The 6 Education Policy Topics You’ll See in 2020

K-12Postsecondary & Workforce

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While 2020 is inherently a big election year because it includes a presidential race, it is also a big election year for states: 11 states (plus American Samoa and Puerto Rico) are holding governors races, and 86 legislative chambers across 44 states have seats up for election. Like in any big election year, the issues that dominate the discussions in state capitols are likely to bubble up during campaign rallies and, later, mirror some of the motivators driving people to the polls in the fall.

Education sometimes receives a sliver of that attention, vying for space among other big, conversational issues like the economy, climate change and health care. Yet the education spectrum is vast, and the issues numerous. In many states, education makes up more than 50% of the state budget, with significant policy implications. Through our legislative tracking, analysis of governors’ priorities and in-person state visits, we identified six trending education topics sure to garner attention among state leaders in 2020. They are:

Early childhood education. As emphasis on the early years — a pivotal time to provide young learners with a strong educational foundation — grows, so does states’ attention toward improving instructional and programmatic quality, streamlining governmental oversight and increasing funding for education from birth to third grade. Additionally, we’re seeing specific attention focused on literacy development in the P-3 grades.

School climate. Under this umbrella term, we are seeing introduced legislation that spans everything from student mental health and trauma-informed instruction to culturally responsive curricula and alternatives to exclusionary discipline. School — and building — safety also falls under school climate considerations, as states work to provide adequate security infrastructure without hampering the learning environment.

K-12 funding — and specifically, this year, addressing equitable distribution of high-need funding. We’re in the middle of a three-part blog series that breaks down the different ways states fund underserved populations: students from low-income households, English language learners and rural schools. Additionally, we are seeing states reconsidering existing revenue sources and allocation models, as well as increasing investments in school facilities.

Teaching. Last year, 42 states and the District of Columbia enacted 281 bills affecting teaching and teachers. This year, we expect discussion to center on recruitment and retention, alignment of preparation with workforce demands and incentives for teacher leadership. We recently updated our 50-State Comparison on Teacher Recruitment and Retention to help inform this work.

College affordability. Research shows that every $1,000 in grant aid per student increases persistence rates by 4 percentage points. So it’s no surprise we see continued efforts to supplement students’ ability to pay for college. States are exploring first-dollar awarding models, FAFSA completion as a high school graduation requirement and modifications to aid eligibility criteria to include returning adults.

Workforce development. A strong workforce has a direct impact on state economies, making workforce development a critical part of state education policy. States are working toward building collaborative structures across state agencies that can, in turn, establish clear education-to-workforce pathways and connect outcomes data across that continuum to inform programs, systems and policy.

We’ll be watching these issues closely in 2020 — currently in governors’ State of the State addresses and in introduced legislation in statehouses across the country — and we’ll share important developments here on Ed Note. We’re also keeping our most relevant resources on our Key Issue pages to continue to inform your work. Subscribe to Ed Note to stay up to date, or reach out to us directly to request assistance on a specific issue in your state. We’re here to be your education policy team through the elections of 2020 and beyond.

Author profile
President at Education Commission of the States |

As the eighth president of Education Commission of the States, Jeremy leads a team of more than 55 education policy experts that serve policymakers in all 50 states through research, reports, convenings and counsel. Prior, Jeremy served many elected officials in Congress, governors' offices and state legislatures across the country. When he is not racing from airport to airport to serve state education policymakers, Jeremy enjoys running, mountain biking, skiing and time with his wife, son and two daughters. Jeremy truly believes that the best education policy happens when policymakers are able to learn from each other.

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