The Education Commission of the States (ECS) is a non-partisan policy organization that tracks education legislation, translates research, provides advice, and creates opportunities for state policymakers to learn from one another.
ECS primarily works with Governors’ offices, Chief State School Officers, State Boards of Education, K-12 and higher education departments, and legislators and their staff on state education policy across the country.
"We track 45 broad issue areas and we have around 275 sub-issues around education policy – early learning through postsecondary and workforce development – which translates to us tracking thousands of bills a year," says Jennifer Thomsen, Director of Policy at the Education Commission of the States.
Jennifer and her team of 20 policy experts monitor every piece of legislation related to education ranging from everything from workforce development, post-secondary affordability, and all issues related to teaching and K-12 teacher preparation and evaluation. But, a change was needed to be able to keep up with the sheer volume and complexity of education policy across the country.
"ECS' state bill tracking operation was really a multi-step and very cumbersome process that had changed a few times over the years, but there wasn't an efficient way of doing it,” according to Thomsen.
Before switching to FiscalNote, ECS did not have a good way to create a search for each issue they track. That meant that they received hundreds of bills a week in one big batch that they then had to sort, discard, or categorize manually. By introducing FiscalNote, ECS was able to do a more targeted search for each issue, which really streamlined their tracking processes.
FiscalNote's State Tracking Solution and Policy Map
Using FiscalNote, ECS is able to follow every piece of education legislation across all 50 states and the District of Columbia - numbering in the 1000s. They've also created a public-facing policy map that displays all legislation and easy to read and follow summaries for each piece of legislation so their members all over the country can see what is happening and what ECS is working on at a glance.
FiscalNote has changed the way ECS is able to proactively monitor legislation, including monitoring the COVID-19 outbreak and educating policymakers.
"We recently started tracking education-related COVID-19 legislation, and it’s nice to have a platform that gives so much flexibility for tracking and monitoring and is easy to use...just because we already track so much," Thomsen says.
Thomsen and her team have each of their 45 broad issues alerted to them through discovery alerts that they are able to sift through and act on. Discovery alerts are FiscalNote’s primary way of notifying users of new or changes to legislation and regulation at the state level. Thomsen and her team are able to type their keywords or phrases or specific states related to the education space, and customize the frequency of email notifications.
With staff members assigned to each issue, ECS is able to label and categorize each piece of legislation in its proper place in a matter of minutes, and comb through upwards of almost 8,000 pieces of legislation easily and efficiently. They can then put the most pressing pieces of legislation on the public-facing policy map for people inside their organization as well as members and external stakeholders to follow along and monitor.
FiscalNote's Government Policy Map for ECS serves as the customizable dashboard for their website to keep everyone informed and aligned. All of ECS’ bills and summaries are uploaded automatically with no additional effort. This way, ECS' members are able to easily search for bills, access priorities, and see policy trends across states.
“I would say that for our use case, the most useful parts of FiscalNote are being able to set up many discovery alerts that we can tweak over time to ensure that we’re capturing all the relevant information for our constituents, and answer questions for policymakers, study trends, and easily run exports and do briefings. FiscalNote has sped up our work and our ability to do research,” says Thomsen.
A New, Reinvented Bill Tracking Strategy
Prior to using FiscalNote, Thomsen and her team used other software solutions that just didn’t allow for a modernized public policy team.
“We were using one tool that had a giant education search string that gave us many of the bills we were looking for, and a whole bunch that we weren’t. We had to split the tracking up by state, which wasn’t effective because you might get someone who was knowledgeable in a topic like post-secondary education, but not every policy issue in the state.”
This meant that ECS was not activating their team in the most effective way or channeling their expertise in the right direction.
“Assigning by topic has taken out the middle step of having an IT person having to download bills and combing through an Excel file. With FiscalNote, we’ve changed our team structure to better suit the expertise of our team members.”
According to Thomsen, “the benefits of FiscalNote were immediate. I understood that this was going to make our lives much easier.”
FiscalNote has freed up more time in the day for ECS to focus on other important priorities and to dedicate less time manually searching and looking for important information. Now, more time can be focused on helping ECS’ external stakeholders become more informed to make better-informed decisions.
“Without FiscalNote, we could not provide our constituents with the sheer volume of information they need to be able to do their jobs,” says Thomsen.