Require K–12, Higher Ed, and the Workforce to Share Data

Essay By
Learn more about Anne Wicks.
Anne Wicks
Anne Wicks
Don Evans Family Managing Director, Opportunity and Democracy
George W. Bush Institute


State leaders are charged with determining how to increase access to opportunity for all their residents, with a particular focus on young people and marginalized populations. Today, many states have disparate data systems that are functionally siloed into K–12 education, higher education, and the workforce, often aligned with separate state agencies. These disconnected systems make it difficult to see who is or isn’t accessing education and high-wage jobs over time. And it makes it challenging to design policy, create programs, and invest public funds in ways that increase the number of people moving through the opportunity pipeline into good jobs. Because data systems are typically governed in agency-based fiefdoms, change can be slow and inconsistent. Data systems exist but might not be coordinated across agencies. There might be a task force charged with advising how to connect those systems—but it without real power to meaningfully change practice or policy or allocate resources. Policymakers need reliable, relevant, and transparent data from K–12 to the workforce to inform decisions and allocate resources. Researchers need access to data to assess where people are falling out of the opportunity pipeline, see which pathways are most effective, and identify gaps in the systems. Finally, the public—including parents—needs information about readiness and opportunity for young people in the state. State longitudinal data systems (SLDS) can help. Meaningfully linked and well-governed data systems make it easier to see connections between metrics such as early-grade reading scores; college, career, and military readiness content and courses; high school graduation rates; higher education completion rates; labor needs; and wages. Clarity about how to access data is crucial. A strong privacy policy safeguards personal data while allowing a broad array of policymakers and researchers to access and study outcomes. SLDS can help decision makers know what readiness and opportunity look like for young people at all stages—and how outcome metrics connect over time. Disaggregated data, across the opportunity pipeline, provide invaluable insights to policy makers, researchers, and parents. 


A state legislature can create a strong governance system for its statewide longitudinal data system by specifying which agencies need a voice, who will be held accountable, and who is responsible for what. Strong SLDS reflect the following guidelines. 

  • Create a coordinated vision with strong governance. 
  • Clearly state the purpose of the system in a way that guides decision-making. 
  • Establish a single host and leadership team (with decision-making authority and accountability) to guide the system toward that purpose. 
  • Establish clear guidelines for data management and communication. 
  • Ensure capacity and resources to manage and analyze data. 
  • Specifically address the capacity and resources needed to ensure that the SLDS can function well. 
  • Create sustained and predictable funding that allows for consistency of operations and innovation over time. 
  • Ensure there are sufficient staff to manage the data warehouse, conduct data analysis, and report consistently. 
  • Prioritize accessibility and data-driven policy. 
  • Specify consistent safety and privacy protocols that adapt to new threats. 
  • Allow data to be accessed by a broad array of researchers, policymakers, and advocates via a clear and codified process. 
  • Create conditions for data to inform legislative, gubernatorial, and agency work. 
  • Prioritize transparency and reporting. 
  • Ensure data are reported to the public in easy-to-understand ways. 
  • Ensure data are disaggregated across crucial subgroups (e.g., as defined by race, ethnicity, and economic status). 
  • Create a single public hub for reports and dashboards that allows many people to review and engage with the data. 


Texas has put many of these elements in place via House Bill 3767 (87-R), the Texas Education and Workforce Alignment Act, which allows the state education and workforce systems to be organized to meet employers’ current and long-term workforce needs. This joint effort, backed by the governor, has codified strategic opportunity priorities for the first time. The Tri-Agency—composed of the Texas Education Agency, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, and Texas Workforce Commission—has made progress in implementing this act by establishing the state’s first-ever workforce development goals and strategies and creating a data-sharing agreement. The Tri-Agency goals include 

  • Providing pathways to employment in high-demand occupations, including the completion of a postsecondary credential of value for 60 percent of Texans age 25–64 by 2030; 
  • Ensuring that Texans are supported throughout the education-to-workforce pipeline, from early childhood education to postsecondary education to the workforce; and 
  • Improving state agency data and infrastructure to empower education institutions, training providers, decision makers and other stakeholders, and everyday Texans so that state, local, and personal education and workforce goals can all be achieved. Increasing all Americans’ access to opportunity is complex work, requiring thoughtful and informed solutions. Connecting disparate data systems in a well-governed and transparent way in each state will help guide policymakers in the years ahead. Each American deserves to be ready to access opportunity and build their futures; strong data can support the work required to make that vision real. 


This piece was originally published in the AEI Policy Catalog