Local and State Government

Contributor: Meghan Vestal. Lesson ID: 12137

In the United States, there are many levels of government. States can have different laws, towns can have their own laws, and the country has its own laws. Who's in charge? It depends; learn why!


United States

learning style
personality style
Lion, Beaver
Grade Level
Intermediate (3-5)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!


Your family would like to build a swimming pool in your backyard.

  • Who is responsible for approving what your family can build in your yard — your state government or your local government?

The United States government was developed on the principle of federalism.

Federalism means that power is divided among different branches and systems of government. The tenth amendment of the Constitution says any power not directly given to the federal government by the Constitution is given to the states and the people. Therefore, U.S. government is broken down into three layers — federal government, state government, and local government. The federal government oversees the entire nation, while state and local governments oversee smaller regions of the United States. In this lesson, you will begin learning about the differences between local and state governments.

You will research the responsibilities of local and state governments. Copy the following chart onto a separate piece of paper so you have a place to record your research:

State Government Local Government








For this activity, you will just be researching the purpose and responsibilities of local and state governments. You will learn about the people and branches that make up each system of government in future lessons. Use the following sites to help you with your research. You can also perform your own research by using a search engine or visiting your local library. As you research local and state government, record what each government is responsible for in your chart.

When you have finished your research, share your work with your teacher or parent. Discuss the following questions:

  • What is the primary purpose of state government?
  • What is the primary purpose of local government?
  • What responsibilities do state and local governments share?

You probably noticed that state and local governments are similar in many ways. They each create laws for people to follow. They also each create budgets for various departments and services. Both have a hand in transportation, education, and health, although their roles are slightly different.

The state government is responsible for creating laws and budgets for an entire state. Often, the budget created by the state affects the local government. For example, the state government may budget a certain amount of money for each school district in a state. Local governments must then decide how best to use the funds, and if it is necessary for them to generate more funds for schools. Distinct roles that state governments have include ratifying amendments to the U.S. Constitution, overseeing the state court system, creating licenses, and building highways.

The local government is responsible for creating laws and budgets for a small region within a state. Roles that are distinct to local governments include overseeing police officers, firefighters, and the parks and recreation services. Local governments are also responsible for approving the construction of businesses, homes, and roads within the region it oversees.

Look at the question from the beginning of the lesson.

  • If your family wanted to build a pool, who would they need to get approval from before they could start building?

Explain your answer to your teacher or parent. Your family would need to receive approval and building permits from the local government before they could begin construction. Even though your family may own the land, the local government is responsible for creating laws to make sure all construction is safe.

  • Why do you think it is important for state and local governments to be separate?

Share your response with your teacher or parent.

Then, move on to the Got It? section to continue comparing state and local government.

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