State K-12 education funding seems to have bottomed out in 2011 and should recover overall this year, according to a report released Tuesday by the Center on Education Policy (CEP).

According to the report, based on a survey of state education officials in 37 states and the District of Columbia, 20 states expect an increase in K-12 funding in fiscal year 2012, up from 14 states in 2011. Eight states anticipate a decline in their education budgets, down from 17 in 2011.

While the outlook is improved this year, there is a lingering question of how much the education cuts following the economic downturn have affected states' long-term trajectory in education reform, according to CEP. Eight of the 17 states that saw decreased budgets in 2011 reported that the cuts slowed or stopped progress on planned reform efforts. At the same time, though, 20 states told CEP that federal funding through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act passed in 2009, $100 billion in total, had accelerated the implementation of reforms.

To receive stimulus funding, states had to commit to several areas of reform: implementing tough academic standards linked with assessments; building longitudinal student data systems; improving the effectiveness of teachers; and intervening at low-performing schools.

And although overall state education funding is recovering, many state education agencies still expect a sizable hit to their operating budgets, according to another CEP report released Tuesday. A total of 13 states expect cuts to their state agency's budget in fiscal year 2012; 21 anticipate flat funding, and four project funding increases.

In 2011, 26 states slashed funding for their state agency, according to the report. Most of those cuts were accomplished through staff reductions: 24 of the 26 states said they had left vacancies unfilled, laid off staff or offered early retirement to some staff members. Those figures raise concerns that state education agencies are not equipped to fulfill the reforms outlined under the stimulus, Race To The Top and other federal programs.

“As states’ responsibilities for school reform increase, state education agency staff with the necessary expertise will be stretched very thin,” Nancy Kober, one of the report's authors, said in a statement. “It remains to be seen whether these agencies will have the funding and staff to fully carry out these responsibilities.” 

Copies of both CEP reports can be found below.