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A State Representative’s Role in Education Policy

February 15, 2023

State governments play a critical role in shaping public education. While the federal government can enact overarching educational guidelines, state legislatures have the primary authority to shape education policy. In the final analysis, state representatives can have a significant influence over student academic outcomes.

Understanding the role of state representatives in forming education policy can help anyone working in public education, including those pursuing advanced degrees in education or school administration.

What Is a State Representative? 

Defining what a state representative is can help explain how they shape educational standards. State representatives, also referred to as congresswomen or congressmen, are elected officials who represent specific state districts, defined by population. Elected to two-year terms, representatives work in their respective state capitals, where their job is to represent the interests of their district by supporting particular laws and amendments. Representatives can also influence how state budgets allocate resources.

The state representative’s role in shaping education can vary from one state to the next; however, every state recognizes education policy as a state responsibility. Furthermore, all fifty states specifically list education policymaking in their constitutions as a chief duty of a state representative.

Depending on the state, representatives may play a direct role in setting standards, requiring assessments, and evaluating teachers and administrators. Some representatives may even participate in projects more typically associated with boards of education, including curriculum development.

Why Does Education Policy Matter?

The role of the state representative in shaping education policy is important because these policies have a direct impact on students’ day-to-day experiences, and ultimately, their overall educational outcomes.

 Education policies can affect individual student experiences in several ways. Examples include:

  • Policies shape spending priorities. State lawmakers can affect the budgetary priorities for schools in their state, directly impacting the resources available in particular districts. This can in turn affect schools’ capacity to purchase new equipment, hire top educators, and more. Spending limits may also impact schools’ ability to provide resources like breakfast and lunch to students who need them, particularly in less affluent communities.
  • Policies enforce legal compliance. Most policies hold all educational administrations accountable to the same sets of regulations. For example, all schools in a state may need to meet certain requirements concerning diversity or accommodation for students with physical disabilities. In other words, policies can ensure a fair and equitable experience for all students.
  • Policies support safe learning environments. The policies set by state representatives can also support physical safety and mental well-being for students and educators, touching on issues like sick days, protections against armed assailants, inclement weather practices, and more. In addition, policies can also dictate the number of aides available to students who have learning disabilities and determine the extent to which schools create accessible learning environments where every student has a chance to thrive.
  • Policies promote cultures of learning. Certain policies can also be used to encourage teachers to pursue continuous education, creating a culture of curiosity and ongoing learning throughout a school or district. Encouraging teachers to enrich their own education creates better classroom experiences for everyone and may also assist with teacher retention.

Clearly, the impact of education policies is wide-sweeping in scope.

How Do State Representatives Affect Education Policy?

A state representative’s role in education policy making involves the following: 

  • Advocacy for bills and amendments. The most direct way a representative affects policy is by supporting legislation that aligns with their values and those of their constituents. For example, representatives may vote for (or against) bills requiring higher standards for teacher evaluation or bills that refine standards for equality, diversity, and inclusion.
  • Setting spending priorities. Representatives can also play a direct role in shaping budgets and allocating resources that align with their priorities. Budgetary resources have a direct impact on what types of programming are provided to serve teachers, parents, and students.
  • Meeting with educators. Many representatives are diligent in connecting with teachers and administrators in their district, seeking firsthand reports about which policies are working and which need adjusting.
  • Engaging with national policies. While state legislators cannot directly affect federal policies, they can often use their platform to advocate for changes they see as necessary, potentially swaying public opinion.

Shape Educational Outcomes

Individuals with advanced education degrees are well equipped to contribute to meaningful, positive change in students’ academic outcomes. If you are a leader called to transform educational policy to achieve a bright and equitable future, discover how American University can support your goals.

American University offers both an online Master of Education (MEd) in Education Policy and Leadership program and an online EdD in Education Policy and Leadership program. Either degree can give you the tools to pave a path toward a greater understanding of how education policy is formed and why it matters. 

Explore how you can achieve your professional goals and shape the future of education with American University.