41 minute read

States and Education - State Administrative Services In Education

Education Encyclopedia - StateUniversity.comEducation EncyclopediaStates and Education - State Administrative Services In Education, State Boards Of Education, State Governments In Higher Education - LEGAL BASIS OF STATE RELATIONS TO NONPUBLIC SCHOOLS


Power to administer school and college programs is shared among state bodies and the governing boards of school districts, community colleges, public universities, and private entities. Since the U.S. Constitution does not refer to education, jurisdiction over education is left to the states and the people, although states may not, in their actions, violate the Constitution. Forty-nine of the fifty state constitutions call for "uniform," "thorough," or "efficient" educational systems that make schooling available to all. In accord of these constitutions and court rulings, states have enacted legislative statutes to establish school districts, colleges, universities, and separate schools for special purposes. To each has been given a significant degree of autonomy to make many of the crucial decisions by which education is shaped. Chief responsibility for operating education has been placed on their shoulders, while both external accrediting bodies and state agencies hold them accountable for their performance. In the mid-twentieth century, education could fairly have been termed a local matter, since state frameworks established early in the century made it so; that era has passed. Hawaii has been the exception as it entered the Union without local school districts for elementary and secondary education.

Elements of state governments–including state boards of education, state superintendents, state departments and boards for higher educational institutions–perform a number of crucial roles in each state's education system. Constitutions and statutes assign them significant powers as overseers, as formulators, and as enforcement officers to propose, draft, and carry out legislation. They serve as auditors of local unit performance and as reporters on what is transpiring, or what should transpire, with respect to education in the state. In addition, each state has at least one state-level agency charged with providing services–as distinguished form regulatory actions–to local units in order to assist them in developing the capacity to deliver effective educational services.

Thus, the people of the states have established and are continuously modifying a statutory division of power and accountability between local units and state government administrative agencies. In this system, a state administrative agency is not directly in charge of educational performance in the state (with the exception of Hawaii). It usually discharges its administrative function by influencing local units that use a variety financial and regulatory means. In many states, this influence has grown dramatically since the mid-1960s when the federal government took on as a goal the strengthening of state educational agencies. Reflecting this growth in the state role, by 2001 twenty-three states had adopted legislation allowing direct administrative control of local unit by the state in order to address unresolved fiscal and educational problems, including "academic bankruptcy," that is, chronically poor performance by students. Also, between 1991 and 1999 thirty-six states passed legislation allowing the creation of new local units–charter schools–to offer publicly funded competition to existing local school districts.

State Administrative Agencies

Most states have multiple administrative agencies for education. All have a state educational agency, typically titled the state department of education or state department of public instruction, that handles administrative concerns for early childhood, elementary, secondary, and vocational programs. In some states this same agency also is responsible for adult education, vocational rehabilitation, and higher education. The majority of states, however, have a separate agency that provides administrative coordination for state-supported colleges and universities.

It would be misleading to imply that state administrative services to local units are always so neatly packaged. These two types of agencies usually have duties and powers extending beyond the confines of their primary concerns. State education agencies may preside over the state's program for vocational rehabilitation or operate certain colleges, special schools, or custodial institutions. Most are involved in higher education through their power to approve college programs for the preparation of teachers. Similarly, coordinating state agencies for higher education may serve as administrators of student loan programs or may affect high school programs by establishing uniform entrance requirements for all state-supported colleges. As an added complication, voluntary accrediting associations of schools, colleges, and professional programs have concurrent jurisdiction over many of the same matters as the state agencies.

In addition, state government structure is typically pluralistic in designating agencies to perform state-level administration of education-related matters. For example, a separate state building authority may administer a large program of capital outlay for building construction; as well, the purchase and equipment of school buses may be under the jurisdiction of a state purchasing authority. Assessment of K–12 students, required by forty-eight states in 2001, is often the responsibility of a distinctive unit or agency.

In nearly all states, the requests for legislative appropriations by public institutions of higher education are screened by at least one state budgeting agency in addition to the coordinating agency established for higher education. The power to audit and report publicly on expenditures, a significant administrative control, typically resides in a state auditor's office, which acts independently of the education agencies. Surplus agricultural commodities, crucial to school lunch programs, are often handled by a separate administrative agency, as are state building codes for school and college structures. The total list of such dispersed responsibilities has increased as units linked to federal categorical grants have developed their own identity and serve to link the federal government to the management of specific local programs. Although the dispersal of authority may not constitute a negative factor affecting the ability to provide good government, they do compound the complexity of state administrative services to local education units.

Also complicating administrative services is their commingling with leadership services. For example, the state education agency usually has the power to promulgate a set of curriculum standards for all schools of the state. This administrative service, however, is used as a vehicle to promote and develop local unit capacity and willingness to provide good instruction–a leadership service. For example, if "authentic assessment" is used as a part of standards-based testing of students, the state will typically offer professional development programs to inform teachers how to instruct students to perform effectively. Although state education agency functions normally are classified either as regulatory (administrative) or leadership (developmental), the line between these functions is largely obscured in practice.

Revenue Services

Revenue available to local units is largely controlled by state law and legislative appropriations rather than by state administrative agencies (which often act more as lobbies than disinterested civil agencies). A common feature of state law is the requirement that local school districts make an effort to derive revenues from local taxes, usually the property tax, before they can become eligible for state transfer payments. In many states, a state administrative agency (usually not the state education agency) determines the valuation of property upon which a district's require effort should be based.

Distribution of state-collected taxes to local school districts is preponderantly by formula; the state agency applies the formula, verifying the base figures, and processes the distribution with few judgmental actions. Some state education agencies, however, are influential with legislatures in changing the amounts of revenue to be distributed from state-collected taxes and in establishing the statutory formulas for distributing state aid. All states distribute some state-level revenue among local districts on an approved-program or approved-need basis, with a state agency as the approving authority. For example, special aid for special needs students is frequently allotted only after a state agency has determined the need and has been satisfied that the agency's criteria for an adequate program has been met. This type of judgmental revenue distribution is typical for vocational education and new categorically funded programs that address particular issues. Reflecting concern that too much is spent "outside the classroom," restrictions on the proportion of funds that may be spent on non-instructional purposes have become common, as have expenditure and tax rate limitations, the latter dating back to California's Proposition 13 and the "property tax revolt" of the late 1970s.

Revenue for capital outlay purposes is preponderantly within the jurisdiction of local units. In a few states, however, a state building authority may issue bonds against the credit of the whole state and use the proceeds to finance construction within local units. This device, adopted for example in Arizona as the result of a court case that found local funding of school buildings to be unconstitutional, results in considerable state agency control of most facets of school housing even as it benefits those districts that could not afford adequate school accommodations on their own. In other states an annual distribution of current state revenue is made on a formula basis to local units, which are accorded the privilege of issuing debentures against future receipts for the construction of their physical plant. This approach is closely regulated by the state. State agencies in several states have a variety of approval functions with respect to local bond issues to ensure that excessive debt is not undertaken or that debt is incurred for spurious purposes. Also significant is the availability of advisory and consultative services in state education agencies for use by local units–chiefly small ones–in handling bond issues and sales. In higher education state agencies are active in determining what revenue shall be available for construction at individual colleges and universities as the "echo" to the baby boom enters its postsecondary phase.

State-supported colleges and universities depend heavily upon legislative appropriations for operating revenue, although in the early twenty-first century tuition, federal, and private funding make up more than half the revenue of many nominally public institutions. In some states, state-collected taxes are a significant revenue source for the private sector of higher education as well. A state's coordinating board for higher education typically exercises considerable authority in determining the distribution of appropriations among eligible institutions. Usually that agency develops distribution formulas; sometimes it sits in judgment on each institution's request before the legislature acts. At least one other state agency conducts similar reviews in states with coordinating boards, and all states have at least one agency, such as the executive department budget office, empowered to advise the legislature on higher education appropriations.

In states that authorize state contracts with private institutions for educational services, an administrative agency usually has considerable ministerial power in awarding contracts. In the late 1990s, actual appropriations to individual state-supported institutions were largely determined in the majority of states by transactions between the legislature and the state's higher education governing board (twenty-two states), coordinating body (twenty-one states) or planning agency and individual institutional boards. Consolidated governing boards exercise the most authority, including that for personnel, programs and budgets; coordinating bodies typically control programs and/or budgets or are advisory; planning agencies are advisory only. During the 1990s, there was a decisive shift toward the provision of greater power to oversight bodies, with an increase in the number of governing boards and in coordinating bodies, which exercised authority over both program and budgets.

With the advent of large federal government supports for education in the 1960s, state administrative agencies assumed expanded roles in the allocation of revenues to local units. Grants to school districts, private institutions, and state-supported colleges and universities are usually made in response to applications filed by those units. Under several pieces of federal legislation, a state agency reviews those applications and, in practical effects, makes or withholds awards. For example, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 is the most recent reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), an act originally adopted in 1965 as part of President Lyndon Johnson's "Great Society" initiative. The current act includes nine sections or "titles" that detail numerous programs for areas such as technology, improvement of teaching, English language learning, and dropout prevention that are administered by the states, generally require formal application for funds, and may entail competition among applicants. In some cases consortia including higher education institutions are required. Currently, most federal funds assisting higher educational institutions do so by aiding students or research. State higher education agencies may be involved in administration with these programs as with the 529 college savings plans created under Sec. 529–Qualified State Tuition Programs of federal income tax legislation.

Accompanying the allocation of funds may be state-provided advisory services to enhance the capacity of local units in developing and operating projects. Agencies may develop master plans for developing program areas targeted by the federal government. State agencies have been actively involved in the administration of federal programs for more than a century, dating from the first vocational education legislation. The federal government tries to balance its own role, which now emphasizes accountability, with support for state agencies and local units. The No Child Left Behind Act requires all states to conduct annual academic assessments for grades three through eight and produce annual report cards describing school and statewide progress. Statewide reports must disaggregate data according to race, gender, and other criteria to provide evidence of closing the achievement gap between disadvantaged students and other groups of students. At the same time, to reduce federal red tape and enhance local control, it cuts the overall number of ESEA programs from fifty-five to forty-five and for the first time offers most local school districts the freedom to transfer up to 50 percent of the federal dollars that they receive among several education programs without separate approval.

Permanent state administrative agencies influence operating revenues of local units in a number of ways. State agencies usually accredit elementary and secondary schools. To meet accreditation standards, local taxing units may have to increase the funds they make available. Or, by offering state funds to support part of a given program and thereby reducing the tax price of education, they may stimulate the local taxpayers to provide additional support. As of January 2002, of the twenty-three states that were implementing high school graduate exit exams, twelve provided state funds for remediation. The reports and recommendations of state-level administrative agencies affect the state's allocation of general revenue for education, as have numerous court decisions concerned with the equity and adequacy of funds for both operating and capital expenses. As with the federal government, states have adopted competitive bidding for grants requiring applications, sometime termed challenge grants, thereby extending the influence of the funds allocated. The permanent state administrative agencies for education, however, have been relatively unsuccessful in securing revenue to support their own activities, particularly those directed toward capacity building in local units. In 1992 to 1993, states averaged $46 per pupil in state-level K–12 administration funding, with a ratio of 1,496 students per state staff member. Approximately 27 percent of the funding of $2 billion for came from the federal government and the number of staff ranged from 25 in Wyoming to 2,565 in New York and averaged about 575.

In the majority of states, the most dramatic influences upon educational revenue since the 1960s have come from outside the permanent administrative agency structure. Political influence has been brought to bear through both through all branches of government–executive, legislative and judicial. One mechanism has been the use education commissions and committees: temporary quasi-agencies created to appraise current provisions for and effectiveness of K–12 or higher education. The 1983 report of the National Commission on Excellence in Education, titled A Nation at Risk, stimulated the creation of more than 300 commissions and committees across the United States. Usually chartered by legislatures and/or governors, composed of lay citizens as well as legislators and educators and financed by government funds, these committees marshaled public opinion and legislative action to support large-scale school reform initiatives affecting programs (e.g., state curriculum and assessment), administrative arrangements (e.g., charter schools and mayoralty appointment of school boards in large cities), and state revenue structures (e.g., new standards of adequacy and a shift from the local property tax to earmarked state funds). Free to use resources of talent and publicity typically denied to administrative agencies, these committees often effectively supplement established government structures for supervising education. During the 1980s and 1990s, governors came to play an unprecedented role in educational policy as did the courts, which overturned dozens of state funding mechanisms as being inconsistent with state constitutions.

Expenditure Services

State control of the monies expended by local units for education is provided chiefly by two devices: legislative earmarking of funds to restrict the purposes for which they shall be spent and the requirement that local agencies submit annual operating budget. Increasingly, the latter task is accomplished over the Internet, with forms downloaded and uploaded using state-agency-designed forms or spreadsheets that conform to state-mandated codes of account.

Legislative Earmarking

State administrative agencies are usually charged with presiding over the sanctity of statutory or appropriation directives regarding the purposes for which state funds shall be spent. This responsibility involves educating local officials on the intricacies of the law and establishing guidelines and interpretations regarding legal stipulations. It also entails auditing local unit performance and may require withholding funds or other sanctions, including state takeover, to secure compliance. A large number of states have statutory stipulations that a certain portion of state funds shall be expended only for teaching salaries and that a state-adopted minimum teaching salary schedules shall be met. A state administrative agency administers this requirement, defining who is a teacher, checking on salaries actually paid, and preventing application of teaching-salary money to other objects of expenditure. Some states, concerned about the deterioration of buildings, increasing class sizes, or other shortcomings, have put restrictions of the amount of funds that may be used for functions such as administration.

When stipulations are programmatic (e.g., that state funds that should be used to improve literacy) the state administrative agency may function in advisory and developmental capacities more than in a regulatory capacity. Few state education agencies are staffed sufficiently to provide such services statewide, however. As a result, they tend to concentrate their efforts on smaller, weaker local units or those that have been identified as failing to meet state standards. Some state agencies actively collaborate with urban school districts to improve results from activities funded through earmarked state and federal funds. Greater federal accountability threatens the removal or reallocation of funds if improvements cannot be demonstrated.


The Progressive movement of the early part of the twentieth century helped to establish a formal state role in funding education more equitably. At the same time, the state assumed a key role in establishing annual budgets for local units, a practice that has become universally taken for granted. As a result of the property tax revolt of the 1970s and 80s, commencing with California's Proposition 13, and court cases calling for more equitable funding, a number of states have moved to effectively fund education at the state level, implying that local budgets are set by these states. State education agencies advise local school districts on budget planning and may disseminate comparative data on budgeted items as a service to local school officials. In the typical state, state agencies lack the authority to modify local budgets when regulations are followed, but some states with strong agencies influence budgets through advice, persuasion, comparative reports, accrediting regulations, and public promotion. Sanctions adopted in the 1990s, such as state takeovers of fiscally and academically troubled districts, help to ensure that the agency's voice is heard.

The expenditure-control power of the state agency is also considerable in federally financed programs administered by the state. Reports on expenditures submitted to the state by local units are generally made public, sometimes on the Internet as a part of school and school district "report cards," ensuring that local units and the public at large has access to norms and averages. Records of expenditures also provide information that is useful for planning and for undertaking cost-effectiveness studies, although a tradition of local control has often undermined their use for systematic planning. "Every-student" databases that are being developed in a number of states, in part to ensure that students are not counted multiple times for state aid purposes, along with state and federal assessment data, are beginning to change this situation. The National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES), a federal agency that is part of the Department of Education, plays a central role in developing uniform methods of collecting and reporting fiscal, enrollment, program, and other data. It also helps to build the capacity of state agencies to mount more sophisticated information systems.

Local Unit Reorganization

Local unit reorganization affects both higher education and local school districts.

Higher education. The exponential postwar expansion in postsecondary education, much of it in state-supported state colleges and universities, slowed in the early 1970s as the "baby bust" replaced the "baby boom." Still, with higher rates of participation in higher education, especially for women, enrollment in degree-granting postsecondary institutions (including two-year colleges) increased by 16 percent between 1978 and 1988. From 1988 to 1998, enrollment increased another 11 percent from 13.1 million to 14.5 million, about three-quarters of which was in public institutions. In 1998 to 1999 there were 613 public degree-granting institutions with four-year programs and 1,730 degree-granting private institutions with four-year programs; total enrollment in these institutions with four-year programs was 9,034,062 of which one-third was private. Of those students in private institutions, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 10 percent were enrolled in for-profit institutions (Table 171). Each state legislature has the final authority for establishing new four-year colleges, universities, and professional schools. In a majority of states, governing or coordinating bodies have key responsibilities and powers, including making public recommendations as to the establishment of new institutions or campuses. Indeed, legislatures often will not act without such a recommendation, although such a recommendation does not guarantee action. Governing and coordinating bodies also define the role and scope of each institution, provide the legislature with a master plan for higher education, and sometimes establish enrollment limits for existing institutions.

Community colleges, formerly referred to as junior colleges, absorbed much of the growth in higher education during the boom years and experienced an expansion of their mission when the decline in the age-cohort for transfer programs made the provision of career and vocationally oriented programs advantageous. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 1998 to 1999 there were 1075 two-year public institutions and 652 two-year private colleges (Table 246). Total enrollment was 5,687,742, of which only 5 percent was private. More than 70 percent of the students in private institutions were enrolled in for-profit colleges. Local initiative is still the dominant force in the creation and expansion of community colleges and technical institutes; although in most cases state administrative agencies or coordinating bodies approve new plans and serve to link the institutions into a statewide network. Increasingly, at the behest of legislatures, governing boards and coordinating bodies for state colleges and universities have worked closely with their peer group for community colleges to improve the articulation between the two levels of high education. In some states, community college courses used for transfer purposes are specified explicitly and must be accepted by state universities so that students can plan their academic careers.

Local school districts. Reorganization of local school district structures, long a preoccupation of states, shifted direction in the 1990s from a focus on consolidation to the creation of a new a new form of local unit, the charter school. Looking back, between 1946 and 1966, thirty-eight states carried out major consolidation of school districts, a number made more impressive by noting that most Southern states have always operated on a county or parish basis. Between 1961 and 1968 alone, the number of districts declined from 37,000 to 22,860, the latter figure including 15,824 districts that enrolled fewer than 1800 pupils. The rate of decline has slowed: between 1989 to 1990 and 1997 to 1998, the number of districts declined from 15,367 to 14,805 including 10,508 with fewer than 2,500 enrollees. Although the number of districts with fewer than 2,500 decreased during the decade, the number of districts with more than 2500 students increased. Those having more than 25,000 students climbed in number from 179 to 230, according to National Center for Education Statistics (Table 88). Rapid urbanization brought structural problems at both ends of the scale: metropolitan areas outgrew the traditional districting principle–a sophisticated urban center surrounded by more traditional rural areas–as suburban district enrollment grew and both rural and urban centers declined, with the latter districts often inheriting the responsibility for a minority population that has never enjoyed adequate educational opportunities.

The creation of charter schools as an alternative to traditional local educational units began in Minnesota in 1991. California followed suit in 1992. By 1999 thirty-six states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia had passed charter legislation. Since 1994 the federal Department of Education has provided grants to support states' charter school efforts, from $6 million in fiscal year 1995, to $100 million in fiscal year 1999, when more than 1,700 charter schools were in operation. Of these, 58 percent were elementary schools, 20 percent secondary schools, and 22 percent included grades at both levels. Arizona, with more than 300, has the largest number of charters, followed by California (234), Michigan (more than 175), Texas (more than 150), and Florida (112).

Charter schools vary from state to state and are significantly influenced by legislation.

The laws cover seven areas: charter development–who may propose a charter, how charters are granted, the number of charter schools allowed, and related issues; school status–how the school is legally defined and related governance, operations, and liability issues; fiscal–the level and types of funding provided and the amount of fiscal independence and autonomy; students–how schools are to address admissions, non-discrimination, special education, etc.; staffing and labor relations–whether the school may act as an employer, which labor relations laws apply, and other staff rights and privileges; instruction–the degree of control a school has over the development of its instructional goals and practices; accountability–whether the charter serves as a performance-based contract, how assessment methods are selected, and charter revocation and renewal issues (uscharterschools.org).

In spite of quite radical actions by the states in the 1990s embodied in charter schools and district takeover legislation, state education agencies are not executive agents for reforming local district structures. The United States has held strongly to a tradition of local determination. When mandates are issued, they flow chiefly from legislative enactments. Laws fostering consolidation usually offer incentives to districts. On occasion, independent state commissions have been created to propose redistricting in a given territory but then accept locally originated counterproposals. Charter school laws typically require local initiatives to launch a school, thus reflecting the American tradition of local determination.

Redistricting is, in short, a political process and state education agencies move within limitations imposed by this fact, particularly because they represent the state while existing districts represent local control. Nevertheless, state education agencies exert influence over district structure, the amount of such influence varying between states. In many states, the agencies are supported by statutory discretionary power in applying those criteria. On occasion, they must enforce (that is, work out) new legislative mandates or are instructed, in effect, to promote the inducements to consolidate. State agencies may take the initiative and foster local action by using consultation and public advocacy or turn to de facto sanctions by strict application of state accreditation standards that are difficult for very small units to satisfy. A few state education agencies may undertake, usually upon request, surveys of district structure in a given territory and make recommendations based on these surveys to local authorities or interested citizens' groups. The greatest source of state agency influence lies in the reports and recommendations provided to state legislatures, study commissions, and other groups.

Curriculum and Instruction

State administrative agency influence on curriculum and instruction, including vocational education, is substantial at the elementary and secondary level and notable in some program areas in higher education.

Elementary, secondary, and vocational. In elementary and secondary education, including vocational education, state education agencies have statutory power to significantly influence what is taught in local school districts. Typically, the agencies are empowered to prescribe minimal course offerings and outline course content. They also establish standards for accrediting schools; many of these standards deal with the quality of curriculum and the results of teaching as measured by state-administered criterion-referenced tests. In 2000 to 2001, all but three states (Iowa, Montana, and Wisconsin) used such assessments aligned to state standards in English/language arts and mathematics; about half of the states also examined science and social studies/history. Although no state limits the offerings of local schools to those approved by the state education agency, prevailing practice is to await state outlines for new high school courses before they are introduced widely. Experiments with online education by private and public suppliers to public school student, charter school students, and those being home schooled are challenging agencies to develop new guidelines about what constitutes instruction for both academic and financial purposes.

In vocational education, state practices usually require state agency approval of the details of each offering before it becomes eligible for reimbursement from state and federal funds. In some cases, the state education agency may prescribe or approve uniform tests linked to certification, which can have an important influence on curricula. Through its administration of federal programs, the state agency becomes involved in program control. State education agencies also may have statutory authority over the adoption of textbooks, content of instructional broadcasts, and the selection of audiovisual and technological resources, including software, purchased with state funds. Upgrading school and school district communication and computing capacity both for administrative and instructional purposes is a focal point in most states.

The milieu in which state education agencies operate exerts pressure to reduce regulatory implementation of statutes to a minimal level. Constructive influence arises chiefly from their advisory, leadership, and developmental services for curriculum, instruction, and assessment. The extent and quality of these services distinguish strong from weak education agencies. In the 1960s, before the Great Society initiative, state education agencies were primarily concerned with assisting small and high-need districts. Between 1965 and the Nation at Risk report in 1983, state agencies created developmental services to build local capacity across their states. Since 1983, pushed by governors, state legislatures, and the federal government, they have assumed a central role in translating national aspirations into effective programs at the local level.

Capacity building services include in-service education for teachers, statewide curriculum improvement studies and implementation, demonstration projects, and the compilation and provision of curriculum and methodological guides. Some agencies undertake vigorous promotion of certain curriculum reforms, enlisting the services of colleges, universities, and private providers. The power of the agency to specify curriculum may be used to create committees of expert teachers to formulate course guides. Several states have initiated Internet-based curriculum guides with linked resources and are experimenting with online testing in the classroom using central databanks of test items. Major information system and textbook companies play an active role in both testing programs and development of online capabilities.

These examples illustrate an important generalization: the role of the state education agency in the instructional realm is primarily that of persuader. The local school district, in most cases, is the final arbiter of the quality of instruction. In only exceptional cases will the state agency turn from persuading its way into the local district toward dictating to a district that which will be done. For assessments, however, they have been given the authority by both state and federal law to insist that districts measure and report on the progress of students.

Higher education. For institutions of higher education, no state administrative agencies carry out curriculum and instruction functions comparable to those that state education agencies perform for K–12 schooling. Some coordinating agencies have the authority to approve or disapprove specializations offered for degrees and have veto powers over new courses. These powers are aimed primarily at diminishing the proliferation of courses and the overlap of programs among institutions rather than developing course content, although in attempts to increase articulation between community colleges and universities some states have become quite directive. Statutes in coordinating-board (vs. governing board) states normally allow persuasive approaches including setting criteria and insisting on accountability. Indeed, state legislatures during the 1990s bolstered their power to do so.

Local Unit Personnel

Selection, retention, advancement, and dismissal of personnel are jealously guarded prerogatives of the local units. Yet these crucial decisions are constrained by statutory prescriptions and by ministerial actions of state administrative agencies. Statutes and legislative appropriations have much to do with the salaries that local units can offer and hence with these units' ability to attract recruits. Statutes frequently govern the contract provisions regarding teachers: conditions of tenure, fringe benefits including pensions, and the status of collective bargaining between employee organizations and governing boards particularly as they relate to working conditions (i.e., class size, hours of instruction, etc.). Statutes and court rulings limit the pupil-disciplinary actions of school officials, sometimes leading to employee dissatisfaction. Inadequate district revenue, sometimes caused by state funding regulations, and difficult social environments can result in school conditions that make it almost impossible to staff particular schools with certificated professionals. All states require state-issued licenses for teachers and other professional workers in the school systems. To implement and enforce these statutes, all states delegate some authority to state education agencies; some states delegate this authority to commissions that maintain records and adjudicate problems related to licensure.

State licensure is rare in higher education, applicable in a few instances to community college personnel. Tenure is seldom a subject of specific state statutes, although administrative law and court rulings sustain the necessity for due process in dismissals. A state-coordinating agency for higher education may suggest uniform guarantees of academic freedom and tenure. In some cases, state labor legislation may facilitate collective bargaining by faculty in public postsecondary institutions. Coordinating agencies may also specify average salary levels in state-supported institutions and earned-degree status expected of faculty members. Most personnel matters, however, are within the jurisdiction of institutional (or multiunit system) governing boards.

Licensure Requirements

State education agencies exercise the greatest influence over local school district personnel through licensure of professional workers. States vary widely in the amount of discretionary leeway that is accorded to state education agencies. Some are very specific and others merely authorize the state education agency to design and implement a suitable certification framework. Most states fall between these two extremes although the trend during the 1990s was toward greater specification and concern about quality. The NASDTEC Manual on the Preparation and Certification of Educational Personnel for the Year 2000, published by the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification, classifies state requirements in seven areas: broad academic study; assessment; ancillary and special education; general education; professional preparation; student teaching; and subject matter endorsement. All states mandate a bachelor's degree, subject matter study, and pedagogical study for entry-level teachers. Most states require examinations of basic skills, subject matter knowledge, and teaching knowledge examination for initial licensure. About one-third also require and assessment of teaching performance. All states have emergency routes through which districts can employ persons not qualified for standard certification and alternative preparation programs to expedite the entry of new teachers to the profession. State officials have considerable autonomy in establishing standard patterns for educational qualifications, but they also interpret whether standards are actually met. To local unit officials, some state agencies appear bound to the letter of the regulations while others are quite liberal in their interpretations, focusing on the broad intent of the regulations. In most cases, what is being licensed is a college transcript, not an individual; licensure is a mass-production enterprise. An alternative approach, developed by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, certifies individual teachers; the board reports that forty-seven states offer inducements for individual teachers who already hold state licensure to gain National Board Certification.

State education agencies' licensure of teachers requires effective working relationships with the state colleges and universities that provide teacher education programs. The universal approach taken is the approval of institutions by a state agency based on one or more sets of standards. The state education agency establishes criteria for the approval of institutions offering programs for educators and for the approval of each program designed to qualify students for a given type of certificate or license. Advisory groups of nonagency personnel often formulate criteria. More than two-thirds of the states have formally or informally adopted one or more of regional accrediting standards or standards promulgated by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) or by NASDTEC. Standards have become increasingly performance based. NCATE standards emphasize six areas: candidate knowledge, skills, and dispositions; assessment system and unit evaluation; field experiences and clinical practice; diversity; faculty qualifications, performance, and development; and unit governance and resources. Once an institution and its curricula are approved–typically for a five-year period–the institution merely certifies to the state agency that a given individual has satisfactorily completed an approved program and is recommended by the institution for licensure. The legal credential is then issued by the state education agency, usually for a given term subject to recertification requirements such as the completion of additional approved professional development courses.

The institutional approval process places the state education agency in at least a semi-accreditation role with respect to colleges and universities, private as well as public, and make for a degree of uniformity among teacher preparation programs. In the past, critics contended this approach placed too much faith in the integrity of individual colleges to prepare teachers properly, by making higher education institutions–not school systems and professional practitioners–the arbiters of personnel qualifications for teachers. Over-reliance on course work was also faulted. The emergence of performance testing as part of the qualification process and more formal standards managed by national bodies, often with the support of federal funds, reflect credence given to these critics. Although there is growing accountability for teaching certification to and the direction to agencies outside of state education agencies, state agencies nevertheless maintain a legal monopoly on the function.

Administration in Local Units

Decisions and executive actions made within local units form the administrative core of American education, despite the steady trend toward nationalization of the educational endeavor. States direct local units to make many decisions through statutory law and traditions and yet influence those decisions and actions through the behavior of their state administrative agencies. Federal funding regulations, court decisions, and collective agreements similarly affect local choices by proscribing and prescribing available options. Although waivers may be available to promote or permit local experimentation and charter schools allow an alternative to traditional public schools, these initiatives operate at the margin.

Within institutions of higher education, state administrative agencies offer minimal levels of consultation and personal advice to influence decisions or executive actions of administrators. Nevertheless, recommendations made by such agencies may have considerable influence, as in the case of the prescribed form and content for fiscal appropriation requests that can affect policies on teaching loads or the emphasis accorded research activities. Reports, especially comparative ones, also influence local polices and procedures. Comparative analyses of institutions across a state or of comparable institutions in other states are standard instruments to argue for the need of additional resources, new programs, and the like. Concern about a potential shortage of qualified teachers between 2000 and 2010 as teachers from the baby boom generation retire and as enrollments increase has encouraged states to advise their colleges and universities to respond accordingly.

State agency regulations also influence administrative decisions by local school districts. As well, the agencies operate an array of consultative and instructional services in such areas as school transportation, fiscal accounting, school law, purchasing procedures, school–plant planning and construction, and information system development and operation. When new issues arise or new programs are introduced, agencies will often initiate systematic dissemination projects, often in partnership with professional associations or postsecondary institutions, to assist local units in responding appropriately. Management services and policy advice, however, are in most cases minimal.

Appeals of administrative decisions within local school districts may be made to the commissioner of education in most states. Quasi-judicial hearings are conducted on such matters as the dismissal of an employee, boundaries of school attendance areas, and allegations of impropriety in the award of contracts. Aggrieved parties also have access to the courts, although until established routes of appeal within the educational system have been exhausted, courts generally will not accept pleas. They may also turn to the state attorney general on debatable points of law, although they must first seek resolution through the office of the commissioner of education. In a number of states, issues related to collective bargaining legislation for teachers are the responsibility of a special agency that may invoke various means of dispute resolution.

Informing and Planning

State education agencies and coordinating bodies for higher education can be treated together as far as informing and planning is concerned. Statutes typically empower these agencies to collect and interpret data to monitor the operations of the total state educational system. Data are used to inform the public, school officials, and governmental authorities about a variety of inputs, processes and outputs. According to statutes, information collected should be used to appraise the results of education, the effectiveness of present arrangements, and the effects of legislative and educational strategies. Simultaneously, research conducted or commissioned by the agencies is used to suggest alternative educational means and to identify emerging demands upon and new challenges to the state's system. Ultimately, agencies propose recommendations for immediate and long-term plans to improved educational arrangements throughout the state.

Measured against such expectations, few state agencies perform adequately, in part because of scarce resources and political complexity. Data collection and statistical reporting, rather than elaborate master plans substantiated by sound research, are their forte. More often, a government commission or task force operating with adequate funds and substantial political capital will fill the breach, although federal planning grants also stimulate development of strategic initiatives.

Private Institutions

Some state administrative agencies charter privately incorporated institutions for education although the requirements to receive a charter vary widely in prescriptiveness. Private institutions need not seek accreditation, but most secondary and postsecondary institutions do so, thereby subjecting themselves to the same state agency influences as public institutions. The same situation pertains to approvals for teacher education and certification. State agencies also subject private institutions to enforcement of fire and other safety statutes. To benefit from many federal programs, private institutions accept the influence of those agencies with respect to fiscal accountability and program performance.

As private elementary and secondary institutions enter into agreements for cooperative instruction with public schools, state education agencies become more important in their affairs. The provision of vouchers that allow students in low-performing public schools to transfer to private schools may also bring involvement of a state agency. A number of states have statutes and appropriations permitting the state to purchase educational services from private colleges and universities; the state agency administering such provisions quite naturally exerts considerable influence upon the recipients. State-provided scholarships to students attending private institutions can also result in a state monitoring, if not supervising. Thus, private institutions are rarely as independent of the state as popularly believed.

Intermediate Units

Between the state and the individual school district are administrative units, which incorporate a number of school districts. Although county boards of education have provided this function in some states, in others regional services agencies have been created. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, for example, Texas created Educational Service Centers for each of twenty regions, Pennsylvania created Intermediate Units, and New York formed Boards of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES). These entities have as their primary purpose the support of local school districts and the reduction of service redundancy to take advantage of economies of scale. Intermediate unit employees are simultaneously vendors, service providers, grant writers, financial and management specialists, researchers, advisers, advocates, and facilitators. Typical programs and service offered include adult education, cooperative projects, curriculum services, educational technology and media, psychological services, and the operation of regional special education and vocational schools.

These units are not, strictly speaking, branches of the state education agencies, but neither are they agents of local districts. Typically, they stand as district-controlled but state-allied agencies for connecting local districts with changing approaches to education. As an alternative to school district consolidation, they appear to have become established as a permanent fixture in many states. Although some speculated that they might evolve into the major planning units for educational services and gain strong financial support and ministerial authority, this has not been the case.

Context of State Agency Actions

To understand state administrative agency influence upon educational practice, at least four features of the context in which they operate should be noted.

First, in most states, state education agencies do not establish policy or develop procedures to be followed. Both of these critical functions come about through extensive participation of non-agency persons–local district employees, college and university personnel, citizen panels, outside consultants, and political staff in the executive and legislative branches. Non-agency committees frequently possess almost autonomous jurisdiction over certain matters–selection of state-approved textbooks or approval of new school construction, for example. Committees, sometimes including several hundred individuals, write state curriculum guides. Until the 1980s and 1990s, with the push to align state standards with assessment and teacher preparation, there were few administrative regulations that did not bear the imprint of local unit administrators serving as advisers.

Moreover, vast networks of influential groups and individuals surround state administrative agencies, just as they do state legislatures. Professional organizations, parent associations, special-interest groups, combinations of local units seeking fair treatment, legislators speaking on behalf of constituents, and private enterprises with a stake in decisions and regulations all lobby to obtain their goals. To conclude that the involvement of so many viewpoints and competing influences weakens the quality of state administrative agency decisions would be erroneous, however. Simply put, state agencies are not clusters of individuals concocting directives and plans in Olympian fashion to be imposed on the state educational system.

Second, state statutes reflect, to a marked degree, the principle of plaguing power with power. In very few domains is there a clear distinction between the authority of state agencies and the authority of local units. Statutory delegations are typically broad and vague; often, both parties can justly claims primary jurisdiction. For example, the question might arise as to whether the state agency has the right to determine who can serve as a counselor in a high school. The local unit can cite jurisdiction over student affairs; the state agency can say its power to accredit implies the power to specify who does what in a school. Or, the power of the governing board of a postsecondary institution to adopt an operating budget and the power of a state agency for higher education to approve budgets can conflict over an attempt to expand a local department of engineering to include optical engineering if the state agency does not think this content should be offered by that institution. It is a truism of administrative science that any agency tends to increase its field of jurisdiction and, in so doing, comes into conflict with the jurisdictions claimed by other agencies. Evaluating the work of state administrative agencies for education must take this constant tension into account.

Third, state administrative agencies develop reputations over long periods of time. Prevailing images of them vary tremendously from state to state. One agency may be viewed as competent, judicious, flexible, and the source of constructive influence; another may be seen as a regulatory body interested only in bureaucratic formalities; and a third as a minor bureau concerned with minutiae and processing paper. Deserved or not, these images persist and largely determine whether the state's political actions will be favorable toward the education agency, thereby affecting the roles of state agencies in relation to local units. Although history indicates that image transformations tend to occur very slowly, on occasion some states have dramatically transformed state education agencies almost overnight, reorganizing them and changing mandates in order to pursue state goals more effectively.

Fourth, the size and quality of staff in state administrative agencies have more to do with the agencies' influence than perhaps any other factor. Highly qualified staff with significant professional attainment, if placed in strategic positions to formulate policy, plan, and help to build local capacity, succeed where others would fail. With few exceptions, states do not provide attractive positions with the appropriate remuneration required to attract the best educational talent. Local units provide higher salaries, better fringe benefits, and the like, making it possible for them to lure promising individuals away from state agencies. State civil service classification systems often thwart efforts to obtain specialists and limit opportunities for advancement. Although federal funds and the increased attention paid to education by governors and legislatures have infused new talent into state education agencies, this talent often is clustered in special units dedicated to a particular programmatic activity, fragmenting rather than unifying the agency. Nevertheless, because of their role in assessment and quality improvement initiatives, most state education agencies are far more central to the unfolding drama of public education in 2002 than they were in 1965, in large part due to national aspirations fostered by federal initiatives.


EDUCATION COMMISSION OF THE STATES. 1999. Governing America's Schools: Changing the Rules. Report of the National Commission on Governing America's Schools. Denver, CO: Education Commission of the States.

NATIONAL BOARD FOR PROFESSIONAL TEACHING STANDARDS. 2002. Backgrounder. Arlington, VA: National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

NATIONAL CENTER FOR EDUCATION STATISTICS. 2002. The Digest of Education Statistics: 2000. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics.

NATIONAL COMMISSION ON EXCELLENCE IN EDUCATION. 1983. A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform. Washington, DC: National Commission on Excellence in Education.

NATIONAL COUNCIL FOR ACCREDITATION of TEACHER EDUCATION. 2002. Professional Standards for the Accreditation of Schools, Colleges, and Departments of Education. Washington, DC: National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education.

TIMAR, THOMAS, and TYACK, DAVID. 1999. The Invisible Hand of Ideology: Perspectives from the History of School Governance. Denver, CO: Education Commission of the States.


EDUCATION COMMISSION OF THE STATES. 2002. "ECS Tools and Resources: K–12 Governance Structures Database." <www.ecs.org/clearinghouse/27/29/2729.htm>.

INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE. 2002. "Internal Revenue Code, Title 26, Subtitle A, Chapter 1, Sub-chapter F, Part VIII, Sec. 529: Qualified State Tuition Programs." <www4.law.cornell.edu/uscode/26/index.html>.

KNOTT, JACK H., and PAYNE, A. ABIGAIL. 2001. "The Impact of State Governance Structures on Higher Education Resources and Research Activity." <www.igpa.uiuc.edu/publications/html/abstracts.html#stateGovt>.

NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF STATE DIRECTORS of TEACHER EDUCATION AND CERTIFICATION.2001. "The NASDTEC Manual on the Preparation and Certification of Educational Personnel for the Year 2000," 5th edition. <www.gapsc.com/tom/>.

USCHARTERSCHOOLS.ORG. 2002. "Overview of Charter Schools." <www.uscharterschools.org/pub/uscs_docs/gi/overview.htm>.


Additional topics