NCSL Education Standing Committee News Spring 2018





Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Plans

U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has approved 46 state and territory (District of Columbia and Puerto Rico) ESSA plans. Each state is tasked with developing a plan that meets the unique needs of its students. For example, Idaho's plan includes a new student engagement survey in grades K-8. Read the complete list, both approved and pending.

Federal Commission on School Safety

On March 28, the newly formed Federal Commission on School Safety held its first organizational meeting. Led by DeVos, other attendees included Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen. The establishment of this investigative commission is in response to recent school shootings. The commission's directive is to develop policy and funding recommendations to increase school safety.

Disabled Veterans Loan Discharge Reform

On April 16, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced joint efforts to simplify the federal student loan discharge process for disabled veterans. Changes include proactively identifying eligible veterans with federal student loans. This month, utilizing the National Student Loan Data System, ED will begin matching borrowers who have federal student loans, or aid through the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grants Program to the VA database. Borrowers deemed eligible will receive a letter detailing the discharge process and a total and permanent disability application. DeVos has called these changes a step in the right direction to give veterans “the support and care they deserve.”


  • #StatesLeading: NCSL is partnering with other policymaker organizations to highlight innovative policies and best practices to improve the nation’s schools. The campaign is supported by the National Governors Association, Council of Chief State School Officers, Education Commission of the States, and the National Association of State Boards of Education in addition to NCSL. As states finalize their plans under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, the States Leading Campaign will showcase the bold work underway through these plans and beyond to best meet the needs of all students. 
  • NCSL’s Student-Centered Learning Commission met in New Hampshire, May 9-11, to visit three schools in the Manchester School District that are competency-based. The Commission is studying personalized, competency-based, and student-owned learning environments throughout 2018 and will release findings. Read about the visit on NCSL’s blog.
  • NCSL continues to work closely with states exploring the common elements of a world-class education systems, as laid out in No Time to Lose. Policymakers and stakeholders in Colorado, Indiana, Maryland, New Mexico and Nevada have been hearing from international experts to learn about policy options that might lead to better outcomes for students. Contact Michelle Exstrom if you are interested in exploring technical assistance NCSL can provide to your state. 


Reagan Institute Summit on Education

On April 12, The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute hosted an inaugural bipartisan convening of education luminaries on the 35th anniversary of the landmark report, "A Nation at Risk." The report, released by President Ronald Reagan's National Commission on Education in 1983, called for the complete overhaul of America's public education system. 

The Reagan Institute Summit on Education (RISE) explored America's progress and challenges since the issuance of the report. The summit kicked off with an engaging conversation between Condoleezza Rice and Janet Napolitano, president of the University of California system, on the importance of lifelong learning, civic engagement, state accountability, public-private partnerships, school safety and the recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores.

Photo: State Rep. Alice Peisch (D-Maine) discusses state ESSA plans.

All those topics were themes throughout the summit. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and Bill Bennett, secretary of education during the Reagan administration, met to discuss the NAEP results. NCSL was represented by Massachusetts Rep. Alice Peisch (D), co-chair of NCSL’s Education Committee, who contributed as a panelist on States Leading the Way, a conversation on state ESSA plans. The panel included state education chief John White of Louisiana and Carey Wright of Mississippi. NCSL was also represented by Joan Wodiska, Miranda McDonald. Jill Biden, college educator and former second lady of the United States, delivered closing remarks before introducing the last panel. The summit culminated with bipartisan conversation between former U.S. Secretaries of Education Rod Paige, Margaret Spellings, Arne Duncan and John B. King, Jr.

ECS Hosts Higher Education Policy Forum

On April 26, the Education Commission of the States (ECS) gathered federal, state, and local leaders to discuss accessibility, affordability, and accountability in the Higher Education Act (HEA) reauthorization, currently under consideration in Congress. During a panel on college affordability, NCSL’s Joan Wodiska discussed the role of states as laboratories of democracy to improve college affordability, productivity and attainment. She also discussed state budget cycles and the shift from collaborative to coercive federalism. For example, more than 35 states now utilize performance-based funding, and 16 states also offer performance-based scholarships. Wodiska also highlighted how states invest in higher education through the tax code.

Forty-one states and the District of Columbia also utilize their respective tax codes to help families save for college; 25 percent more investment is made utilizing this method compared to direct aid (in those states studied). In closing, Wodiska noted states and institutions to have “room to grow, learn and innovate” in any reauthorization of the law.

Other notable contributors include Congressman Bobby Scott (D-Va.); Fran Bradford, Virginia’s state deputy secretary of education; Wil Pilar, vice president of Higher Education Policy and Practice at The Education Trust; and Alex Chough, vice president of Government Relations for the National Council for Community and Education Partnerships.

Photo: NCSL’s (L-R) Miranda McDonald, Joan Wodiska and Ben Boggs at ECS’ HEA conference.  

Education Focused on Financial Education

On April 27, Devos hosted a conversation among financial representatives, elected and state education officials and education experts on the deficit of basic financial literacy among American students. DeVos and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Jason Botel opened the convening highlighting the role of states and localities to ensure students have the necessary financial acumen to live and work. “Those closest to the problem are those best to solve the problem, but parents and families should be included,” Botel stated. Devos highlighted the importance and proper role of state and local leaders to confront this national challenge. To date, 17 states have passed financial literacy laws and the Financial Literacy and Education Commission has launched reform initiatives to further support states’ advancement in this area. Peggy Carr from the National Center for Education Statistics presented Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) findings on the financial literacy of 15-year-olds. Notable trends include that 1 in 5 15-year-olds lack basic financial literacy skills, while only 1 in 10 15-year-olds understand high range financial skills. Overall the 2015 results were considered stagnant compared to the 2012 results. Read the full report.

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) representative, Meina Banh, offered financial advice on how students could be better prepared to participate in the global economy. Of interest, 89 percent of Americans believe financial education should be taught in schools. However, 63 percent of teachers feel unqualified to use their state’s financial literacy standards. Banh referenced a CFPB report entitled Building Blocks to Help Youth Achieve Financial Capability that includes the Building Blocks Measurement Guide, which suggests opportunities to learn from other state and local initiatives. Read the full report.

NCSL was represented by Kentucky Representative Jim DuPlessis, Joan Wodiska, Miranda McDonald, Heather Morton and more than 40 state legislators were invited to this national convening.

Photo :(L-R) Miranda McDonald, Alex Todd, State Rep. Jim DuPlessis, Heather Morton, and Joan Wodiska.

In March, the Kentucky General Assembly passed a bill which would require high school students to complete at least one course that meets financial literacy standards set by the Kentucky Department of Education. Senator DuPlessis discussed how state legislators must lead this issue and work within their state context to equip students with financial literacy skills for life.

Opioid Crisis and K-12 Schools: Impact and Response (Nationwide Virtual Briefing)

On April 26, the ED and the Department of Justice’s Drug Enforcement Administration joined together to host a nationwide webinar on the opioid crisis and its impact on K-12 schools. ED Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Jason Botel, recognized the “responsibility of states, districts, and neighborhoods to resolve this issue by training staff to identify drug use while fostering safe learning environments for youth today and future generations.”  NCSL invited state legislators and staff to participate in the nationwide virtual meeting; NCSL was also represented by Miranda McDonald.

Dr. Wilson Compton, deputy director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, discussed the biological and sociological mechanisms that perpetuate drug addiction. Since 2001, overdoses from heroin and opioids combined have more than tripled and today, 1 in 4 teens has misused a prescription medicine. A survey of 12th graders also noted that 40 percent of students that reported misuse of a prescription that belonged to someone else. States have made moves to equip school districts with naloxone (Narcan).

Reginald Burke, director of the Youth Development branch, represented Maryland’s Department of Education. Burke emphasized the importance of intervention practices and Maryland’s efforts to curtail the opioid epidemic. Governor Larry Hogan established the Opioid Operational Command Center (OOCC) in January 2017, authorizing $50 million over five years to address the state’s heroin and opioid epidemic.

McKenzie Harrington-Bacote, program administrator in the Office of School Wellness for the Laconia, N.H. School District, reiterated the need for positive relationships with students’ families. Group interventions, licensed alcohol, and drug counselors were also suggested methods to decrease opioid abuse among students. Community partners such as police departments are also considered a necessary component. New Hampshire was the first state in New England to employ a full-time police officer whose sole role is as a prevention, enforcement and treatment coordinator.

The Homework Packet for State Leaders

A curated list of “must read” timely reports, analysis and news for state legislators & staff leading education reform from cradle to career.

GAO Study on School Discipline

The GAO has released a report on the disproportionate effects of school discipline during the 2013-2014 academic year. The report notes that while black students make up roughly 15 percent of public school students, they represent nearly 40 percent of students suspended from school. Another key finding includes the discipline disparity among minority students with disabilities. Evidence shows that 23 percent of black children with disabilities were suspended. The statistics for American Indian and Alaskan Native students with disabilities closely matched at 20 percent. Read the full GAO report.

Gallup Poll - Only 1 in 4 U.S. Adults Believe Students Prepared for College and Career

On April 25, Gallup released a new survey, conducted on behalf of Communities in Schools, which shows that only

25 percent of U.S. adults believe students are prepared for success in college. Similarly, only 22 percent of respondents believe high school graduates are prepared for career success. These concerns transcend demographics, including ethnicity, gender, income, and education. Among other findings, 24 percent of adults with a bachelor’s degree believe high school graduates are unprepared for the workplace. Contrastingly, only 12 percent of high school graduates believe high school students are unprepared for the workplace.

When prompted for suggestions on how student preparedness could be improved, financial planning tied with social and life skills, conflict resolution, interpersonal communication, and persistence. Forty-two percent of respondents considered interviewing and resume writing programs helpful for career preparedness; while 38 percent considered teamwork, communication and decision-making training necessary programs.

Nationwide Trends on Career and Technical 

On April 17, the National Center for Education Statistics released 2016-2017 data on career and technical education (CTE) programs. The report includes data on work-based learning activities and employer involvement in CTE programs. Barriers to student participation in CTE programs were also presented in the report.

A key introductory finding recognized that 98 percent of public school districts offered CTE programs to high school students. While the structures varied, a majority (73 percent) of districts offered CTE courses for which students could earn high school and post-secondary credit; 65 percent of districts offered mentoring by local employers and 77 percent of district offered on-the-job training, internships, clinical experiences or cooperative education.

Fifty percent of districts recognized lack of funding or high cost of programs as a barrier to offering CTE programs, while 44 percent of districts had difficulty finding and keeping teachers for in-demand industries and occupations. Among barriers related to student participation, 25 percent of districts reported a lack of time in students’ respective schedules; in 23 percent of districts, students had difficulty finding work-based learning. Twenty percent of districts reported difficulty finding transportation for programs. Read the complete report.

2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Scores Released

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) has released 2017 math and reading results for grades 4-8. “The Nation’s Report Card” was last administered in 2015. Overall, the 2017 results held consistent with 2015 results, with continued achievement gaps across race and income remaining prevalent in the U.S. Results included improved eighth-grade reading skills for high-performers, while low-performing fourth-graders saw declines in both math and reading results. There was no significant test score improvement for most states in both subjects and both grades.

Since the test was first administered in the 1990s, many technological advancements have been made. Instead of using paper and pencil, most students (80 percent) used digital tablets on this year’s test. However, critics of digital tests, including Louisiana Superintendent John White, argued that disadvantaged students without previous exposure to digital tests often perform worse. White has also challenged test administrators to release data that compares the test performance of students that used pencil and paper with that of those whom used digital tablets. Access complete NAEP results, including state-by-state data.

More Resources

Keep up-to-date with NCSL’s education-related policy blogs and webinars on the NCSL YouTube Channel. In this issue, NCSL features:  student-centered learning, afterschool programs, career and technical education, principal pipeline, early learning and school safety. Visit here.

School Safety: Curious what other states are doing around school safety?  Check out NCSL’s new school safety legislation database to see the latest trends, analysis and links to the bills.

English Language Learners: Check out the latest Legisbrief here.

Your #NCSLinDC Education Team

For more information on NCSL’s Education Standing Committee State-Federal Affairs activities, please contact Joan Wodiska or Miranda McDonald.

Visit the James Webb Telescope

NCSL is excited to offer you a once-in-lifetime opportunity to visit NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope at Space Park in Los Angeles, CA on Aug. 2. We sincerely appreciate our friends at Northrop Grumman Corporation, whom have generously sponsored this endeavor. Ready to be amazed? RSVP today to secure your seat!



  • The Spring Meeting of the NCSL Education Standing Committee will be held June 8-10 in Santa Fe, N.M. Committee members and Foundation Sponsors will participate in site visits and learn more about effective policies to support early learning, afterschool, summer learning and Native American education. Committee members will also receive an update from the U.S. Department of Education and share state-led strategies to improve education across the country. Contact Chloe Gunder for more information.
  • NCSL’s Legislative Summit will be held this year in Los Angeles, CA on July 30-Aug 2. The Education Committee will host a series of session on the hottest topics. You can register for the meeting and book your travel at