As states anticipate future workplace demands and the need to promote economic stability, legislators aim to create education systems that truly prepare all students for college and career.
Meanwhile, surveys and research show that students and teachers still exhibit academic and mental health impacts from the pandemic, something states continue to address.
Here are the hottest education trends for the 2024 legislative session.
NCSL Forecast ’24
This special report from State Legislatures News covers the topics NCSL’s policy experts anticipate will occupy state lawmakers’ time in 2024 legislative sessions. Read the full report here.
Hot Topic: Shoring Up Early Literacy and Math Skills
For years, legislators have been concerned about declining literacy and math scores, which dropped even further during the pandemic. The National Assessment of Academic Progress, widely known as the “nation’s report card,” documented the largest score decrease in reading since 1990 and a historic decrease in math among 9-year-olds.
ACTION: State lawmakers passed legislation in over half of the states in 2023 to address these challenges. Expect the trend to continue in 2024 as states work to improve literacy and math instruction and curricula, increase special education screening, and promote the use of high-quality and high-dose tutoring and enrichment for struggling students.
Hot Topic: Supporting Effective Educators
Teachers and principals are the most important school-related factors contributing to student achievement. Given the academic challenges caused by the pandemic, legislators know that having a highly effective educator workforce is more important than ever. However, recent data shows that teachers are feeling overworked and underpaid, directly contributing to poor well-being and intent to leave the profession. Nationwide, schools face staffing challenges by subject area, grade level and geographic location.
ACTION: States have addressed these issues by improving teacher compensation and expanding high-retention pathways into the profession. States have also advanced targeted efforts to increase the diversity of the educator workforce along with broader efforts to bolster the profession. In addition, lawmakers aim to ensure that educators are well supported as new instructional requirements are put in place. With teachers being the most influential factor in student outcomes, expect that legislatures will continue to seek ways to recruit, retain and support effective educators in the 2024 legislative session.
Hot Topic: Improving Student Mental Health
More than 4 in 10 high school students report feeling persistently sad or hopeless, and nearly one-third experience poor mental health, according to the most recent Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Many students periodically face challenges with social relationships, difficult decisions, or managing anxiety, depression, worry or isolation. These can have negative impacts on learning, engagement, behavior and school attendance. Schools can play a key role in connecting students and families with services; however, only about half of K-12 public schools feel they can “effectively provide mental health services to all students in need.”
ACTION: States are hiring school mental health professionals and examining policies that can help districts recruit and retain these in-demand staff members. States also are training educators in trauma-informed instruction and student mental health identification.
ACTION: Lawmakers are pursuing a range of strategies to support student mental health. These include enacting laws to promote positive school climates by addressing safety and interpersonal relationships, and implementing restorative disciplinary approaches. Some states are requiring mental health and wellness curricula; others are incorporating mental health into state standards. Still others have focused on suicide prevention programs, mental health screenings, and services and trainings.
With students’ mental health needs persisting at high levels and chronic absenteeism on the rise, expect this issue to continue to be a policy trend in 2024.
Hot Topic: Improving the Value of Postsecondary Education
As recent surveys show, students and families continue to express skepticism about the value of higher education. At least 16 states now no longer require a four-year degree for most state jobs.
ACTION: Given these trends, expect legislatures to continue their support for the attainment of affordable, in-demand postsecondary degrees and credentials. They also will support programs linked to postsecondary career and technical education options, including apprenticeships and vocational training. As in previous sessions, states will provide funding for target populations, including adult learners and currently or formerly incarcerated students, and for programs that offer in-demand credentials and non-degree options. States also will continue to address student loan debt with state-level forgiveness programs and borrower oversight efforts.