Usnei international Affairs Office, U. S. Department of Education Feb 2008

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International Affairs Office, U.S. Department of Education Feb 2008

Organization of U.S. Education:

State Role I - Primary and Secondary Education

U.S. state and territorial governments exercise direct oversight over most aspects of education at all levels. They perform the political, administrative, and fiscal functions that are often the work of ministries of education in countries with centralized education systems. Education is the largest budget item for each of the 50 state and 5 territorial and commonwealth governments within the United States. The degree to which states and territories control education depends upon their constitutions, statutes, and regulations. Among the duties performed by state authorities are:

  • Providing funding for public education at all levels;

  • Licensing or chartering private schools and public and private institutions of higher education;

  • Providing oversight and guidance to local school boards;

  • Setting broad policies for school-level curricula, texts, standards, and assessments (but not higher education);

  • Licensing school teachers and other educational personnel;

  • Overseeing the provision of educational services for persons living with disabilities, adults needing basic education services, and other special needs populations;

  • Setting the standards for examining and licensing persons seeking to work in any regulated professional occupation; and

  • Electing or appointing some or all of the members of the governing boards of public higher education institutions and state boards of education.


State and Local Government on the Net provides a topical directory of state web pages organized by state and territory.


National Governors' Association (NGA) Education Division provides information about educational policy and initiatives in U.S. states and territories.


National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) provides information about the state role in funding education as well as current issues and a legislative tracking database for pending state laws.


Educational Resources Online Directory (EROD) provides a searchable database of links to most of the state-level and regional education agencies and organizations.


Education Commission of the States (ECS) is a cooperative inter-state association providing extensive information and resources on state level education issues.


“Early Childhood Education” is the U.S. name for preschool education at the nursery and kindergarten levels, and “early learning” is the name of the associated research field. It can also encompass the first year or two of primary education. Early childhood education involves issues of maternity, health, day care and human development as well as formal education, and is widely recognized and licensed as a specialized career field in education.
NCCIC Interactive Map of State Early Learning Offices provides detailed presentations on state agencies, funding, priorities and contact information.
NCCIC Directory of State Early Childhood Standards provides information and links regarding existing state standards and guidelines (not all states have them).
NCCIC Directory of State Head Start Offices provides links to the state agencies that implement Head Start, a federal program providing educational, health and nutrition services for young disadvantaged children to enable them to prepare for school entry and begin school with healthy bodies and minds.
National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education is a professional association of state government officials responsible for managing and implementing early childhood education services.
NCCIC Directory of State Professional Development Services provides information on current state programs to provide continuing education and training opportunities for early childhood educators.


National Child Care Information Center (NCCIC) is a comprehensive information and referral center funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
NCCIC List of State Child Care Agencies and Programs > provides links to most of the state agencies and programs dealing with child care and related issues, plus some national links.
EROD Directory of State Child Care Licensing Offices provides links to state agencies that approve providers of child care services, including day care and after-school care and inspect and regulate the provision of child care services.
EROD Directory of State Maternal and Child Health Offices provides links to state offices that develop public health standards for mothers and young children, provide health education services to families and the public, and regulate childrens’ health.


State governments have the authority to regulate public preschool, primary and secondary education; license private preschool, primary, and secondary schools; and license or otherwise regulate parents providing home schooling. They also, in many cases, establish and oversee curricula, standards, and procedures. Most state governance occurs via state departments and boards of education, but certain other aspects are often regulated through specialized agencies.

National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) is the national organization representing the 55 state, territorial, and commonwealth boards of education. State boards of education are bodies of prominent citizens appointed by either the legislature or the governor for fixed terms, whose job it is to conduct oversight of statewide educational policies and operations, determine budget priorities, approve new policies and guidelines (such as for curricula), approve certain professional appointments and new schools, consider requests from local education agencies, and investigate problems. In some cases the state board is responsible for all levels of education, but in most states the board concentrates on education at the primary and secondary levels. State boards exercise close governance of state education agencies and the state superintendent or chief school executive usually reports to them.
Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) is the national membership association representing the head officials of state education agencies. It provides an extensive array of professional resources and links to state agencies. State superintendents or commissioners are the highest education officials in state government, and are usually appointed by the state board of education or the governor (a few states elect the superintendent). The generic name for such positions is chief state school officer. These individuals manage the day-to-day affairs of state education agencies and report periodically to the state board, the legislature, and the governor. In some states the laws provide for certain specialized types of education, such as vocational training, to be managed by a separate chief executive.
EROD Directory of State Education Agencies provides contact information and links to the state and territorial departments of education. State departments of education, also known as state education agencies (SEAs), administer state programs and enforce state regulations. While many SEAs deal with all levels of education, others concentrate primarily on early childhood, primary, and secondary education plus vocational education and special needs services. The head of an SEA is generally the chief state school executive.

See also: State Role II – Tertiary Education

State Role III – Other Educational Services
Return to Organization of U.S. Education

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