Thanks in part to budget surpluses, governors and state legislators have been trying to improve public education, offering teachers more pay and students better schooling. But when the economy began to slow and legislators had to tighten strings, no one realized just how fast and deep the cuts would be.
Even as late as last spring, "The question wasn't are you going to spend more, but which program will you spend more on," said Mike Griffith, a policy analyst for the Education Commission on the States.
That all changed in September when terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, aggravating an economic decline. The devastation was felt across the states affecting most budgets and sending a number of legislatures into special sessions to cut back on this year's spending.
"Before we were looking at a traditional recession. What we are seeing here is a downturn that was so quick that states did not see this coming,"Griffith said.
Governors and legislators are striving to save K-12 and school reforms from the budget ax. But with more than half the states imposing or considering cuts, sparing K-12 budgets and programs that help students meet new state standards of learning may not be an option.
"Governors want to wait until there is absolutely no alternative before making cuts to education," said Scott Pattison, executive director of the National Association of State Budget Officers.
States that have cut education budgets or are considering such action include: Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Carolina, New York, Ohio and South Carolina.
Before the attacks, California was looking at an $8 billion shortfall. Now it's expected to grow to $12 billion. Since California schools eat up more than half the general funds there is no way to keep K-12 off the chopping block.
New York projects a $9 billion deficit. The Empire State hasn't passed this year's budget yet. After missing an April deadline, lawmakers were preparing a supplemental budget when the World Trade Center was struck.
In Buffalo, the state's second largest school district, 433 teachers and 124 staff members have been laid off and some of the impoverished district's 80 schools are being closed.
Buffalo Schools Superintendent Marion Canedo says the terrorist attacks have had a "devastating domino effect" across the state. But Canedo tells Stateline.org, "the highest price is paid in our educational programs in our urban cities because we are the most dependent on state aid."
Albany pays nearly 80 percent of the Buffalo school bill. The city began the school year with a cautious spending outline given to them by the legislature. "The budget we passed was based on a very conservative estimate of what our state package would be," said Canedo.
The City and schools were assured Albany would give them extra help in September. But they haven't seen any money, according to the Superintendent's office. In fact, they have a $28 million shortfall.
"How can we meet the state standards if we don't have teachers in the classroom, and no academic intervention? We have children who just got here speaking a foreign language and they are in high school and they have to pass the same Regents exam as anyone who has been going to school here since Kindergarten," said Canedo.
Buffalo isn't the only place where reforms could suffer. Boston Mayor Thomas Menino has warned of cuts that will affect classrooms. Des Moines, Iowa teachers don't have enough supplies. School computer equipment, field trips and reading programs are in jeopardy since Iowa lawmakers cut 4.3 percent from schools.
"Whenever you have to make cuts in education, it's always going to impact kids," United Community Schools Superintendent Ann Curphey told the Des Moines Register.
Griffith says that before September 11, states were freezing funds for extra school programs such as early childhood schooling and reading for the first time in five years. Now New York is cutting academic intervention, a program that helps 43 percent of Empire State students' pass the state test.
States are also postponing plans to reduce class size, launch professional development programs and give teachers pay raises.
Iowa was the first state to approve a "pay for performance" plan for teachers and a number of states were watching the program in the hope of copying it. But this was the first thing Iowa lawmakers delayed when the bad fiscal times hit.
Mississippi had authorized a pay raise for teachers, but that is not expected to happen, and New Mexico was also looking at ways to improve the quality of teaching, but the legislature recently took the proposals off the table.
The slowdown "hits every state differently. If you are Florida - a state that lives in large part on sales taxes generated from tourists - it is a killer," says Bruce Hunter, government affairs specialist for the American Association of School Administrators.
Here is how other states are cutting back on K-12: