Are Teachers Federal Employees?

Considering the overlap between state and federal government classifications, responsibilities, and funding, sometimes it can be difficult to figure out which sectors are employed by the state versus the federal government.

Teachers are one such grey area. Though public educators are considered government employees, it’s confusing when trying to figure out if teachers are federal or state government employees.

Are Teachers Federal Employees? Teachers that work in state-funded institutions are classified as state employees, not federal employees because public schools fall within the jurisdiction of their individual states and receive the bulk of their funding through the state. Though the government does provide federal funding and grants to the educational sector, this is awarded to the whole of the sector or state rather than individual schools.

The 10th Amendment in the U.S. Constitution states that all powers not granted to the federal government will be reserved for the states and the people, essentially state and local governments, respectively.

Education is one of the powers that is granted to the states, although there are overarching federal regulations and program that states must implement.

State Responsibilities Regarding Education

According to the U.S. Department of Education, education is primarily a state and local responsibility. States and local communities, with input from the applicable public and private organizations, perform all of the following educational roles:

  • Establish school and colleges
  • Develop curricula
  • Determine enrollment and graduation requirements

State governments provide the bulk of funds for education, from elementary school to high schools and even to colleges and universities.

These two factors mean that teachers are state employees rather than federal employees, though both are technically still considered government workers. The difference is the level of government they work for, of which there are three: federal, state, and local.

However, it is important to note that, though teachers are state employees, they are not directly paid by the state. Instead, the state provides grants and funding to local school districts and cities.

Thus, it is local governments that pay teacher salaries and other direct school costs.

State Funded Sectors and Services

Many sectors receive the majority of their funding through the state, though they may be supplemented by federal grants, loans, or other monetary awards. Generally, your tax dollars and state budgets are spent on the following services:

  • Education – States primarily fund public elementary and secondary schools, which the majority of U.S. students attend. On average, anywhere from one-fourth to half of a state’s budget goes to public education. Many states also fund higher education institutions through community colleges, university systems, and vocational institutions.
  • Healthcare – Besides education, healthcare is another sector that states spend a large chunk of their budget on. Many states fund health insurance and assistance programs, and generally may set aside anywhere from 10% to one-fourth of their budget for this sector.
  • Transportation – State funding for transportation includes public transit systems, road repairs, and road, tunnel, and bridge construction.
  • Corrections – State funding for corrections includes prisons, juvenile justice programs, parole, police departments, and other corrections outreach and rehabilitation programs.
  • Family Assistance – State funding for family assistance includes financial support for low-income individuals and families through various short and long term aid programs.
  • Other – Funding for other spending varies by state but may include such expenditures as pension programs, health benefits, environmental projects, housing, local government aid, disaster relief, etc.

The majority of state funds are directed toward education and healthcare, although state budgets do incorporate other sectors, as discussed above. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities also breaks down state spending by percentage and sector.

Funding varies by year and state, and may be influenced by federal funding, such as grants and awards, and outside factors, such as the state of the economy.

Federal Funding For Education

Though the bulk of federal funding may not go towards education, there is money allotted in the budget for it. Below is a pie chart illustrating the estimated percentage of federal grants to state and local governments by function for the fiscal year (FY) 2019.

Education is one of the sectors included below. At the federal level, education, training, employment, and social services are counted together rather than individually.

Federal funding allocates significantly less to education than state funding. However, it does still contribute to necessary functions and programs, making the federal government’s funding important.

Types of Federal Educational Funding

Though the federal government can’t always directly control state governments, they can influence them through monetary awards, such as the distribution of grants and aid. In many cases, federal funding comes with stipulations regarding its use or state eligibility criteria.

Categorical grants are an example of the former, as these grants may only be used for specific purposes. An example of the latter is the 1984 National Minimum Drinking Act, which stipulates that states can only receive full federal highway funding if the state minimum drinking age is 21.

Federal grants that may be awarded to the educational sector are as follows:

  • Categorical Grants – this funding can only be used for specific purposes or for specifically aided programs and is usually limited to activities narrowly defined by the federal government prior to award
  • Block Grants – this type of funding is also used for a specifically aided set of programs, but is usually not limited to defined activities prior to award
  • General Revenue Sharing – this type of funding can be used for any purpose not expressly prohibited by the state or federal government prior to award and are usually not limited to defined activities

Below is a chart outlining the types of grants awarded by the federal government in the last ten fiscal years for which comprehensive data is available. For earlier fiscal years, reference this chart.

Fiscal YearFunded GrantsCategorical GrantsBlock GrantsGeneral Revenue Sharing

Of these grants, only roughly 9% will be awarded to the educational sector. So though the federal government may have funded 1,274 grants in total, only approximately 115 will go towards education.

Keep in mind that there is no consensus on the methodology used to count federal grants to state and local governments. Because of this, these numbers should be viewed as illustrative estimates rather than definitive data.

Shared Federal and State Powers

Not all governmental powers are exclusively federal or state. Some powers are shared between the two, aptly called concurrent powers or shared powers. In the chart below, some common government functions are broken down as federal, state, or shared.

Types of PowersExclusive Federal PowersShared PowersExclusive State Powers
Elections/ VotingConducting elections
Money/ CommerceTaxation
Chartering banks and corporations
Coining moneyBorrowing money
Regulating interstate and foreign commerceRegulating intrastate commerce
Laws/ Judiciary SystemsEstablishing inferior courtsEstablishing courtsEstablishing local governments
Ratifying Constitutional amendments
Lawmaking and enforcement
MailRegulating the mail
Foreign AffairsConducting foreign affairs
Naturalization/ CitizenshipEstablishing rules of naturalization
MilitaryRaising armiesMaintaining the militia
Declaring war
Land UseTaking land for public use via eminent domain

Understanding the Power Dynamics Between the State and Federal Government

Though the federal government must share power with state governments, local governments must be given power by the state. Thus, local governments are more dependent on their state counterparts, while state and federal governments are increasingly reliant on each other.

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