Access, Federal Advocacy, P-20W Data

State Data Systems Are Key to Making the President’s Priorities a Reality

State Data Systems Are Key to Making the President’s Priorities a Reality

On March 7, 2024, the President shared his top priorities, including multiple education and workforce policies, in his State of the Union (SOTU) address available to watch here. This blog highlights how important these priorities are and how necessary it is that these policies receive continued support, including funding, to show what is possible when policymakers leverage data systems to answer questions and better support individuals and communities. 

The President’s SOTU outlined several education and workforce development policies that will require robust statewide longitudinal data systems (SLDSs) to be successful. For example, the President highlighted expanding preschool access to boost high school graduation and college attendance rates and increasing collaboration between businesses and high schools to provide access to varied career pathways. To implement these policies effectively and assess their impact and success, state and local leaders will need access to data that is connected across the early childhood education, K–12 education, postsecondary education, and workforce spectrum. 

Robust state data systems are integral to achieving President Biden’s policy vision. Policymakers and families need access to data on current kindergarten student achievement to understand whether funded programs are adequately preparing children for kindergarten and identify the areas that need quality preschool programs. They also need data on whether tutoring and summer programs improve student achievement to identify the most successful interventions for getting students back on grade level. In addition, policymakers, students, and families need access to data on enrollment across postsecondary pathways to understand the impact of increased partnerships between businesses and high schools.

Policymakers and researchers can answer important policy and performance questions, such as evaluating the types of interventions that work best to support student achievement when states leverage their data systems. However, many obstacles—including data-linking barriers—get in the way of states building the kind of SLDS that can solve problems for individuals, families, and communities. In fact, very few states can link across early education, K–12, postsecondary, and workforce. 

States are best positioned to develop impactful policies when they can use their robust SLDSs that link data across sectors.  For example, according to the most recent surveys from the National Center for Education Statistics and the State Higher Education Executive Officers’ Association (SHEEO)

  • States that can link early education to K–12 data can answer questions about public prekindergarten programs but are less likely to have information about subsidized child care or Head Start programs.  
  • States that can link K–12 and postsecondary data can typically answer questions about admissions and enrollment in public, in-state institutions, including dual enrollment status. However, they are less likely to be able to answer questions about graduates’ persistence, credential completion, or longer-term outcomes (e.g., earnings).  
  • States that can link across early education, K–12, postsecondary, and workforce can better answer questions across the entire SLDS experience: from prekindergarten programs to graduation rates to postsecondary enrollment to earnings in the workforce. However, less than 40 percent of states currently have a complete, robust SLDS.
  • States that do link K–12 and workforce data can typically answer questions about the employment status of recent graduates and may be able to provide information on sectors and average wages. However, this data rarely includes information about apprenticeships or other forms of postsecondary education and training which makes it difficult for states to build postsecondary pathways or a credential registry.   

Advancing the priorities laid out in the president’s State of the Union speech will require that states be able to answer these currently unanswered questions. Doing so means more robust SLDSs supported and sustained by both state and federal investments. The President’s FY25 budget request, however, only proposes $38.5 million for the SLDS grant program – the primary federal source of funding for state data systems. This funding level is stagnant with FY24 budget levels at a time when states need more funding to effectively build out and maintain robust data systems. Given the foundational role state data systems will have to play in advancing the president’s priorities, they need much more support. Beyond new funding, states also need guidance and technical assistance on the permissible ways to leverage existing funds and to securely share data without violating privacy laws. These recommendations are actions the federal government can take to both ease and expedite state efforts to improve their SLDSs, and they align with DQC’s Federal Recommendations to Support Data Access.

Both through his State of the Union speech and his FY25 budget request, President Biden has laid out a variety of policies that could positively impact the education and workforce journeys of individuals and communities across the country. Robust state data systems are necessary to inform and implement these policies and should be funded and supported in a manner that recognizes their value in advancing the president’s key policy priorities.