Funding and Staffing Crisis at the National Center of Education Statistics


The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) in the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES) provides objective, reliable, trustworthy information on the condition of education through administrative data collection, longitudinal surveys, and assessments. Founded in 1867, NCES is the second oldest and third largest federal statistical agency in budget size among the 13 OMB officially designated statistical agencies. The Department’s longstanding commitment to the collection and analysis of statistics is reflected in NCES’s stated mission to collect, analyze, and disseminate education statistics at all levels, from preschool through postsecondary and adult education, and including statistics on international education.

Key NCES Products:

  • The Nation’s Report Card
  • School Locator
  • College Navigator
  • International Data Explorer
  • Education Finance
  • Private School Navigator
  • Data Analysis System
  • Digest of Education Statistics

As our educational data needs grow and evolve, NCES provides the high quality, timely, accurate and trustworthy data that keeps American schools leading the way in the global education.

Recent Funding History

Recent funding for NCES has not kept up with inflation. NCES’s purchasing power has fallen by $27 M in real dollars while costs and demand for data have risen. That represents nearly a 10% cut in NCES’ budget.

As its budget has been squeezed, NCES has found efficiencies, eliminated programs and made reversible cuts.  In addition to these steps, NCES also has needed to delay improvements, reduce the frequency of surveys, and pass on educational assessments. If this trend in funding is not reversed, NCES will soon need to cut or shrink its core programs in order to avoid impending irrelevance and operational failures.

Staffing Shortages

For years the NCES Commissioner has been restricted in hiring because Institute of Education Sciences (IES) employees are included in the overall Department of Education (ED) salaries and expenses budget. This budgetary structure means that even if IES receives an increase in its statistics and assessment lines, the NCES Commissioner still lacks the authority to hire full-time and permanent staff, leading to growing reliance on contractors.

Over time as NCES employees gradually retire or vacate their positions this problem compounds, resulting in diminished in-house expertise and technical knowledge as well as too few staff even to manage contracts effectively. For instance, twenty years ago NCES had 115 full-time and permanent staff; in FY17 and FY18 there were only 95 full-time permanent staff members to manage the agency’s FY18 $258.5 million budget for statistics and assessment. This staff-to-budget ratio is particularly problematic. As a principal federal statistical agency, NCES is the important source of objective and independent data to inform policy decisions for the ED. This chart illustrates how many millions of dollars in funding per FTE, as compared to other statistical agencies, which have similar missions, goals and activities.

Reinvesting in Educational Data

With a return to full funding, additional funds and adequate FTEs, NCES could restore temporary cuts accomplish essential modernizations of its statistical programs. Key potential improvements including:

  • Offer new subject assessments on the National Assessment of Educational Progress
  • Modernize online tools, helping make data available to outside groups and data sharing
  • Add private schools to the NTPS Survey
  • Provide more granular data, including state level assessments.
  • Update necessary equipment to administer digital tests
  • Increase frequency of surveys, assessments and data collections.


The National Center for Education Statistics is the backbone of the education data infrastructure, reliably researching and reporting on the condition of American education from early education through postsecondary, and in an international context.

In order to continue to serve parents, students, policymakers, businesses and researchers, NCES will require more funding and an increase in full time employees. Improvement on these fronts in essential to providing crucial education data.