UW News

August 10, 2011

Greater flexibility with federal dollars would help state education agencies boost school improvement

UW News

State education agencies could do more to help their local school districts improve under-performing schools, according to a new study at the UWs Center on Reinventing Public Education.

Despite diminishing resources caused by a slow economy and cuts in funding, adding flexibility to how federal dollars are used by states could free up funding to assist districts working to elevate school performance.

This is the conclusion drawn by researchers Patrick Murphy and Monica Ouijdani, who examined eight state education agencies (also called SEAs) to determine how they could respond to federal pressures for states to play a larger role in school turnarounds. Murphy and Ouijdani found that federal strictures dictate how funding is used for agency staffing for certain programs. With some flexibility, agencies likely could provide some additional support for typically underfunded school improvement initiatives.

“Given the significant contribution to central [state agency] positions,” Murphy and Ouidjani state, “the federal government could allow greater flexibility in how SEAs distribute their resources.” Otherwise, they observe, “A combination of the economic recession, looming cuts in discretionary federal spending and depressed state revenues likely will limit the chances for state education agencies to assist school districts working to improve poor-performing schools.”

The authors offer three possibilities that could help states assist school turnaround initiatives:

  • Greater flexibility in use of federal funds that support personnel in state education offices;
  • Contracting out some school improvement functions; and
  • Adjusting the Race to the Top program so that some of those funds could be used for state education agencies to assist with school improvement initiatives.

Murphy and Ouijdani examined the capacities and activities of SEAs in California, Colorado, Louisiana, Minnesota, New York, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington. They focused in particular on how federal dollars to SEAs are distributed.

Their findings are detailed in State Capacity for School Improvement: A First Look at Agency Resources. The report is available at the centers website.