Governor and State Attorney General Involvement in Education Policy


A governor is a state’s top executive official. As such, the governor leads and oversees the state and its executive agencies—including the department of education. 

A governor’s responsibilities include:

  • Signing bills into law, or vetoing bills passed by the state legislature. In some cases, governors can scratch certain lines from a bill passed through both chambers of the state legislature in what is called a line-item veto. 
  • Overseeing offices under the state executive branch umbrella, including the state department of education and state board of education. 
  • Appointing members to the state board of education in some states. These selections should be considered just as important as judicial nominations. Check this resource from the Education Commission of the States to see whether your state board of educations is appointed or elected. 

Like the president, governors can create policies that carry the weight of law by executive order. These executive orders, as well as opinions issued by state attorneys general, are often subject to legal battles. Judges can, in some cases, render these orders null. 

Gubernatorial elections 

Governors are popularly elected in all states. Most states elect their governor on even-numbered years, which align with either the midterm congressional elections (2022, 2026) or presidential elections (2024, 2028). Virginia and New Jersey hold off-cycle elections one year before midterm congressional elections (2021, 2025). Governors serve four year terms in 48 states. Vermont and New Hampshire governors have two year terms. 

Gubernatorial term limits—the number of terms a governor can legally serve—vary widely by state. You can check your state’s term limits here

How are governors involved in education policy?

In some states, governors appoint their state board of education members and state superintendents. This is one of the most important roles a governor plays in the state’s education system, as these officials have the power to change the state’s proposed curriculum standards and create policies that impact every student in the state’s public schools. Check this resource to see whether state board of education members are popularly elected or appointed by the governor in your state. Regardless of whether education board members are appointed or popularly elected, governors have the authority to oversee the work of their state education board. 

Additionally, governors have the responsibility to ensure that their education departments, state boards of education, and state superintendents are working diligently to implement good policies. 

Beyond the state’s executive branch, governors have the power to approve or veto  legislation after it passes both chambers of the state legislature. This, of course, includes education bills. 

Attorneys general 

A state attorney general is an elected or appointed official who provides legal counsel to state agencies and state lawmakers. Forty three states elect their attorneys general, while attorneys general in seven states—Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Wyoming—are appointed by the governor or the state supreme court. 

An attorney general’s responsibilities include:

State attorneys general play an important role in enforcing state laws. This includes ensuring state agencies, like the state department of education, are in compliance with state laws. 

A state’s attorney general represents the state in legal proceedings. Additionally, attorneys general can issue opinions that carry legal weight. However, these opinions can be challenged in court. In some cases, judges can strike down these orders. 

Attorneys general elections 

Most states elect their attorneys general along with their governor on even-numbered years that align with the midterm congressional elections (2022, 2026) or presidential elections (2024, 2028)

Use this National Association of Attorney Generals link to check when your state holds its next attorney general election.

How are state attorneys general involved in education policy?

Attorneys general are tasked with enforcing the law, including those laws that regulate government agencies like the state school board and state department of education. Attorneys general can write and release legal opinions, or interpretations of state and federal law. 

If your governor has signed into law an education-related bill—such as a ban on critical race theory or protections for parents’ rights and transparency—it is, generally speaking, the attorney general’s responsibility to enforce the law. State laws differ widely, and it’s important for you to familiarize yourself with the state laws that outline your attorney general’s roles and responsibilities.