State Funding Essential When Federal Grants Run Out

Jenna Leventoff
August 2, 2016

Federal funding has proven essential to creating, expanding, and maintaining state longitudinal data systems. To date, 48 states, plus the District of Columbia, have received federal State Longitudinal Data System (SLDS) or Workforce Data Quality Initiative (WDQI) grants to fund the development, enhancement, and use of longitudinal data systems.

These grants are widely credited as driving the advancement of longitudinal data systems over the past decade. However, just as swiftly as federal grants can spur the creation of infrastructure and innovation, their end can jeopardize progress if states don’t provide similar levels of financial support.

Alaska is one example of a state struggling with maintaining its data system. Using federal and state funding, and with the promise of continued support from the then Governor, Alaska built ANSWERS to link K-12, higher education, and employment data, and used it to analyze program outcomes, and conduct research of value to state agencies. Moving forward, officials intended to reach out to the state’s education and workforce community to identify how ANSWERS could be used to conduct research of value to external stakeholders. To continue with their current level of activity and expand as originally planned, ANSWERS would have needed about $1.2 million a year.

However, the state’s federal grant funds expired in 2016, and ANSWERS officials have struggled to secure financial support from the state legislature. A state budget crisis has forced the legislature to cut funding for many state projects. Additionally, concerns over privacy led the legislature to write legislative intent language prohibiting the Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education (ACPE) from obtaining federal funding for the state’s P-20W data system.

Facing no dedicated funding for ANSWERS, officials had to figure out how to operate the system economically, while maintaining the system’s high privacy and security standards. In order to cut costs, they integrated ANSWERS into one of the partner agencies and used existing resources and minimal agency funding to support the system’s technical operating costs. The transition entailed relying, in part, on existing partner IT resources, assigning core ANSWERS responsibilities to other positions, and integrating the ANSWERS standalone website into ACPE’s. Moving forward, ANSWERS will only be used for research necessary to fulfill the core mission of the agency partners. Plans to make ANSWERS data available for external stakeholders have been scrapped.

Although ANSWERS staff and partner agencies have done an impressive job keeping their system afloat despite funding realities, it is unfortunate that the system has been forced to cut potential uses of data and make other adjustments. Alaska’s example shows why state funding is an element of our 13-point State Blueprint. It is essential for states to commit resources to developing, maintaining, and using state data systems, so that they are not wholly reliant upon federal grants.