Washington, D.C. — A series of reports released today explores how improving federal education policy can strengthen the ways states manage their schools. The reports looks specifically at the effect of existing federal policy on the staffing, management, and financing of state education agencies, or SEAs.
Findings from the three reports were the subject of discussion at a Center for American Progress event today focused on exploring the relationship between federal education policymakers and state education leaders. While states can certainly do much more within the current policy environment to improve outcomes for students, local communities will not be able to close achievement gaps and ensure equal opportunity for all students without at least some federal intervention and financial resources.
“Some states are way ahead of others in their approach to leveraging federal education dollars to better serve today’s students, and there is much more flexibility available today than many state leaders pursue,” said CAP Senior Policy Analyst Robert Hanna. “Nevertheless, the federal government also has a role to play to ensure that the right conditions are set for states and their students to succeed.”
The first report, “Help Wanted: Flexibility for Innovative State Education Agencies,” examines how SEAs that seek to combine resources when providing assistance to troubled schools often bump into federal restrictions on how grant dollars can be used. The report’s author, Patrick Murphy of the Public Policy Institute of California, interviewed state leaders across the nation and reports their perspectives on what federal policymakers could do differently to better support the efforts of SEAs.
In the second report, “Seeing Beyond Silos: How State Education Agencies Spend Federal Education Dollars and Why,” CAP’s Robert Hanna shows that federal regulations often encourage state education leaders to separate offices by federal funding source. Hanna analyzed the SEA spending of federal funds from eight state departments of education and finds that these departments find it challenging to organize themselves innovatively given their role as monitors for federal compliance.
The final report in the series, “Cutting Red Tape: Overcoming State Bureaucracies to Develop High-Performing State Education Agencies,” illustrates the legal and cultural barriers state leaders face when working to build state education agencies that can meet today’s education reform goals. The paper, authored by Robert Hanna, Jeffrey S. Morrow, and Marci Rozen, explores the laws and regulations governing state agency management in a small sample of states and identifies areas where state leaders could do more to build better agencies by recruiting talent, reorganizing their organizations, and better managing to increase performance.