Educational authorities are a special class of governmental bodies responsible for educating the public, typically through public education. They are generally charged with implementing federal legislation, but they are also free to set their own education policy. The United States has long had a centralized educational authority, the federal Department of Education, which administers a large portion of federal education funds and directs federal assistance to public schools.
The federal government has a long history of helping public schools, particularly during the Cold War. The first comprehensive federal education legislation was the National Defense Education Act, which supported loans to students for college and graduate school, a wide range of vocational training programs, and foreign language instruction in elementary and secondary schools.
Since then, education has been an area of heightened Federal involvement in American life. World War II led to a massive expansion of education aid, including the Lanham Act and Impact Aid, which eased the burden on communities near military installations by paying for educational services at local schools. The GI Bill authorized postsecondary education assistance to World War II veterans, and the National Defense Education Act focused on support for loans to high school graduates who wanted to pursue careers in science and technology fields.
Historically, the role of the federal government in education has centered on emergency response to national problems and the distribution of taxpayer-provided funds where they are most needed. However, in recent years the ED’s role has grown to include much more targeted support for education as well as the promotion of private arrangements directed toward encouraging human welfare through education.
In the United States, this is mainly accomplished through a complex system of federally funded education grants and other programs designed to improve public education. These programs often involve significant amounts of earmarked funds that are not available for other purposes.
There are many reasons for this tendency, ranging from the historical development of the Federal role to a need to reduce budgetary pressure on state and local governments. In addition, the ability of LEAs to set their own policies based on local priorities is highly protected by courts.
This may seem counterintuitive, given that the LEA is the governing body of the schools within its jurisdiction. But in the context of a system with several layers of government, LEAs are the best place to ensure that the educational resources of their municipalities are used as efficiently as possible, while still maintaining a strong sense of local control and ownership over the schools.
One of the ways in which an LEA is supposed to exercise its own control is by creating a quality management system (QMS) and providing a structure and infrastructure for schools that will help them become more effective in their performance development. This requires cooperation with other governing bodies and the creation of a network that can help schools to develop their capacity to meet quality standards.
In the case of the municipality studied, the quality system is currently the main investment the municipal LEA has made for improving the capacity of its schools to meet national standards, but there are some tensions in how to achieve this goal. In particular, LEA managers have difficulty identifying when and how the quality system should intervene. They also do not have enough knowledge about the effectiveness of different types of intervention and how these interventions can affect local schools’ performance and quality development.