What is the Education Commission of the States?

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ecs_logoMonday’s announcement by the Education Commission of the States that it has elected Gov. Phil Bryant as chairman has prompted some Mississippians to seek more information about the commission.

The goal of the nonprofit, nonpartisan group is to help governors, state legislators and state education officials develop policies at the state level to improve the quality of education. The commission is widely regarded as an unbiased source of information about education policies, trends and data.

The commission alternates every two years between Republican and Democratic governors to chair its organization. Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, served from 2013-15. Bullock championed equal pay and increased public education funding since becoming governor in 2012. He also oversaw a tuition freeze at Montana colleges and universities.

Jeremy Anderson serves as president of the commission, directing its staff and working closely with commission members and state officials across the nation. Anderson formerly worked as the director of government and political affairs for Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.

Anderson helped pass the largest K-12 funding bill in Kansas history to avoid a shutdown of the schools earlier this year. The bill increased poor districts’ state funding by diverting funds from other parts of the state budget and was signed into law by Gov. Sam Brownback in July.

Bryant said on his Facebook page that his election is “credit to the progress that Mississippi has seen in recent years with our education system.” Mississippi made some of the largest gains in the country on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the nation’s report card on public schools.

Earlier this year, the Commission awarded the state the Frank Newman Award for State Innovation for its education reform focusing on early-childhood reading, the expansion of charter schools and the implementation of a new accountability system for schools and districts.

The award recognizes states for education improvement efforts that can be replicated in and educational to other states; “bold and courageous” policies; and policies and programs that have bipartisan support, according to the commission’s website.

The commission was sparked by an idea by James Bryant Conant in the mid-1960s. He proposed the idea of an interstate compact on education policy, allowing states to share ideas and communicate with one another. Conant proposed this approach as a counterbalance to the growing number of federal government-based initiatives addressing education issues, the commission’s website states.

The idea came to fruition when John W. Gardner, president of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, teamed up with former North Carolina Gov. Terry Sanford to create the Compact for Education. Its operating arm is the Education Commission of the States, which opened its headquarters in Denver in 1967.

Bryant and Laurie Smith, the governor’s education and workforce policy advisor, serve as steering committee members for the commission.