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Another Victim of Budget Cuts: State Education Agencies

School districts aren't the only ones to feel the wrath of state budget cuts heading into the coming school year. State education departments, which provide major support to schools, have been forced in some cases to make layoffs and cut back on the services they can provide.

One of the starkest examples of cutbacks can be seen at the Texas Education Agency, which saw state lawmakers chop $48 million off its budget for the next two years, a dropoff from $132 million to $84 million.

The agency began the year with more than 1,000 employees, but after two rounds of layoffs—including one last week that put 178 people out of work—it is now down to 717, TEA spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe said. Some of the staff reductions came as a result of retirements and resignations, but layoffs were a major contributor.

The job losses will affect nearly every department at the agency, she said, including the work it does on testing, curriculum, finance, auditing of districts, teacher certification, and grant management.

The agency will continue its work in those areas. "Our highest-priority things will get done," Ratcliffe said, though she acknowledged it won't be able to provide the same level of service. The TEA is planning to reorganize its operations to try to make sure that it is meeting as many obligations as it can, given the loss of staff.

The overall atmosphere at the agency since the spring has been "gloomy," said Ratcliffe. "It's been hard to watch so many good people go out the door."

Other states that have cut the budgets of their top education agencies and laid off staff include New Mexico and Ohio. Those reductions, while significant, aren't nearly as far-reaching as what's occurring in Texas, judging from the information officials in those states have provided to me.

If you're in a state that is chopping the budget of its education department, how deep are the cuts? And what impact will it have on the services provided to school districts?

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