Public Education Frequently Asked Questions


  • What is the history of school boards in the United States?

    Local democratic control of public education was a strongly rooted tradition in our country long before it became an independent nation. In 1647, the Massachusetts Bay Colony passed a law requiring towns to establish and maintain schools.

    The citizens administrated these early schools through their town meetings. As school matters became more complex, control was initially given to the citizens’ elected representatives, the ‘selectmen’, and later given to ‘committees’, groups of townspeople who were responsible to hire the schoolmaster, provide schoolhouses, and attend to other school-related matters.

  • When were school committees established?

    By the early 1800’s, school committees—as school boards are still called in Massachusetts—had developed into continuing bodies which were separate from the rest of the town’s government.

    In 1826, Massachusetts formally established the system of school committees by requiring each town to elect a separate school committee to have “the general charge and superintendence” of all the public schools of the town. Over time, this model spread to the rest of the nation, ensuring that local citizens would have a direct voice in the development and governance of their public schools. Currently, the terms school boards and boards of education are more widely used than school committees.

  • What do school boards do?

    Local school boards (also known as boards of education, school committees, school directors, or trustees) are elected—or occasionally appointed—to be leaders and champions for public education in their states and communities.

  • What is a school board's most important responsibility?

    Local school boards have responsibility for goal setting, policymaking, community involvement and oversight of administrative aspects for their individual school districts. Their most important responsibility is to work with their communities to improve student achievement in their local public schools. School boards derive their power and authority from the state. In compliance with state and federal laws, school boards establish policies and regulations by which their local schools are governed.

    Some of the key responsibilities of a school board include:

    • Employing the superintendent,
    • Developing and adopting policies, curriculum, and the budget,
    • Overseeing facilities issues, and
    • Adopting collective bargaining agreements.

  • How are public schools funded?

    Public education is supported by local, state, and federal government funds. The proportions and sources of funding vary from state-to-state and even from district-to-district within the same state.

    About 48 percent of funding for public schools comes from the state. Local funding that can come from property taxes and other local revenue sources, comprises more than 43 percent of the support provided to public education. The federal government contributes about nine percent to public school budgets.

    The two programs that are the largest sources of federal funding to school districts are mandated:

    • Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which targets economically disadvantaged students, and
    • IDEA grants, which provide special education funding under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
  • What makes a school board effective?

    Effective school boards share the following characteristics:

    • Commit to a vision of high expectations for student achievement,
    • Have strong shared beliefs and values about students’ ability to learn and of the system and its ability to teach all children at high levels,
    • Are accountability driven,
    • Have a collaborative relationship with staff and the community,
    • Are data-savvy,
    • Align and sustain resources to meet district goals,
    • Lead as a united team with the superintendent, and
    • Take part in team development and training.
  • How can I communicate with my school board?

    School boards encourage community members to attend open school board meetings, and there are established procedures for people who wish to speak or ask questions during the public comment period.

  • How do I explore running for my school board?

    Your state establishes the basic qualifications and procedures for becoming a candidate and running for your school board. Many state school boards associations have developed guidance for people who might want to become school board members, and there are in-person information sessions for potential candidates in some states.

    Please consult the state school boards association in your state for assistance.

  • Where can I obtain information and statistics on public education?

    The Digest of Education Statistics provides a compilation of statistical information covering education.

  • What are charter schools?

    A charter school is a non-religious public school operating under a contract, or “charter,” that governs its operation. Charter schools account for five percent of the nation’s public schools. Charter school enrollment is small compared to regular public schools, but it is growing.

    • 5,600 charter schools are open nationwide.
    • 2 million students are enrolled in charter schools.
    • 41 states and the District of Columbia have charter school laws.
  • What are the differences between charter schools and public schools?

    A key difference between charter schools and traditional public schools is the regulatory freedom and autonomy that charters have from state and local rules (in terms of staffing, curriculum choices, and budget management). This freedom and autonomy makes charter schools difficult to evaluate at a national level. Rules on funding, operational requirements, and accountability vary widely among the thirty-nine states* with charter school laws.
  • What is the difference between NSBA and the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE)?

    NSBA’s members are the state school boards associations in each state. Local school boards belong to their state associations, which provides a range of services and support from board training to advocating on state policy before the state legislature and administrative branches. Many local boards also take advantage of a variety of NSBA products, services, and conferences by virtue of their membership in their state association.

    NASBE’s members are the state boards of education, which are the governing and policy-making bodies for each state-wide system of public education.