What is State Public Policy?

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  • Written By: Mike Howells
  • Edited By: Michelle Arevalo
  • Last Modified Date: 28 August 2019
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In the United States, and other countries that utilize a federal government system, various powers are delegated to either the federal governments or left under the purview of the individual states. Still others are dealt with cooperatively, between both levels of government. The responsibilities left either in whole or in part to the states, and decisions made related to them, comprise what is known as state public policy.

Common areas of state public policy are transportation, law enforcement, education, and health care. Generally, states have their own special funds for these areas that work in concert with federal equivalents. For instance, in the United States, a particular state public policy on transportation, which includes state roads and highways, must integrate with the federal interstate highway system and various Department of Transportation (DOT) initiatives. The money for such projects comes from state taxes and other revenue sources, like tolls and highway leases.

In the same way, state law enforcement entities must be able to coordinate with federal law enforcement, both in emergency and non-emergency situations. State public policy decisions in this area often deal with universal communications systems, electronic access to warrant information and offender databases, and other, similar kinds of resource sharing. Again, state law enforcement resources are generally funded by state taxes, though in certain cases — such as state police presence of casinos — the costs are borne by the associated private industry.


State public policy, as it pertains to education, can be particularly complex. There are many different levels of educational jurisdiction, from the national government on down through the state, county, and local levels. A state must integrate its own educational initiatives with those of other levels of government, without pre-empting federal rules or infringing on the rights of constituent municipalities. This can be a tricky balance and is one that applies to all types of public policy interaction.

A good example of the specific and varying levels of education policy is that the federal government can establish standards for reading and mathematics, for instance, and require states to meet these testing level within a certain number of years. States must then determine how much funding to send to school districts in order to have students meet those standards, in conjunction with any federal funding that may be made available. Individual school districts and their local governments have the ultimate responsibility to meet those standards, and, if necessary, supplement both state and federal funding with their own money, again, typically generated through taxation.


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