Policies for the Jurisdiction of the Education Committee

Below are the policies of the NCSL Standing Committee on Education.

Ensuring Children Are Ready To Learn 

State legislators have been in the forefront of efforts to create and improve early learning programs. Some states have maximized the use of the state and federally funded Child Care Development Fund (CCDF) and used even more of their state funds to increase the access, quality and effectiveness of early learning opportunities. Several states have special initiatives to improve the training and compensation of early learning teachers. 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 experiences and have supported efforts to ensure a smooth transition between early learning programs and the K-12 education systems.

The State-Federal Partnership in Early Learning

Federal efforts to expand or improve early learning opportunities for young children must:

  • avoid unfunded mandates and preserve state authority;
  • provide funding to states in block grants that allow states the flexibility to meet local needs utilizing a wide range of early learning programs;
  • avoid a state maintenance of effort requirement (MOE). If MOE is required, allow states to use a wide range of resources as match for federal dollars, such as state and local funds not used to match another federal program, private funds, and in-kind contributions such as facilities, equipment, and services;
  • ensure that eligibility requirements are set at the state level;
  • ensure state legislative authority to appropriate the funds;
  • provide state legislatures access to student outcome data for students that participate in federally funded early childhood learning opportunities; and
  • include state legislators as appropriate on advisory panels.

Existing Federal Programs

Federal efforts to support early learning programs should not be made at the expense of efforts to expand the Child Care Development Fund (CCDF). NCSL’s Policy Directive on Child Care details state priorities in CCDF.

The federal Head Start program provides early learning services for low income families that foster school readiness. NCSL values the program’s emphasis on parental involvement, which can benefit both parents and children. State legislators should be included in any discussions of options that provide states the opportunity to have more control over the program or better coordinate Head Start with other state early learning efforts. To ensure high-quality outcomes in the Head Start program, NCSL supports:

  • strong staff development and training;
  • greater coordination among Head Start, early learning programs, and elementary schools;
  • funding for both quality, access, and multiple providers;
  • expanding opportunities for grantees to use Head Start funding to meet community; needs in ways that complement state efforts;
  • disseminating research findings from evaluations;
  • providing state legislatures access to student outcome data for students that participate in Head Start; and
  • encouraging legislative involvement in Early Childhood Advisory Councils.

Family Support and Parental Involvement

NCSL recognizes the vital role of parents, families, communities, and faith-based organizations in the healthy development of children and in creating systems of high-quality early learning in their states and local communities. NCSL supports states being provided maximum flexibility in using federal funds for early learning and to support a broad range of parent engagement strategies, such as home visiting programs and two-generation approaches, and to develop new early learning policies and initiatives that support parents and families to ensure that their children and all children are ready to learn.

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, combined 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 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.

Teacher Preparation

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.

Student Aid

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;
  • support particular student aid programs that serve state and national economic and workforce priorities; and
  • facilitate the exchange of best practices around dual enrollment programs

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 an intrusive, top-down role. 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. The policies and activities associated with federal education programs, regardless of federal funding levels, should be encouraged and not mandated. Further, 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 policy 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. The federal government should specifically restrain involvement in the following respects:
    • State academic standards. State legislators support the adoption and implementation of high-quality and rigorous state academic standards as determined by state policymakers. The federal government should not--through legislative or regulatory action or funding opportunities--mandate, direct, control, coerce or incentivize states to adopt a national set of common academic standards. State participation in consortia and other multi-state collaborations should remain voluntary and the federal government should refrain from conditioning the receipt of grant funding upon adoption of common academic  standards.
    • State academic assessments. State legislators support the adoption and use of high-quality assessments aligned to state-determined academic standards. The federal government should not--through legislative or regulatory action or funding opportunities--mandate, direct, control, coerce or incentivize states to adopt a common assessment. State participation in consortia and other multi-state collaborations should remain voluntary, and the federal government should refrain from conditioning the receipt of grant funding upon adoption of a common assessment.
  • 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.
  • Preserves and respects state flexibility to implement and administer 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.Takes into consideration state appropriation and legislative calendars. Sufficient time must be allowed for states to implement new federal legislation and regulation.
  • 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.
  • Provides opportunity for ongoing communication with and technical assistance from the federal government in lieu of federal regulatory action.

Acknowledges the constitutional and statutory authority over education policy that rests with the state legislatures by ensuring state legislators are represented in all “timely and meaningful” consultation requirements in the creation or reauthorization of any federal law relating to elementary and secondary education.

Student Data Privacy 

The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) recognizes the need to ensure that parents and students can trust that data collected—e.g., attendance, course taking, grades and test scores—as part of the educational experience, is kept safe, secure and private.  State legislators firmly believe that any efforts to change federal laws and regulations related to the collection, storage and use of student data, must preserve state and local flexibility and provide opportunities to support state autonomy and local control in this area.  Any federal action must:

  • Support state capacity to safeguard data by providing technical assistance;
  • Align the multiple federal laws that affect student data;
  • Reduce the burden on states in terms of collecting and reporting data;
  • Promote transparency of data collection;
  • Build the capacity of all stakeholders to use data in a way that promotes educational purposes and allows for personalized or adaptive learning, but protects student privacy;
  • Allow state legislative auditors and program evaluators and other appropriate legislative staff access to student data, in a form determined by each state, in order to carry out their state constitutional and statutory duties to audit and evaluate educational programs; and
  • Promote the building, maintaining and updating of state data infrastructure, including enhancing state longitudinal data systems.

Additional Resources

NCSL Contacts: