Special Report

State Councils Vary in Form and Focus

By Amy M. Hightower — May 30, 2008 4 min read

To gain a better understanding of the growing number of groups working to align schooling from early childhood through higher education, the Education Commission of the States has compiled the most comprehensive database on state P-16 and P-20 councils now available.

The Denver-based nonprofit organization obtained the information through extensive contacts with state officials about the councils’ characteristics, composition, and activities.

In partnership with the ECS, the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center distilled indicators from the ECS database for Diplomas Count 2008. The center also conducted a supplementary review of information available to the public about such councils.

While the groups in the database are often generically called P-16 councils, the scope of their work varies.

Of the 40 councils profiled by the ECS, 20 span P-16—preschool through four years of college. Eighteen have a scope of P-20 or P-21, reflecting study beyond the baccalaureate level, and two are K-16.

(The full database, which contains those and other details, will be updated regularly online at www.ecs.org/P-20. This analysis was based on data collected as of May 9 of this year.)

Four states—Florida, Idaho, Iowa, and New York—have governance structures that play roles similar to those of such councils. But because the ECS does not consider those bodies to be councils, they are excluded from this report’s analysis.

According to the ECS data, 38 states now have councils, including two—Louisiana and Pennsylvania—with dual state-level groups. Nine councils also have regional counterparts within their states.

More than half the 40 councils have been created or reconstituted since 2005. And four states—Connecticut, Illinois, Kansas, and Maine—have established councils just since January 2008, underscoring the rapid proliferation of such councils in recent years.

Councils derive their authority to operate differently. Thirteen have been authorized by state statute, and 12 have been established by gubernatorial executive order. Two states, Delaware and Louisiana, have councils authorized both by law and executive order.

In Montana and Utah, state boards of education have passed resolutions authorizing the councils. The remaining councils lack formal legal authorization.

In most cases, the councils’ work is coordinated by a government agency or entity, most often the state’s K-12 or higher education agency or the governor’s office.

NOTE: Louisiana and Pennsylvania have two councils.
SOURCE: ECS Database on P-16 and P-20 Councils


A single entity coordinates council operations in 17 cases, most of those at the initiative of the governor. Multiple agencies coordinate the work of 12 councils, typically through collaboration between K-12 and postsecondary agencies.

Without exception, council members include representatives from elementary-secondary and higher education. Only about half the councils have members explicitly representing early-childhood education.

Twenty-three councils include governors or their representatives, 21 have legislators, and 14 have both. The rosters of 31 councils contain members from the business community, such as chambers of commerce, workforce-development groups, or private foundations. More than half the councils have members who are labor-union representatives, civic leaders, parents, or local educators.

While the ECS found that 29 councils meet at least quarterly, governors regularly chair the meetings of only eight councils.

The EPE Research Center review found that 22 councils make their meeting schedules available online, and that 17 post meeting minutes.

Just over half the councils, 21, have dedicated staffing of at least half the equivalent of a full-time staff member. And 26 councils receive some funding beyond in-kind contributions from state agencies.

Yet the vast majority of councils hold only advisory powers, with only three—Maine, Oregon, and Tennessee—possessing the direct authority to mandate change, as reported by the ECS.

Goals and Progress

The issues tackled by the councils run the gamut from developing early-learning programs to increasing high school graduation requirements to improving the quality and preparation of teachers.

Among the commonly reported initiatives were efforts to promote programs that allow students to be dual-enrolled in high school and college, and those aimed at developing data systems that span prekindergarten to college.

The average council is tackling three out of the eight specific initiative areas categorized in Diplomas Count. Only five councils reported activity in six or more of those areas, suggesting that most councils target their efforts at a few goals.

Yet states report far more initiatives than policy changes stemming from those efforts. For example, while 19 councils have initiatives related to improving teacher quality and preparation, only eight of those councils can point to any policy results from those efforts.

Councils most commonly report on policy action related to: teacher quality and preparation; alignment of standards and assessments; and increases in academic rigor and graduation requirements. Early learning, dual enrollment, and workforce development are the programmatic areas where activity is least likely to be reported.

The councils of Arizona and Kentucky take the lead by documenting policy changes for five of the specific categories in which their P-16 councils are active.

Just over half the councils publicly report on their progress via Web postings, according to the EPE Research Center. However, the ECS found that only 18 councils have established formal P-16 performance goals for themselves or address performance goals set by others.

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