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CEP Examines K-12 Finances, Overhaul Efforts Post-Stimulus

Now that nearly all of the $100 billion in education aid pumped out by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has been spent, the Center on Education Policy has taken a close look at the after picture when it comes to states' fiscal and education overhaul efforts.

The Washington research and advocacy group's survey finds that state finances have rebounded somewhat, at least for K-12 spending. And states have made progress on ARRA education redesign goals, especially with state data systems, and standards and assessments. States aren't as far along though, when it comes to bolstering educator quality and turning around the lowest-performing schools. Twenty states surveyed credited the ARRA with helping to accelerate education redesign efforts.

Overall, the fiscal forecast is brighter than it was last year. Twenty states increased K-12 funding in fiscal year 2012, as opposed to 14 in fiscal 2011. And only eight states cut funding in fiscal 2012, as opposed to 17 in fiscal year 2011.

The responses came from a survey of 37 states, plus the District of Columbia, conducted by CEP in October through December of 2011. The report looked at whether the $100 billion in the ARRA for education, the biggest one-time infusion of cash for education in history, made a difference, when it comes to the stimulus' twin goals of stabilizing school finances and sparking dramatic changes aimed at improving education.

The survey also found that the cuts—and increases—are relatively small. Three states expected cuts of 5 percent in fiscal 2012, and six states projected increases of 5 percent. Three states said funding for K-12 would increase more than 7.5 percent in fiscal year 2012. The constrained spending seems to jibe with a sluggish economic recovery nationally.

It's important to note that these may not be the final numbers. Half of the survey respondents—19—said their projections could change.

The ARRA also outlined four education assurances, or redesign areas states were supposed to work on to tap the funds. Those included retooling standards and assesments, bolstering state data systems, improving teacher quality and distribution, and turning around low-performing schools.

So far, it seems that states are farthest along on the first two assurances—standards and assessments, and data systems. For instance, 35 said they had adopted internationally benchmarked standards in language arts and math. (That's probably thanks to the Common Core State Standards Initiative, an effort by 45 states to craft more rigorous, uniform standards.) Most of the states surveyed by CEP, 34 in all, have taken steps to create and distribute curriculum materials in those subjects.

When it comes to data systems, 35 states have assigned a unique identifier for every student, linked yearly records to student test performance, and linked teacher data to student data. And 33 states have aligned elementary and secondary data to higher education data systems.

But states aren't quite as far along when it comes to educator-quality measures. Thirty-one have created principal evaluations that take student achievement gains into account. But only 17 have created incentives for highly qualified teachers and principals to stay in, or transfer to, low-performing schools.

And just 16 states surveyed have created or revamped performance-based compensation systems. That's a pretty politically charged area, and some policymakers question whether performance-based compensation leads to better student outcomes.

States are moving even slower when it comes to turning around the lowest-performing schools. While 32 states have provided professional development to principals and staff in low-performing schools, just 18 have created guidelines to help schools choose school intervention experts. Only 10 have helped districts identify charter management organizations, needed if states intend to covert a low-performing school into a charter.

CEP also looked at the capacity of state education agencies, which have been squeezed hard by the recession, even as state finances have improved. Learn more at State Ed Watch.

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