State Boards of Education

State boards of education are integral to the governance of public education in the United States. State Boards, operating as a lay body over state education, are intended to serve as an unbiased broker for education decisionmaking, focusing on the big picture, articulating the long-term vision and needs of public education, and making policy based on the best interests of the public and the young people of America.

State Education Governance, 2014: State-by-State Matrix

Governance Models Chart (updated July 2014)

About the State Boards of Education

While the scope of board responsibility is defined in every state, there are common areas of jurisdiction. These include:

  • Setting statewide curriculum standards;
  • Establishing high school graduation requirements;
  • Determining qualifications for professional education personnel;
  • Establishing state accountability and assessment programs;
  • Establishing standards for accreditation of local school districts and preparation programs for teachers and administrators.
  • Implementing the No Child Left Behind Act and administering federal assistance programs;
  • Developing rules and regulations for the administration of state programs.

State boards of education play key roles in maintaining and improving the quality of public schools that include the following:

Policymaker – The state board is responsible for policies that promote educational quality throughout the state. In this capacity, the board defines the fundamental mission of the state’s education system and develops the system’s long-range goals. In order to meet these goals, the board enacts appropriate regulations, lobbies for necessary legislation, develops an adequate education budget, supports local implementation efforts, oversees the state department of education, and regularly measures the performance of the system.

Advocate for Education – The state board serves as the primary advocate for a quality education for all children and youth in the state. As such, the board seeks to promote excellence in the education of all students and advocates equality of access to educational opportunity.

Liaison – The state board serves as a bridge between educators and others involved in education policy. It translates the concerns of the general public, elected officials, business leaders and civic groups into policy and clearly communicates them to educators. At the same time, the board articulates the needs of the education system to the state’s public and private constituencies-and helps assure continued citizen support for education at a time when fewer adults have children in school.

Consensus Builder – The state board encourages communication and consensus among all those who seek to influence current state education policies and help formulate long-range policy goals and plans. Although concurrence may not always be possible, a commitment to consensus building ensures that all citizens will be heard. State boards ensure that the public voice is represented in decisions about public education.

Frequently asked questions

How are the responsibilities of a state board different from a local school board? Whereas state boards of education constitute the governing and policymaking body for the state system of public education, local school boards exercise responsibility for the decision- and policymaking for individual school districts. Local school boards of education are charged with creating the conditions within their school districts that will foster student achievement and for engaging the community in support of this central mission. Primary duties include establishing specific priorities for improving student learning and school performance; ensuring staff and resource allocations meet district goals, aligning programs and initiatives with student achievement priorities, and leveraging resources to address the needs of all students.

How do state boards differ from state to state? State board structures vary considerably across the country. NASBE’s website has two charts that describe states’ education governing structures: State Education Governance at-a-Glance, a detailed matrix of each state’s governance features, and State Education Governance Models, a one-page overview listing states in terms of the four basic governance models based on whether board members are elected or appointed and whether the chief state school officer is appointed by the state board, the governor, or is elected statewide.

How do you become a State Board Member? This varies from state to state. In most states, board members are appointed by the governor (and often must be confirmed by the legislature). In a number of other states, board members are elected, and the process is similar to any other elected office. In a few states, the legislature appoints members or have other distinct system. See NASBE’s Governance Chart for more state-by-state information.

Can a state board levy taxes? Unlike local school boards, which generally have some say in local property tax rates, state boards do not levy taxes.

How many state superintendents/commissioners are appointed by the state board? by the governor? elected? According to the most recent information we have gathered about state policies, in the 50 states plus the District of Columbia, Guam, the Northern Marianas Islands, and Puerto Rico:

  • 23 chief state school officers (CSSOs) are appointed by the state board of education (also Northern Marianas and Guam);
  • 12 CSSOs are appointed by the governor  (plus Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico);
  • 12 are elected on partisan or nonpartisan ballots;
  • 3 are put forward by state boards and approved by the governor.

How many state boards are elected, how many are appointed?

  • Appointed (generally, but not always, by governor): 36.
  • Elected: 7 (Plus Washington, D.C and Northern Marianas).
  • Mix of elected and appointed members: 4 (plus Guam).
  • No State Board 3 (Plus Puerto Rico)

Which states have students on their state board of education? Alaska, California, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Guam, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, Tennessee, Washington, West Virginia, and Vermont. (Some students are board members with voting rights, some are board members but do not vote, some are advisory members.)

How can I contact my state board of education? We provide a contact list of other state boards of education, you can find this list here. You can also visit the website of the state board of education in your state for more information.

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