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Apropos of my back-to-school extravaganza on teacher merit pay, the New York Times’ Sam Dillon takes a look today at teacher layoffs around the country. Dillon can’t give figures on how many teachers have been laid off in the past year, but a clear pattern emerges: State X can’t generate any revenue in the recession. So they lay off, say, 1,000 teachers. Then State X taps into stimulus money and re-hires, say, 700 teachers they’ve just laid off.

One issue here is whether the stimulus should have been big enough to prevent all teacher layoffs or whether the most sensible policy is really the status quo that just makes the layoffs less severe. Related is something I wrote about in the merit pay piece: the Education Dept. got $115 billion from the stimulus bill — more than twice its yearly budget. But a significant amount of that money is not just formula funding so states can deal with budget shortfalls. Billions, instead, are in competitive grants awarded to states whose education policy goals (more charter schools, strict evaluations of teachers) are in line with Barack Obama and Education Sec. Arne Duncan.

I’m ambivalent about how this allocation of education stimulus money is a good idea. On the one hand, if the federal Education Dept. thinks these state education departments are currently not very effective than maybe they’re right to use the stimulus to make these states change, instead of just blindly comping the status quo. But the fiscal crisis might not be the best time for innovation at a state level. Can school districts implement splashy new policies when these same districts are looking for coins under couches to keep band programs and 5th grade art teachers?-MB

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