federal government has a role in monitoring national and regional accrediting bodies and loan providers, accountability of state higher education programs and institutions is and should remain a state issue. The federal government should support an interstate compact on delivering academic programming across state lines via the internet. The federal government can also support accountability standards for emerging forms of education delivery, whether provided by public or private not-for-profit institutions or proprietary ones, whether delivered as massive open online courses or other mechanisms. Ensuring students gain skills competency no matter the means used to obtain that competency will help states and the nation increase productivity, improve competitiveness, and prepare future generations of leaders and citizens.
States have taken the lead in advocating for higher standards for teacher preparation and performance, and vigorously acted to improve assessments of quality. The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) encourages the expansion of several programs embodied in the Higher Education Act and other federal legislation that focus on teacher quality. At the same time, NCSL insists that states be allowed to implement their own programs and be given the opportunity to demonstrate their effectiveness.The federal government must refrain from setting national standards.
Helping Students Succeed
Legislators are keenly aware that students benefit from a seamless progression encompassing preschool through postsecondary education. A growing number of states are looking at education as “P-16” rather than separate systems serving early education, K-12 and postsecondary education and updating or amending their statutes to facilitate this change. Important federal-state educational programs supported by the states, such as the Perkins Act programs and the TRIO program, must be better integrated with state postsecondary policy. The federal government has a significant role and responsibility in working with states and supporting state efforts in college readiness and providing research and technical assistance.
States, working with national foundations, institutions, and private partners, are implementing policies that focus on maintaining access to postsecondary education and improving student performance and outcomes. Congress and the administration should follow suit. Our country will remain internationally competitive if more high school age, non-traditional students, and working adults not only enroll in colleges and universities, but complete postsecondary credentials and degrees. Policies that further this ultimate outcome will help states prepare to meet our still-challenging economic situation and grow economically. As states continue to prioritize and address competing public needs, federal policy must acknowledge this reality by noting the difficulties states face in satisfying maintenance of effort requirements for important postsecondary programs. Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA) offers another opportunity to renew this country’s commitment to accessible and affordable postsecondary education and remove barriers encountered by a changing student population.
Increasingly the burden of higher education costs is borne by students and families. This burden consists of significant educational debt by all students, whether program graduates or drop-outs, whether attending public and private institutions. Crippling educational debt slows any recovery and limits state economic growth. Reauthorization efforts directing federal aid to students who need it most and helping them quickly become productive members in their communities without substantial debt will help local, state, and national economies. If federal aid is limited, there are fiscal impacts for state-funded efforts to support students.
State legislators recognize that the student population is changing. Many students are older and more are part-time. Congress should review Pell Grant award amounts to guarantee that the purchasing value of this important grant does not continue to erode and that it serves the broadest number of students, including adult students enrolled part-time. The federal government should ensure adequate federal funding for the Pell Grant program to help reduce dependency on student loans. For example, moving Pell funding to the mandatory side of the federal budget, resuming “year round” Pell Grants to summer enrollments, and reinstituting a longer eligibility period (which will assist nontraditional college students) are federal actions that can strengthen the program. The federal government must also fundamentally simplify and streamline the process for applying for federal financial aid. In considering the framework for student financial assistance, the nation's legislators urge the Congress to:
- continue to defer to state authority in regulating postsecondary tuition levels;
- support federal programs that complement state efforts to improve student participation in and completion of postsecondary education;
- design college savings incentives at the federal level so as to stimulate and complement, rather than preempt, similar policy initiatives by states and higher education institutions; and
- support particular student aid programs that serve state and national economic and workforce priorities.
Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (Resolution)
NCSL calls upon Congress to complete the overdue reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) in its current incarnation as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). State legislators believe that NCLB should be rethought in its entirety and calls on Congress to swiftly adopt reauthorization legislation.
NCLB significantly shifted control of K-12 education to federal officials and away from state and local elected officials. While the original intent of NCLB—to identify the unmet needs of all children in our education systems and promote education reform—is commendable, state legislators believe that current federal policy dilutes the impact of limited federal resources. NCLB also mandates the use of a flawed and discredited method of measuring academic progress that over-identifies failure and promotes a process and compliance model of federal-state interaction, instead of allowing for state innovation. Recent federal attempts to offer education reform opportunities through prescriptive waivers correctly acknowledge some of the problems inherent in NCLB, but these waivers are an insufficient substitute for correcting NCLB legislatively.
Reauthorization legislation should be based on the following principles:
- Acknowledging state constitutions and state elected officials as well as basic principles of federalism, in accordance with NCSL’s Federal Role in Elementary and Secondary Education Policy Directive.
Standards & Accountability
- Allowing states to establish college and career ready standards based on their specific needs, including flexibility in adopting common core standards.
- Replacing the current Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) metric at the heart of NCLB.
- Avoiding penalties that reduce federal K-12 funding for any state that shows continuous improvement in student achievement, and/or a closing of the achievement gap in that state, using any legitimate metric that is incorporated into state policy.
- Concentrating available federal funding on most at-risk students, utilizing research based formulas that target the neediest students.
- Allowing states the flexibility to distribute funding to areas of greatest need.
- Following the concept of incentive-based programs as opposed to the coercive, punitive system at the heart of NCLB.
Teachers & Leaders
- Focusing on the need for effective teachers in classrooms, rather than meeting a federal definition of “highly qualified teachers.”
- Allowing states the ability to establish state based teacher evaluation systems, with evaluations measured in conjunction with state established standards and accountability systems.
- Providing clear and transparent opportunity to apply for waivers from certain funding, maintenance of effort, and programmatic requirements for appropriate state cases.
- The U.S. Department of Education should, to the maximum extent allowed, upon request, share correspondence between the Department of Education and the SEA regarding a state’s waiver application for flexibility in meeting provisions of No Child Left Behind with that state’s legislature. This will ensure that state legislators have the opportunity to exercise their constitutional and statutory authority over K-12 education.
- If a state receives flexibility from meeting provisions of No Child Left Behind, the U.S. Department of Education should directly notify state legislatures regarding what is required to meet the provisions of the waiver, in a manner that will allow the legislature to carry out its responsibilities in governing education.
Expires August 2014
The State-Federal Partnership in Elementary and Secondary Education
Elementary and secondary education policy is defined broadly by state constitutions, specified by state statutes and implemented by state agencies, school boards and local school districts. State legislators believe that the federal role should be as a supportive partner instead of the intrusive and top-down role of recent years. A healthy state-federal partnership in the vital task of educating America’s children:
- Avoids unfunded and underfunded mandates, and fully funds federal requirements for education programs, activities, and reporting. It is both ineffective and unconstitutional to expect states to accomplish national goals that the federal government is not willing to fully fund.
- If a federal education program is not fully funded, the policies and activities should be encouraged but not mandated.
- Federal reporting requirements should be reasonable and not require the use of funds that could otherwise be spent on program delivery;
- Encourages state innovation. States are inherently more capable than the federal government of moving quickly to initiate or change policies, can be more sensitive to public needs, and can generate broader buy-in for policies changes from local school districts. State flexibility, in addition to being an effective means of making public services more cost effective, provides an opportunity for state legislators to integrate federal, state and local programs into a coordinated system;
- Respects state law and avoids inappropriate federal preemption. Creative solutions to public problems can be achieved more readily when state laws are accorded due respect. Any attempt to preempt should be balanced against the potential loss of accountability, innovation, and responsiveness. Unless a clear and compelling case for national uniformity exists, every effort should be made to allow state governments to respond without federal intervention to local conditions;
- Recognizes that K-12 education is predominantly a state and local financial and legal responsibility. Federal government spending is less than 10% of the nationwide K-12 budget and should not be used to exercise a disproportionate impact on education policy at the state and local level;
- Maximizes state flexibility to implement and administer federal programs through a streamlined waiver process. This is critical to ensure that states are not unduly burdened by federal regulation or legislation;
- Preserves and respects state flexibility in implementing and administering new block grants. If categorical federal education programs are consolidated into block grants, these grants should:
- Include legislative language stating that block grant funding should be expended “according to state law”;
- Not limit states to the kinds of activities funded under corresponding block grants for past categorical programs; and
- Provide adequate federal funding to assure the continuation of services;
- Maintains steady resource streams, such as formula funding, as the primary funding source for state education aid;
- Distributes competitive grant funds, when appropriate, for targeted purposes, in a transparent and consistent process;
- Respects state budget processes. Federal funds should be incorporated into state budget processes for open hearings and deliberations. Federal funding going directly to state or sub-state bureaucracies or agencies should not bypass state legislative appropriations and oversight procedures; and
- Takes into consideration state appropriation and legislative calendars. Sufficient time must be allowed for states to implement new federal legislation and regulation.