What Are the Trending Education Topics in States in 2019?

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    By now, you know we track much of the information around state education policy — from introduced proposals in state legislatures to priorities mentioned in governors’ State of the State addresses. We also hear a lot from lawmakers about what’s weighing on their minds during our hundreds of visits to states each year. This affords us the opportunity to pinpoint topics receiving more attention than others in states across the country. Based on that — and what we’ve seen and heard in the news and in conversations with many of you across the country — here are the eight education topics we’ll be sure to hear a lot of in 2019:

    Early childhood education — specifically the increasing costs for parents, shifting demographics and lack of alignment among state agencies regulating these programs. In the last year, states have passed legislation that increases funding, addresses social-emotional learning and reduces government complexities.

    K-12 funding — specifically state-funded, full-day kindergarten; innovations in programming and resources across the K-12 spectrum for high-need populations, including special education students, English learners and low-income students; and reporting requirements under ESSA. In the last year, states have passed legislation that expands state funding for full-day kindergarten and allocates more resources to high-need student populations. Now that ESSA requires states to publicly report per-pupil spending at the school level, be on the lookout for 2019 and 2020 per-pupil spending comparisons.

    School climate and culture, which many states now track in their accountability systems as a measure of school quality. Given the extremely unfortunate news around school shootings and the opioid crisis, school climate persists as a top-of-mind issue for educators, parents and communities. Last year, at least 21 states formed school safety task forces that issued — or plan to issue — policy recommendations. Additionally, in light of rescinded guidance from the federal government on school discipline late last year, many states are looking into alternatives to traditional, zero-tolerance school discipline policies.

    Teacher pay and career ladders. Teacher walkouts and strikes have continued into 2019, as states face mounting pressures around teacher pay, high turnover, limited diversity and shortages in high-need subjects and schools. The biggest state legislative areas in 2018, and likely in 2019, are issues related to certification and licensure (including teacher leadership and career ladders), compensation, and recruitment and retention.

    Career and technical education (CTE). The skills gap — the difference between what employers need to fill in-demand positions and the skills of the candidates applying — continues to be a hot topic. For the past several years, policymakers have focused on addressing this by expanding CTE opportunities in high school, building awareness of these opportunities among students and parents, and collaborating with industry to create programming that aligns with local demand.

    College affordability. As news stories of mounting student loan debt accumulate, states are looking for ways to boost need-based aid, offer or expand free college proposals and engage adult students who have not yet pursued a degree or left college without one. To better address student needs, states are looking into changing when and how they allocate aid dollars — setting up dedicated funds for adult students — and implementing sustainable policy models for free college programs.

    Workforce readiness — particularly in light of last year’s federal reauthorization of the Perkins Act, which affords states opportunities to expand work-based learning programs. Workforce development showed up in 30 pieces of enacted legislation last year across 15 states, and this year, it’s likely to remain a priority as policymakers seek to maintain strong state economies and progress toward degree attainment goals.

    Data use and governance. State leaders continue to ask questions about how to use data to make predictions and target interventions to students and schools, share education return-on-investment information and maintain student data privacy. States across the country will need to develop more robust K-12 data systems to track new accountability indicators, developed mostly in response to new requirements under ESSA. In addition, states are looking to expand postsecondary data systems to track and share student outcomes. There is also a renewed focus on connecting state data systems, both along the P-20 education spectrum and with other state agencies like health and human services.

    We’ve already seen these issues pop up in governors’ State of the State addresses this year and introduced legislation in statehouses across the country. We’ll continue to share more about the policy developments in these areas here on Ed Note and through our suite of resources. Subscribe to stay informed, and continue to use us as part of your education team!

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    President at Education Commission of the States | janderson@ecs.org

    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 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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