Control and Financing


The Constitution of the United States, when it divided the powers between the federal government and the states, left responsibility for education to the states by keeping silent on the subject.  The 10th Amendment to the Constitution provides that “the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.”  The people have always placed the authority over education – and the responsibility for organizing and administering it – squarely in the hands of the states, agencies and institutions within the states. 

Role of the Federal Government:
From time to time, the people have asked the federal government to lend a hand in promoting education, as in providing land for schools.  In the past, however, the people of the 50 states have been reluctant to have the federal government pay for, and thus possibly control, education.  Not until educational costs began to outrun the ability of state and local governments to pay for them did the people begin to turn to the federal government for assistance. 

Presidents Kennedy and Johnson were strong supporters of federal aid to education.  The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 committed the federal government to expenditures of $1.3 billion in that year alone.  The trend towards increased federal support for education has continued under Presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush and Clinton. [link to: http://www.ed.gov/updates/PresEDPlan

The responsibilities of the federal government toward education as they have evolved today are to provide encouragement, financial support and leadership.  The Congress of the United States has constitutional powers to allocate funds for education, but it has no direct control over education.  Several departments within the federal government (e.g., the Department of Defense and the Department of Agriculture) also make large expenditures on specific educational programs. 

The agency having primary responsibility for education in the United States is the Department of Education.  The Department, as constituted in 1979, provides leadership and cooperates with institutions and professional associations in efforts to strengthen and improve public education. 

President Clinton appointed Richard Riley Secretary of Education in 1992.  The President’s and Secretary’s priorities are reflected in seven major new initiatives for Fiscal Year 1999: 
                  1. All students will read independently and well by the end of 3rd grade. 
                  2. All students will master challenging mathematics, including the foundations of
                      algebra and geometry, by the end of 8th grade. 
                  3. By 18 years of age, all students will be prepared for and able to afford college. 
                  4. All states and schools will have challenging and clear standards of achievement
                      and accountability for all children, and effective strategies for reaching those
                  5. There will be a talented, dedicated and well-prepared teacher in every classroom. 
                  6. Every classroom will be connected to the Internet by the year 2000 and all students
                      will be technologically literate. 
                  7. Every school will be strong, safe, drug-free and disciplined. 

Role of the state government:
Since the states are responsible for their education systems, their practices and policies differ from one another.  In each state, the department of education and its controlling board of education and chief school officer hold central authority for the state’s educational enterprise.  The legislature enacts laws pertaining to education for both public and nonpublic schools in the state, but the state department of education and local school districts are responsible for the operation of the school system. 

The state board of education determines educational policies in compliance with state laws.  Board members are elected by the people or appointed by the state governor and usually serve for terms ranging from two to six years.  They are empowered to formulate policies relating to educational affairs such as allocation of school funds, certification of teachers, textbooks, curricula, library services, sports facilities, and provision of records and educational statistics. 

The key education official and chief executive officer of the state board of education is called the superintendent of public instruction or state commissioner of education.  Superintendents or commissioners may be elected by the people, or appointed by the governor of the state or by the board of education.  They usually serve from one to six years – their term of office is usually determined by the board.  They are responsible for administering the state school system and implementing policies adopted by the board. 

Role of the local community:
One of the unique characteristics of the United States system of education is the degree to which schools are operated by local school authorities.  The broad discretion given local boards of education allows public educational programs to be responsive to the needs of the community. 

 There are approximately 15,500 school districts in the United States.  The great majority are run by regularly elected boards of citizens, usually five to seven in number.  Working within certain broad policies set at the state level, these boards collect taxes, construct buildings, determine instructional policies, employ teachers and administrators, and generally oversee the day-to-day operation of the schools. 

The superintendent of the schools is responsible for execution of the policies set down by the local board of education.  Together, the superintendent and the board prepare the school budget, determine the amount of local taxes (usually property taxes) necessary to finance the school program, employ teachers and other school personnel, provide and maintain the school buildings, purchase equipment and supplies, and provide transportation for pupils who live beyond a reasonable walking distance from school. 

United States Information Agency
United States Department of Education
National Education Association

      Other Essays:

History Control and Financing
(You are here)
Organization and Structure The Role of Higher Education

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