NAESP Outlines Priorities in Pivotal Year in Education Policy

2024 is a pivotal year in education policy, with schools grappling with long-term effects of the pandemic and ARP funding set to expire in September. Here are eight key policy issues NAESP is keeping an eye on this year.

2024 is a pivotal year in education policy. Schools are grappling with the long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, including chronic absenteeism, learning loss, and educator shortages. In September, they will face the expiration of $129 billion in pandemic aid. In addition, other education issues are sure to be raised in this presidential election year. Below, we’ve outlined key policy issues NAESP is keeping an eye on this year. 

Expiring ARP Funding 

States and districts received $129 billion in emergency COVID-19 funding via the American Rescue Plan. Schools and districts have until Sept. 30, 2024, to spend these funds before they expire.  

AASA, The School Superintendents Association, conducted a survey that found that 53 percent of district leaders anticipate that as the funds run out in the coming year, they will be forced to cut or reduce specialist staffing, summer learning programs, and staff compensation.  

Possible cuts to federal education programs in FY24 mean schools could feel even harsher impacts of the looming fiscal cliff that could occur as the COVID-relief funds expire.  

Principal Shortages 

Surveys from several national education organizations over the past few years have all said the same thing: Principals are looking toward career changes or retirement. In fact, one 2023 NAESP survey found that 70 percent of principal respondents were planning to leave the field in the next 1-3 years.  

The repercussions of losing highly qualified and experienced principals cannot be understated. NAESP’s Leaders We Need Now report describes the compounding demands and responsibilities that have been assigned to the role of principal. The research highlights the importance of supporting principals and investing in the pipeline with urgency.  

The growing conversation around strategies to address principal shortages could mean more legislation coming to the floor in 2024. School leader preparation and retention is sure to be an area of interest. 

Chronic Absenteeism 

Chronic absenteeism rates have nearly doubled since before the COVID-19 pandemic, with data showing that greater than one in four U.S. public school students missed at least 10 percent of school days in the 2021-22 school year. In the 2023-24 school year, these rates have shown minimal improvement.   

State policymakers have recently joined educators in the battle against chronic absenteeism, and in the past decade, at least 18 states have passed laws to support districts in reporting attendance and implementing intervention strategies. In 2023, Nevada passed legislation requiring an advisory board in each county to support districts with attendance. Lawmakers in several states have confirmed that they plan to consider new legislation to address the chronic absenteeism crisis affecting their states this year.  

Social Media Safety 

The past few years have brought about major concerns over the damaging effects of social media on children. In an advisory about the effects of social media use on youth mental health, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy warned parents and educators: “We are in the middle of a national youth mental health crisis, and I am concerned that social media is an important driver of that crisis—one that we must urgently address.” Murthy advised lawmakers to take a “safety first” approach to legislation regarding social media. 

Many states passed or attempted to pass laws in 2023 to protect children from social media platforms. The bills included different measures such as age restrictions and parental controls or implementing social media literacy classes in public schools.  

We should expect to see this issue back in the headlines in 2024. Lawmakers in several states have announced plans to introduce legislation this year that will limit minors’ access to social media in several ways. Elected officials from California, Maryland, and Pennsylvania are all planning to introduce legislation this year that would address online child labor and child influencers on social media. 

Artificial Intelligence 

After the introduction of generative artificial intelligence (AI) tools like ChatGPT, educators, lawmakers, and researchers are still working to understand how AI impacts and can be used for instruction and learning.  

California and Oregon have released official guidance to school districts on the use of AI in schools, and another eleven states are on their way to releasing guidance. Additionally, the U.S. House of Representatives has introduced a bipartisan bill that would clarify that schools could use existing federal grants to support AI literacy.  

Educators and lawmakers share concerns over data privacy and educators are looking for guidance on best practices in student and teacher use of AI tools. The White House has called on the U.S. Department of Education to develop guidance this year. 2023 was a year of introduction to new tools and technology, but in 2024 we will see efforts to use AI in the real world of teaching and learning. 

Private School Vouchers 

“School Vouchers,” “Opportunity Scholarships,” “Education Savings Accounts,” or “Tuition Tax Credits.” No matter what you call them, private school voucher programs will remain a hot topic in 2024.  

During the 2023 legislative session, at least six states passed universal education savings account policies. However, voucher programs in some states failed to pass, and others are working to overturn recently passed programs during 2024.   

Several state governors have already announced their support for passing school voucher programs of some kind in 2024, but we will continue to see push back from public school advocates and rural communities, who would be especially impacted by the passage of a voucher program. 

Education on the Campaign Trail 

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, education has become a major talking point for politicians. In the past few years, debates over curriculum, book bans, parents’ rights, and efforts to implement voucher programs have dominated conversations around education. We will see education continue to be a key issue in 2024 presidential campaigns.  

We should expect debates over topics including school choice, the effectiveness of the U.S. Department of Education, teacher pay, and Title IX regulations. A hot topic on many Republican platforms is the proposal to close or reduce the power of the U.S. Department of Education.  

Assessment – Measurements of Success 

State tests continue to play an important role in K-12 education but are evolving and adapting to meet the ever-changing needs of students and schools. Changing technology and a shifting focus toward well-rounded measurements of success will make standardized assessments a key K-12 policy issue this year.  

States are looking for an assessment model that provides schools with timely feedback on student progress. In 2023, the U.S. Department of Education approved a request from the Montana education department to test a new exam model given throughout the 2023-24 school year and were approved to participate in the Innovative Assessment Demonstration Authority. Missouri and Florida are piloting similar “through-year” programs that would monitor progress throughout the year but have not received the same waiver from U.S. Department of Education. Several other states are exploring the through-year test models. In 2024, we might see more states begin looking toward more innovative assessment models, such as the through-year test.  

Katie Graves is coordinator, Advocacy Support Services, at NAESP.