Education Commission of the States Share The Education Commission of the States (ECS) was created by an interstate compact in 1965 to strengthen the capacity of the states as a counterbalance to the rapidly expanding federal influence in education during President Johnson’s Great Society initiative. With start-up grants from the Carnegie Corporation and the Ford Foundation, Governor Terry Sanford of North Carolina cofounded the ECS and convened its first meeting in Chicago in 1966, when 36 states had formally ratified the compact and chose Denver as its headquarters. By 2018, 47 current and former governors served as the chair of the ECS. To ensure bipartisanship, the chair’s position alternates between Republicans and Democrats and the vice chair’s position is held by a state legislator.
Recognizing the states’ constitutional authority in education, the ECS serves as a strategic consortium of state policy stakeholders in education. It is neither a lobbying organization nor an entity that is narrowly defined in terms of a particular political or policy office (such as the U.S. Conference of the Mayors). It encompasses broad representation across a wide spectrum of educational interests at the state level. In 1995, for example, Republican Governor Tommy Thompson (Wisconsin) was elected to chair both the ECS and the National Governors’ Association, thereby strengthening the ties between the two organizations. In 2002, the ECS sided with the National Board for Professional Standards following the release of a critical study on the effectiveness of the national certification standards. In addition to the elected political representatives, the ECS addresses the needs of the K–12 community and the higher education, business, and civic sectors. The ECS’s 50-state policy tracking databases, its annual policy forums, and its research clearinghouse and dissemination functions have provided technical assistance and facilitated interstate and intrastate exchanges of ideas on reform issues. Policy forums in the early 2010s, for example, featured partisan differences over the Common Core State Standards Initiatives.
This network of broad-based stakeholders has enabled the ECS to adapt to the changing policy environment over the last four decades. During the 1970s and the 1980s, when state governments faced numerous constitutional challenges on funding equity, the ECS conducted extensive studies on funding reform issues. Although facing financial challenges with growing competition in the mid 2000s, ECS was able to continue to maintain its mission as “an honest broker” among state stakeholders. During the era of No Child Left Behind Act between 2002 and 2016, the ECS tracked progress made by every state in meeting the federal accountability standards. ECS’s task forces also challenged the educational establishment to create a system of chartering schools and to reassess teacher certification standards. As Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 enhances the state role, ECS sharpens its efforts on state capacity building. Its National Center for Learning and Civic Engagement aims to broaden state standards to include civic learning. In a 2017 report, ECS addressed issues of teacher licensure transfer and reciprocity across states. Clearly, ECS will continue to mobilize its policy resources and partners to strengthen the state role in education.