NCSL POLICY DIRECTIVES AND RESOLUTIONS

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.

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 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 legislatrs 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 legislatrs 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 blck 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.

Federal Education Relief Aid (Resolution)

WHEREAS, state legislatures have the primary responsibility for funding and governing their state’s K-12 and higher education systems; and

WHEREAS, each state has its own unique system for funding K-12 and higher education; and

WHEREAS, fiscal conditions can vary significantly across states, especially during times of national economic emergencies; and

WHEREAS, education is a significant part of state budgets, other compelling priorities may make demands on state resources while states respond to and recovery from emergencies; and

WHEREAS, Congress has included maintenance of effort provisions for both K-12 and higher education funding from fiscal year 2020 to fiscal year 2023 as a condition of a state receiving funds from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund; and

WHEREAS, Congress has also included “maintenance of equity” provisions for K-12 funding in fiscal years 2022 and 2023;

NOW, THEREFORE, the Secretary of Education should allow states the opportunity to seek waivers from the maintenance of effort and “maintenance of equity” provisions associated with the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund; and 

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, the National Conference of State Legislatures believe state fiscal requirements for education relief aid should only ask states to maintain aggregate funding levels or serve as a guide for how states can make cuts to education if facing revenue declines. 

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, the National Conference of State Legislatures believe state fiscal requirements should not be used to compel states to make fiscal or policy decisions beyond the purposes enumerated above, which includes requiring states to increase funding for education or distribute funds to local education agencies by methods other than a state’s statutorily defined school funding formula.  

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, the National Conference of State Legislatures believe unanticipated federal funding for education should not bypass state legislative appropriations processes and should allow state legislatures broad discretion in determining how those funds will best meet local and state education needs.

BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED, that NCSL send a copy of this resolution to Members of Congress and the U.S. Department of Education.

Expires Aug. 2023

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

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. 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.

Postsecondary Affordability

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.

The federal government should ensure adequate federal funding for the Pell Grant program to help reduce dependency on student loans. Congress should review Pell Grant award amounts to guarantee that the purchasing value of this important grant does not continue to erode and consider moving Pell funding to the mandatory side of the federal budget. Congress should also ensure Pell serves the broadest number of students, including adult students enrolled part-time. The federal government should continue to reduce barriers or obstacles that may prevent students from applying for federal financial aid.

If Congress considers a new grant program to create a state-federal funding partnership in higher education, the nation’s legislators remind Congress that states are primarily responsible for funding and governing their higher education systems. While each state has different traditions and goals for its higher education institutions, all institutions participate in a national higher education marketplace that crosses state lines. Congress must recognize this by ensuring that any new affordability programs can benefit students and institutions of all types in all states and territories. Broad state participation should be a fundamental goal of any state-federal partnership. 

A state-federal funding partnership in higher education must:

  • provide funding to states in block grants that allow states the flexibility to distribute funds across institutions and state financial aid programs;
  • Avoid a state maintenance of effort requirement (MOE). As states continue to prioritize and address competing public needs, federal policy must acknowledge this reality by noting the fiscal constraints states face in satisfying maintenance of effort requirements for important postsecondary programs. 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. MOEs should be constructed to provide legislatures certainty they will comply with MOE provisions when budgeting for the upcoming fiscal year;
  • continue to defer to state authority in regulating postsecondary tuition levels;
  • ensure that eligibility requirements are set at the state level; and
  • ensure state legislative authority to appropriate the funds.

The federal government should 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. Legislators support student aid programs that serve state and national economic and workforce priorities.

Accountability

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, accountability of state higher education programs and institutions is and should remain a state issue. The federal government should continue to support state authorization reciprocity agreements, which support expanded access to quality postsecondary distance learning opportunities nationwide.

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. As such, the federal government must refrain from setting national standards. The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) encourages the expansion of several programs embodied in the Higher Education Act and other federal legislation that focuses on teacher quality. States should be included as eligible applicants or encouraged as partners in federal grant projects, so that grant programs can be developed with statewide goals in mind and best practices can be shared broadly.

Student Success

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. 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, 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. NCSL supports federal programs that complement state efforts to improve student participation in and completion of postsecondary education. Legislators welcome federal efforts, such as the College Scorecard, that provide prospective students with accurate information on college costs and institution- and program-level student outcomes. Increased transparency is critical to ensuring students are able to make informed postsecondary choices.

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. Legislators welcome federal efforts to facilitate the exchange of best practices around dual enrollment programs.

Student Loans

Increasingly the burden of higher education costs is borne by students and families. This burden consists of significant educational debt held by students and their families. Crippling education debt slows any recovery and limits state economic growth. The federal government should make every effort to improve the federal student loan program so that borrowers are able to successfully repay their loans and take advantage of federal loan forgiveness programs.

The federal government should also recognize that many states now play a role in ensuring borrowers are treated fairly and receive appropriate consumer protections. The federal government should engage in collaborative federalism with states around providing consumer protections to borrowers and conducting oversight of student loan servicers.

State Safety Resolution

WHEREAS, since the 1999 Columbine High massacre, over 300 school shootings have been reported resulting in more than 180 children, educators, and other people murdered and more than 300 injured; and

WHEREAS, on May 24, 2022, a mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas took the lives of 19 students and 2 educators; and

WHEREAS, the shockwaves of this horrific act of violence were not limited to the Great State of Texas; the people of the entire United States mourn the 21 innocent lives lost in this unimaginable yet palpably real tragedy; and    

WHEREAS, one of the primary roles of government is stewardship over the future of our society and our nation, which is represented by our nation’s youth; as such, it is incumbent upon those in public office to provide adequate resources for the protection of our future; and

WHEREAS, one of the most critical challenges facing future generations is the rising mental health crisis in our nation and around the world, and its contributing effect to the current escalation of violence; and

WHEREAS, in light of these recent incidents of violence, school safety and security are now especially at the forefront of our nation’s concerns; and

WHEREAS, state legislatures are more responsive to the needs of their constituents and are more aware of the need for increased school safety for children and educators in their state, as well as the increasing demand for mental health services and support; therefore, state legislatures are aware of the best methods to achieve these dual goals within their unique areas; and

WHEREAS, therefore, this body finds it fitting and proper that state legislatures be equipped with any and all resources necessary to address the dual crises of school security and mental health;

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the National Conference of State Legislatures supports federal action resulting in the issuance of federal funding and resources to support school security and the safeguarding of student mental health; and

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the National Conference of State Legislatures firmly believes that the best structure for this endeavor is a collaborative approach between the federal government and the states, consisting of federal funding and other means of support which are flexible enough to allow state legislatures to directly leverage these resources where they are most direly needed; and

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that when emergencies warrant the swift provision of federal funding and resources to support school security and student mental health, that such funds are distributed through existing programs or provided through flexible block grants to states; and

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the National Conference of State Legislatures believes that the federal government should not mandate or incentivize specific strategies or approaches to school security and student mental health; and

BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED, that the National Conference of State Legislatures directs that a copy of this resolution be delivered to Members of Congress and the U.S. Department of 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: