Governance Structures

Girl dressed upSchool governance in the United States involves a myriad of players across Federal, state, and local levels of government. At the Federal level, Congress sets broad policy for education and funds education programs that support special populations, such as English learners and students with disabilities, education research, and the protection of civil rights. The Federal Government contributes roughly nine percent of the total funding for public education in the United States, and the U.S. Department of Education implements most of these programs and policies, developing specific guidance and regulations. State and Federal courts also influence school policy for schools by interpreting statutory and constitutional boundaries on district, state, and Federal policy.

State policy is set by governors, state legislatures, and, in every state except Minnesota and Wisconsin, state boards of education. State policies are implemented by SEAs, which are led by a chief state school officer, usually called a state superintendent or commissioner. In 14 states, the state chief is elected; in the rest, the state board or the governor appoints the chief.

School boards usually set school district policy. The superintendent is either selected by the board or is elected; the superintendent implements board policies. In some large cities, including Boston, Chicago, New York City, and Washington, DC, the mayor has authority over the school system and appoints the superintendent. Thirty-nine states and the District of Columbia allow charter schools, which are publicly funded and are generally provided more autonomy than regular public schools, but can be closed down for not meeting the terms or objective of their charter. There are currently more than 5,400 charter schools, which educate 1.7 million students.