Newly Elected Legislators Schooled on Education Issues

Improving America’s economy and creating an environment of global competitiveness requires more rigorous academic standards that prepare students for a future that will depend increasingly on enrolling in a college or university. State legislators are called upon to make funding decisions on a wide array of complex issues designed to ensure students graduate from high school college- and career-ready.

“The hard truth is many legislators, whether freshmen or veterans, want and need more information to help them in their decision-making,” CSG Director of Education Policy, Pam Goins, explained. “This is particularly true of many legislators elected for the first time in November 2010, who are suddenly thrust in a position of having to make critical education choices that will affect the future of their districts, states and nation.”

2010 was a watershed election in state legislative chambers around the nation. More than 1,500 lawmakers were elected to their first terms last year – more than 20 percent of all state legislators in the country.

In order to provide first-term legislators with sound and objective education policy helping them make well-informed decisions, 30 state lawmakers elected to their first terms in 2010 or 2011 assembled for the Policy Academy for Newly Elected Legislators (PANEL). The initiative is jointly funded by The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The William & Flora Hewlett Foundation, and CSG’s own 21st Century Foundation. CSG previously conducted similar education policy academies in its East, West, Midwest and South regions. The grants provided travel allowances that enabled legislators to attend the policy academy at no cost to state taxpayers in most cases.

During the two-day academy, legislators were introduced to common core state standards, which have been adopted by 46 states, new assessments being designed that will align with the common core state standards, and educational accountability issues. They also heard voices of support for the new standards from representatives of the business community as well as from teacher and parent organizations.

One highlight of the summit was a visit to The Orlando Public Science Charter School, a tuition-free charter school affiliated with the University of Central Florida.  The school has established a rigorous math- and science-based curriculum to prepare students for college- and career-readiness in STEM fields. A highlight of the school visit was an opportunity to observe the school’s annual science fair and talk with students about their complex projects.

“It is our hope that legislators will take home information and ideas, both from our meetings and from their first-hand observations at The Orlando Public Science Charter School, that can help improve educational systems in their own states and districts,” Goins observed. “Our nation’s global competitiveness depends on legislators taking steps to do just that.”