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Stimulus Reforms May ‘Hit a Wall’, CEP Report Says

By Michele McNeil — February 17, 2011 1 min read
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Two years ago today, Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and life as we know it changed forever.

Okay, so maybe the result hasn’t been that dramatic...

But some $100 billion later, the effect of stimulus-era education reforms—from an emphasis on teacher merit pay to turning around low-performing schools—hangs in the balance.

In fact, a new report by the Center on Education Policy sounds a loud warning bell: “The ambitious agenda of education reform attached to ARRA may hit a wall in 2012.”

The reason? Overall state funding for K-12 education in a large majority of states is expected to decline or remain flat, the report concludes.

What’s more, nearly half of the states report that their departments of education will see their operating budgets cut by at least 5 percent. And these are the people that are supposed to implement the reforms.

CEP reached these conclusions through a 50-state (plus District of Columbia) survey of state departments of education, done in October and November 2010. (All but eight states responded.) Responses are confidential to “encourage frank answers,” the report says.

States report making the most progress in improving their data systems and in adopting common academic standards. But states were marching down this path before the stimulus’ arrival, though the additional money no doubt sped things up a bit.

States are struggling most with revamping teacher evaluations and turning around persistently low-performing schools—both are issues that involve very messy, political, and slow-moving work.

For a bit of good news, the report found the ARRA has helped focus states’ efforts around a common education reform agenda, which includes linking student achievement to teacher evaluations, and aligning data systems for K-12 and higher education.

Interestingly, the Race to the Top competition seems to be having a lingering effect even on those states that did not win. The report says that 16 of the 32 surveyed states that lost out still plan to use their Race to the Top applicantions as their education reform blueprint. Twelve of the 32 say they’re thinking about it, according to the report.

The remaining four either didn’t respond to the question or didn’t apply for Race to the Top.