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State Ed. Agencies Make Cuts, but Protect Key Areas

Many state education agencies have seen their budgets cut over the past year, though they have also protected personnel working in "key school reform areas," such as providing help to struggling schools and developing new teacher-evaluation systems, a new survey has found.

Twenty-six of 37 states, plus the District of Columbia, that responded to a survey by the Center on Education Policy said they had made cuts during the 2011-12 school year.

State officials do not expect the 2012-13 school year to be much better: While just 13 of them project more cuts in their education agencies' operating budgets, only four of them expect to see an increase in funding, according to the CEP, a research and policy organization in Washington.

"As these state responsibilities increase, SEA staff with relevant expertise are likely to be stretched very thin," the report says. "It remains to be seen whether SEAs will have the funding and staff to effectively carry out these duties."

When those 26 states cut spending, that often meant leaving open positions unfilled or laying people off. Yet despite those pressures, state agencies also made an effort to create safe harbors from budget-cutting for areas they deemed crucial.

Eighteen states, for instance, reported increasing the number of staff providing support to low-performing schools in 2011-2012 school year—which corresponds with the 2012 fiscal year—while 17 kept personnel levels the same in that area.

Fifteen states reported boosting the number of personnel working on the development and implementation of new educator evaluation systems, while 17 kept the same number of staff in place. Twelve states boosted staffing on the development of new statewide data systems, while 22 kept it level. Ten increased staffing for the development of common-core standards, and another 20 kept the staffing level the same.

When states education agencies were forced to cut jobs, many of them reported doing so through attrition—meaning they left vacant spots unfilled—rather than firing people.

While fewer states project increasing the number of staff who work on key education areas in the months ahead, the majority anticipate at least maintaining the current number of people working on those issues, the CEP found.

The CEP also released another report today on how states are responding to the drying up of federal stimulus funding. See my colleague Alyson Klein's item on Politics K-12 for more details.

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