Nearly two million people are incarcerated across federal, state, local and tribal systems in the United States. Among those, 95% of people will be released to rejoin their communities, but many lack access to training and education that will help them transition successfully.  

This is a missed opportunity for safer communities. Research shows that higher education access in prison increases the odds of securing employment after release and decreases the likelihood of recidivism. This provides a cost savings for states since every dollar spent on prison education programs results in four to five dollars saved on incarceration costs. 

Given this, my 2023-25 Chair’s Initiative focuses on creating access to quality education and workforce training opportunities for individuals in the justice system. Far too often, individuals impacted by the justice system are overlooked and provided only limited education services, but as state leaders and policymakers, we have a responsibility to provide high-quality education opportunities to all our citizens, no matter where they might be in their education journey. 

Through this initiative, we will support states and policymakers to transform their criminal justice systems from ones that are strictly punitive to ones that prepare individuals to successfully reintegrate into society with a high-quality education, employment prospects and the skills needed to fully participate in their communities. 

That’s just what we’ve done in Kansas. During my administration, Kansas became the first state to provide Pell-eligible programming in every state correctional facility. That has provided opportunities for individuals who are incarcerated to take part in critical education experiences and workforce training programs that provide them the skills and degrees they need to secure employment upon release. From industry-recognized credential programs to associate and bachelor’s degrees, we’re ensuring that our correctional education system is meeting the needs of our residents, our communities and the Kansas economy.  

In the fall of 2023, Kansas reached an important milestone—more incarcerated individuals have completed a degree or certificate program in the last three years than in the previous 20 years combined. Kansas is not stopping there. We’re experiencing historically high enrollment in our prison education programs and are expanding offerings to better respond to residents’ interests and the needs of Kansas employers.  

My Chair’s Initiative will build on that success to highlight policy levers in states across the country that reduce barriers to education by: 

Be sure to subscribe to Ed Note where we’ll hear from leaders who are expanding this work across states!

A state policy advisor asked for examples of states that may be investing in statewide high-impact tutoring, including total investments, expected ROI and the number of school districts covered by the funding. Our response includes examples of some states that considered statewide high-impact tutoring programs.

For information on how states are using summer learning opportunities, see this State Information Request.

For information on other strategies states are using to address interrupted instruction, see this State Information Request.

To provide timely assistance to our constituents, State Information Requests are typically completed in 48 hours. They reflect an issue scan versus a comprehensive analysis.

A state board of education staff member asked for research on the impact of competency-based education on student outcomes. Our response includes an annotated bibliography with an emphasis on meta-analyses and original research focused on student outcomes. To provide timely assistance to our constituents, State Information Requests are typically completed in 48 hours. They reflect an issue scan versus a comprehensive analysis.

This is the final post in a four-part series that highlights state policies to support an equitable economic recovery. This series is a collaborative effort with Erica Cuevas, associate director for JFF’s state and federal policy and advocacy team.

Traditional models of postsecondary education and training – with siloed systems and slow accumulation of course credit hours and credentials – no longer meet the needs and abilities of learners and workers or the demands of employers in the modern economy. All students and workers – regardless of age or employment status, and especially members of underserved and underrepresented communities – need coherent lifelong learning pathways that are accelerated, efficient, and offer affordable options for attaining postsecondary credentials and skills valued in the labor market.

State leaders can address these challenges by making education and workforce systems relevant and responsive to the needs of workers, learners and employers. Relevant and responsive systems provide clear opportunities for people and eliminate barriers that far too often prohibit access and persistence along educational pathways.

Create Aligned Education and Workforce Systems

States can incentivize a range of education and training activities that support people in accessing and obtaining skills needed to enter and thrive in the labor force. State leaders and policymakers have an opportunity to look holistically across K-12 education, postsecondary, workforce development and economic development systems to eliminate barriers, and to align goals and collaborate across sectors to create inclusive, supportive opportunities for people to develop skills, earn credentials and enter careers.

In 2021, both chambers of the Florida Legislature passed comprehensive legislation that aligns K-12 school systems, community colleges, universities, and workforce agencies in common workforce development goals and to strengthen career navigation and advising support for young people, adult learners and job seekers.

Reforms to Developmental Education

State developmental education reform, specifically corequisite remediation, removes obstacles posed by prerequisite remedial courses in accessing credit-bearing courses. By placing students directly into gateway courses with concurrent student supports, students can enter into credit-bearing courses sooner. By accelerating these paths to credit-bearing courses, it could support degree and credential attainment.

In 2017, California enacted legislation that clarifies existing regulations and ensures that community college students are not placed into remedial courses that may delay or deter their educational progress.

Recognize Skills and Competencies

State policymakers can also support a skills-based education and employment infrastructure that embraces outcomes-focused innovations and recognizes people’s current skills as the principle measure of how much they’ve learned and their ability to do a job. Supporting competency-based education and credit for prior learning can help learners obtain credentials quicker. However, this highlights the need for a system where people can effectively communicate the skills and competencies they’ve gained to ensure employers recognize those skills.

States can support the development of “passports” or learning employment records that list individuals’ skills and credentials and ensure records are recognized across educational institutions, workforce systems, and employers to enable seamless transitions between learning and employment opportunities. State efforts to support such an initiative may include developing robust state longitudinal data systems that provide uniform data standards to ensure that records are transferable so that educators and employers can share data on skill demands and training in real time. States may also convene meetings of key stakeholders and fund pilot programs that utilize innovative technologies.

Expand Work-Based Learning

States can also integrate learning and work by providing people with real-world opportunities to apply the lessons learned in classroom settings, build professional networks, earn money while they learn and get a head start on the road to a career. This can include establishing a statewide initiative to promote the expansion of high-quality work-based learning experiences, or investing in intermediary organizations that create the infrastructure needed for successful work-based learning.

In July 2020, Colorado passed legislation supporting CareerWise Colorado, a statewide intermediary that supports a youth apprenticeship program where participants split time between high school and the workplace. Apprentices begin the program in grade 11 and finish one year after graduating high school. They earn money and gain hands-on experience. When finished, the student earns a nationally recognized certification and college credit. Participating employers add well trained workers to their talent pipelines, have opportunities to mentor young people and help build a diverse workforce.

We highlighted just a few examples of areas states can focus on to redesign education and workforce development systems in response to today’s economy and the needs of workers and learners. To learn more about the strategies mentioned in this post and to track related state policy activity, visit JFF’s State Policy Road Map for an Equitable Economic Recovery and Education Commission of the States’ 2021 State Education Policy Watchlist.

This post comes from Erin Roth, director of education research at the Office of the D.C. Auditor. Views expressed in guest posts are those of the author. 

States with robust statewide longitudinal data systems (SLDS) are positioned to help support student learning during and after the pandemic. These systems provide additional information to lean on during a crisis, such as courses, credits and engagement, and a buffer when specific data collections, like standardized testing, are limited or lack quality. Longitudinal data, or data linked over time at the student level, can help states glean progress even when data are missing or are compromised. The value of these systems supports the key recommendation in a recent audit, that the District of Columbia complete the work to create an SLDS.

Since 2002, the federal SLDS Grant Program has invested more than $700 million in building these data systems at the state level. State funding multiplies this total amount invested considerably. Most states either have or are in the process of implementing a P-20W+ data system that links individual student data from preschool through higher education, the workforce and beyond. In Arkansas, Kentucky, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin, education stakeholders can view higher education and workforce outcomes for high school graduates.

In Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Montana and New Hampshire, educators have access to information from early warning systems that flag students who need targeted support. The National Forum for Educational Statistics provides a publication space where states can share these efforts for valuable insights and collaboration.

For example, states with robust data systems can use existing data in new ways and collect additional data. Hawaii created an interactive dashboard with 20 new metrics that assess learning during the pandemic, such as grades, technology and enrollment changes. Connecticut started collecting data on student engagement and Massachusetts added data on learning time. Maryland recently reported on student course failure rates in an effort to assess student learning and gaps during the pandemic, highlighting specific concerns by course and region.

Virginia used longitudinal student level data to determine that students in career and technical education (CTE) who took advanced math courses significantly benefitted in higher education and the workforce compared  to CTE completers who did not take these courses. Such findings can inform schools and districts struggling to re-envision these programs and aid CTE students in success.

Similarly, North Carolina identified specific issues on equitable access to advanced math coursework, and these findings could be leveraged to help practitioners more equitably identify students for advanced coursework.

We know that the pandemic continues to disrupt the lives of many students and families because of increased job loss, housing and food insecurity, and health concerns. Many schools and districts are struggling to locate both immigrant families and students experiencing homelessness. The Forum recently published a guide on how to structure and use data systems to track students that have been displaced because of the pandemic. The guide provides best practices for using data to help states in a crisis preserve or restore educational services, and collect and maintain data about mobile students.

While state-level investments often go unnoticed, these efforts are paying off at the local level. A recent audit of the District of Columbia’s data system provided resources — tailored for the District of Columbia — about state data best practices. The auditor’s office even created a demonstration early warning system to show the type of support that is possible for the District of Columbia and presently available in other states.

While a robust SLDS is ideal, the District of Columbia can produce needed and actionable data with what they do collect. States that are leveraging existing data and research and are building on these investments are proving the power of robust data systems during this unprecedented shift in learning and recovery.

This guest post comes from Sharon Hoover, co-director at the National Center for School Mental Health at the University of Maryland. Views expressed in guest posts are those of the author.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month! It also marks 15 months of a global pandemic that has had dramatic, negative impacts across all states and communities; and many students, families and school staff are struggling to navigate the changes the pandemic has wrought. Students have experienced school and learning disruption and significant mental health challenges because of social isolation, trauma, grief, loss and the other layers of COVID-related stress and burden.

As education leaders around the country roll up their sleeves to strategize around lost learning opportunities, attention to promoting student mental health and well-being should garner similar attention. This serves a dual purpose:

As state and district leaders plan for a return to in-person learning, there are some key considerations to promote student mental health before, during and after this transition:

Establish a framework of comprehensive school mental health systems (CSMHS) for your state.

This provides a full array of supports and services that promote positive school climate, social and emotional learning, and mental health and well-being, while reducing the prevalence and severity of mental illness. The framework should be built on a foundation of district and school professionals, including administrators and educators, specialized instructional support personnel (e.g., school psychologists, school social workers, school counselors, school nurses, other school health professionals) in strategic partnerships with students, families, and community health and mental health partners. Additionally, assess and address the social, political and environmental structures — public policies and social norms — that influence mental health outcomes.

The good news? There are existing frameworks to lean on that are flexible enough to put your state-specific spin on.

You can also gauge how your state is doing with respect to school mental health policies and practices, and encourage your districts and schools to assess and improve their CSMHS via a free, online portal, the School Health Assessment and Performance Evaluation (SHAPE) System. This website also has a State School Mental Health Policy Map to learn more about school mental health policy in your state and across the country.

Support the mental health needs of all students via universal approaches, such as:

Establish systems to identify student mental health concerns early. You can do this by offering training for teachers to help them identify, support and refer students in distress. ClassroomWISE offers a free training course, launching in June. Additionally, schools and districts can conduct regular student well-being check-ins to assess subjective well-being, mental health, connectedness and supports. Several organizations, including Closegap and TRAILS have created activities and materials for school staff to connect and engage students.

Maximize avenues to provide on-site school mental health services to students who are experiencing challenges. Options include:

If you want to learn more about advancing school mental health in your state, reach out to the National Center for School Mental Health at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, school choice policies have remained prominent in state policy conversations. A supreme court ruling, the expenditure of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds and a significant increase in school choice legislation have amplified the private school choice debate in some states.

Current Landscape

Vouchers remain the most common private school choice mechanism. Popularity has increased for scholarship tax credit programs, which provide a tax credit to businesses and individual taxpayers for donating funds to scholarship-granting organizations. All such programs specify student eligibility requirements, and most set scholarship amounts in state policy. Education savings accounts (ESA) grant eligible students an account with funding equal to or less than the state’s per-pupil expenditure to be used on education services, including tutoring, curriculum and private school tuition.

While many states have private school choice programs on the books, some states have used CARES Act dollars to temporarily support new private school choice efforts to assist eligible families impacted by the pandemic. New Hampshire’s initial Governors Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund report stated, “The second use of GEER Funds will be through grant agreements between the NHDOR [New Hampshire Department of Revenue] and two established New Hampshire scholarship funds that administer K-12 scholarships ... to attend nonpublic schools.” In South Carolina, Gov. Henry McMaster attempted to use $32 million of GEER funds to create the Safe Access to Flexible Education grant program, although the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled this program was unconstitutional.

Emerging Trends

In the 2021 legislative session, states have proposed over 200 bills on private school choice issues; a significant increase from previous legislative sessions. Of these bills, 13 have been enacted — with some especially expansive programs among them.

Florida and Indiana each expanded existing programs, while both Kentucky and West Virginia enacted new private school choice programs in 2021. Kentucky H.B. 563 creates a program that represents a new take on scholarship tax credits by granting an ESA to students rather than awarding scholarships to nonpublic schools. West Virginia H.B. 2013 created one of the most expansive ESA programs in the nation. Under the Hope Scholarship program, all public school students in the state are eligible for an account, which may be used on a variety of education-related expenses, including tutoring and nonpublic school tuition.

A few states are considering providing vouchers or tax credits to cover remote learning costs or other education expenses incurred during the pandemic. According to Edchoice, eight states have credits or deductions for individual education expenses. Illinois is one state with a tax credit or deduction for educational expenses on the books, and the Legislature is currently considering a new credit that would help families to address the new instructional realities of the current education landscape. The legislation would provide credits for educational expenses, including remote learning technology and costs associated with homeschool or learning pod instruction.

The Massachusetts Legislature is considering a bill that would provide tax credits for expenses associated with remote learning. Families can claim tax credits for the cost of electronic devices, wireless internet and other necessities for continuous remote learning.

Traditional private school choice policies continue to garner attention nationally and at the state level. The education landscape continues to shift in concert with expansions of choice or choice-related policies during the pandemic. For more research on private school choice see our School Choice Key Issues page and our latest 50-State Comparison on Private School Choice Programs.

The COVID-19 pandemic presented a host of new difficulties for teachers, as many transitioned to remote learning under tight timelines and found new and creative ways to serve their students. This Teacher Appreciation Week, we recognize the work of so many teachers during such a difficult year and thank them for their continued work with students across the nation.

As we express gratitude for all educators during Teacher Appreciation Week, one group of teachers may benefit from specific support from policymakers this year — early career educators. Prospective teachers finishing educator preparation programs and teachers in the first few years of their careers continue to face unique challenges during the pandemic. These challenges range from disrupted student teaching and mentoring experiences to navigating distance learning as new teachers.

The early career years are a fragile stage in an educator’s career in non-pandemic times, as studies estimate that 30% to 45% of teachers leave the profession within the first five years on the job. This high turnover rate may be particularly concerning to policymakers dedicated to recruiting and retaining a more diverse workforce, as recent gains in the recruitment of teachers of color could be lost without attention to keeping early career educators in the classroom.

Given the particularly difficult circumstances brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, policymakers may consider research-based strategies to show appreciation for new teachers and improve retention — including flexibility around clinical experience, effective mentorship and compensation.

Clinical Experience

Research shows that teacher candidates are more successful in their first year when they have opportunities to engage in actual teaching experience, and that new teachers with more comprehensive pedagogical training (including clinical experience) have lower attrition rates. With many states issuing waivers or providing other flexibilities for clinical experience hours to some candidates during the pandemic, policymakers may consider how to ensure early career teachers are receiving sufficient training and support.

As states consider new learning support initiatives, tutoring and summer programs could help provide teacher candidates and new teachers with the in-person teaching experience they need to be successful while also helping students recover from the interrupted learning they experienced throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. A federal bill introduced in February would provide grants to school districts and educator preparation programs to assign teacher candidates finishing their program to tutor students at “hard-to-staff schools* or high-need schools.”*


Effective mentorship makes a difference for early teacher retention, and following the COVID-19 pandemic policymakers may consider requiring mentoring or improving the quality of mentorship programs as an additional support for early career teachers. According to our 50-State Comparison on teacher recruitment and retention, as of 2019, 31 states require induction and/or mentoring support for new teachers.

For example, Illinois administrative code outlines Standards of Quality and Effectiveness for Beginning Teacher Induction that cover nine key areas, including mentor selection and assignment and professional development for mentor teachers. Alaska employs rigorously selected retired teachers as full-time mentors for first- and second-year teachers. Mentors use formative assessment tools to guide mentoring activities, and the program has demonstrated success in improving the retention of early career teachers.

Early Career Compensation

Higher initial compensation also shows promise to retain early career teachers. One study found that  97% of teachers with a base salary of $40,000* or higher continued teaching the following year, compared to 87% of teachers with a salary below $40,000.

This year, at least 17 governors spoke about teacher compensation in their State of the State addresses. Maine Gov. Janet Mills, for example, praised the budget for raising the minimum teacher salary in the state. While studies on the impact of salary vary, some have found that the impact of increased salary is especially pronounced for inexperienced teachers and may have a stronger impact on retention for teachers of color, which makes it a promising policy lever for state leaders looking to keep a diverse cohort of new teachers in the profession.

While support for early career teachers is particularly pressing given the unique challenges of the pandemic, student teaching experiences, quality mentorship and competitive compensation are strategies for retention that can outlast the current crisis. This Teacher Appreciation Week, Education Commission of the States thanks teachers around the nation for all they do to ensure quality education for students, and we will continue to track legislation impacting teachers through our State Education Policy Tracking tool.


This language is quoted from the federal bill (S. 457). The term “hard-to-staff school” means “a high-need school that has a high rate of teacher turnover or a large concentration of teachers in their first or second year of teaching”. The term ‘‘high-need school’’ means “a public elementary school or secondary school that is located in an area in which the percentage of students from families with incomes below the poverty line is 30 percent or more.”

This study was conducted in 2007-08. $40,000 in 2007 is equal to approximately $51,000 today.

This post comes from Jennifer Zinth, consultant at Zinth Consulting LLC. Jennifer specializes in issues pertaining to STEM/computer science and high school to postsecondary transition. Views expressed in guest posts are those of the author.

Although most students and schools experienced widespread disruptions in 2020, education stakeholders have commented on an unexpected silver lining for STEM education. Specifically, education leaders have noted that the challenges the pandemic placed on America’s education systems have sparked insights and innovations that will elevate STEM education in 2021 and beyond.

For one, the impacts of the pandemic highlighted existing inequities in America’s education systems, perhaps especially so in STEM. One participant in Education Commission of the States’ 2020 Early STEM Policy Academy observed that COVID-19 highlighted the inadequacies of our nation’s education systems, and how long these inequities have been allowed to persist. This participant expressed hope that efforts to address interrupted instruction might spur an end to P-3 instructional practices known to be less effective (for example, the “drill and kill” approach to early reading and math instruction).

As state and local leaders search for strategies to counter interrupted instruction, they can consider replacing less-impactful approaches with developmentally appropriate practices, such as early STEM experiences, that promote play-based, inquiry-based approaches.

Another insight that has come to the fore is that STEM — including early STEM — is uniquely positioned to help address interrupted instruction. During the same 2020 policy academy, state teams commented on the need to accelerate learning and reengage students when states and districts return to in-person instruction. Participants agreed that hands-on, interactive, inquiry-based early STEM experiences, shown to motivate diverse learners, would be best suited to accelerate learning gains and get students excited about learning again.

The impacts of the pandemic also exposed opportunities to rethink teacher training and professional learning in ways that will enhance equitable access to high-quality early STEM instruction. Many recent articles have reported on the large numbers of classroom teachers leaving education in response to the stress of remote instruction, among other challenges. The Early STEM Policy Academy participants observed that the need to prepare new educators in the wake of pandemic-driven teacher attrition presents an opportunity for states to commit to rethinking teacher preparation programs, including the integration of more STEM content and pedagogy in P-3 educator pre-service offerings.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 mandates forced teacher professional development providers to hone their remote training skills, including for state programs focused on supporting teachers’ STEM professional learning. Individuals leading early STEM training efforts in states such as Arkansas — detailed in ECS’ recently-released Teacher Training for Quality P-3 STEM Education Policy Brief — noted that once COVID-19 restrictions lift, their programs will apply those newly polished remote training strategies to be more strategic in the deployment of limited resources.

For example, rather than a trainer spending half a day traveling to another part of the state to deliver an hour of training, program leadership will consider whether remote training might be just as effective. This could support an exponential increase in the number of professional development sessions a trainer can deliver statewide over an academic year.

Individuals interviewed for the early STEM teacher training Policy Brief also suggested that the forced transition to remote learning has led to improvements in the types of early STEM educator supports delivered. For example, while the Ohio STEM Learning Network’s Innovative Leader Institute looks forward to returning to an in-person professional development approach, OSLN is weighing the benefits of increased virtual coaching and check-in sessions with participants as compared to its pre-pandemic model.

Last but certainly not least, STEM gives educators hope. Becky Ashe, director of professional learning and innovation for the Tennessee STEM Innovation Network, observed that their organization conducted 17 professional learning series trainings during the 2019-20 school year, however delivery increased to 15 Professional Learning Series trainings in fall 2020 alone. While the convenience of virtual delivery may have contributed to the uptick in requests for trainings last fall, Becky added that principals are asking TSIN to work with their school “because it’s problem-solving and offering hope. [Principals] see [STEM integration] as a hopeful activity.”

State leaders may want to consider how early STEM integration can support post-pandemic teacher and principal preparation, professional learning and curriculum redesign to mitigate the inequities of past structures and support all P-3 learners’ engagement, achievement and future success.

Denim Day was born in the aftermath of outrage following the reversal of a 1990s sexual assault conviction in Italy. The conviction was reversed because the court said the woman must have consented because the tightness of her jeans meant that she helped her attacker remove them. The anger about the judge’s decision led to immediate protest in Italy, and women staged their protest by wearing jeans to work. The first Denim Day in Los Angeles took place in 1999 and has been an annual tradition since.

Denim Day is a pivotal part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, which aims to “bring awareness and prevention of sexual assault, harassment and abuse.” States may consider measures to help higher education institutions address sexual violence because of the percent of students who experience sexual violence and the negative social and emotional and academic ramifications associated with nonconsensual sexual encounters.

The Association for American Universities’ 2019 Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Misconduct found that 13% of college students experienced sexual assault during their time at college. However, there were significant disparities in reported incidence rates based on the education status and gender of the survey respondents. Undergraduate women had the highest likelihood of experiencing sexual assault. In addition to this data, a 2014 research study showed that individuals who were sexually assaulted often encountered mental health disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, social withdrawal, depression and suicidal thoughts. This study also found that women who were sexually assaulted earned lower GPAs compared to women who didn’t experience this.

A 2020 research study demonstrated similar findings to the 2014 study regarding the impact of sexual assault on students’ academic performance. The 2020 study cited prior research that found links between nonconsensual sexual violence and higher levels of academic disengagement, lower GPAs and lower college retention rates. States may consider adopting campus sexual assault policies in light of the incidence rates of sexual violence during a students’ college years and the impacts those experiences have on students’ emotional and academic well-being.

In 2019, Education Commission of the States published a 50-State Comparison on campus sexual assault policies. The 50-State Comparison found that 22 states have enacted a campus sexual assault policy and five states have adopted an “affirmative consent” policy. At least three states, Kansas, New Jersey and Missouri, have introduced bills in the 2021 legislative cycle that would mandate higher education institutions to adopt an “affirmative consent” standard to determine whether consent was obtained prior to engaging in sexual activity.

For example, California’s affirmative consent policy stipulates that there must be affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity, and that consent can be revoked at any time. This affirmative consent policy also mandates that it is the responsibility of each party in a sexual encounter to ensure that there is mutual consent before engaging in any sexual activity.

These policies also explain that intoxication and unconsciousness are two conditions that affirmative consent cannot be given in. Likewise, a lack of objection to sexual activity also does not constitute consent within affirmative consent policies. Clarity regarding affirmative sexual consent may make it easier for college students to understand how sexual consent is defined and highlight their responsibility to obtain consent before engaging in sexual activity.

State sexual assault and affirmative consent policies can help educate students and increase safety on campuses. As this remains a key issue for higher education institutions, Education Commission of the States is here to support states in this work.

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