Who’s Who of Education Policy

This document introduces you to the roles that elected and un-elected officials play in education.

Office worker

While they may seem far removed from your local school, governors, elected by voters, play an important role in education policy. Governors in many states appoint their state board of education. And, when a state legislature passes a bill, the governor must sign that bill for it to become law.  

Example: Arizona’s Department of Education used COVID relief money to purchase textbooks that contained sexual content. Arizona’s legislature then passed a bill expanding parental oversight on reading materials, and Gov. Doug Ducey signed that bill into law. 

Scales of justice

Attorneys General are elected in forty-three states, and are appointed in seven. They enforce the law, including laws that regulate government agencies such as the state school board and the state department of education.

Example: In 2021, Montana’s Attorney General, Austin Knudsen, issued a binding opinion on critical race theory in public schools, which stated that critical race theory-focused programs often discriminate based on race. In Montana, the attorney general’s opinion carries the weight of the law. 


State Departments of Education oversee, regulate, and administer public education within a state. The department is often charged with licensing teachers, collecting data on students’ academic performance, and creating either required or recommended curriculum standards, among other responsibilities. State education departments are composed mostly of unelected and unappointed employees. However, the chief state school officer (also called the state superintendent or state secretary of education) is elected in some states, or appointed by the governor, state legislature, or state board of education in other states. 

Example: The Massachusetts Department of Education issued a brief encouraging teachers to teach critical race theory in a third-grade classroom. 


State Boards of Education have various roles in each state. Typically, state boards of education act as the decision-making body of the state department of education. In most states, the state board of education establishes high school graduation requirements, accreditation standards for school districts, and school personnel qualifications. State boards of education are either elected, appointed by the governor, or a combination of the two.

Example: The Texas State Board of Education voted to delay reviewing social studies standards after parents expressed concern over divisive race ideology imbedded in the content. 

Group brainstorm

School Boards, elected by voters, oversee operational and educational policies, procedures, and budgets for school districts. Because of the proximity and responsibility they have over school districts, and the children who learn in them, school boards have an incredible amount of power and influence over a child’s learning environment. 

Example: The Catawba County Board of Education, which governs North Carolina’s largest school district, held a meeting on December 6, 2021, during which members voted unanimously to end the contract with Panorama Education, a consulting firm known for pandering critical race theory and social-emotional learning to students through invasive surveys.