Thursday, January 29, 2015

Is ‘Smarter Balanced” an unfunded state mandate? …or just a brand of margarine?: 5 DISTRICTS+CSBA FILE $1 BILLION CLAIM OVER TEST COSTS

The LAO estimated earlier this month that the state owes schools between $4 billion and $5 billion in unpaid mandate claims.

by Tom Chorneau | SI&A Cabinet Report |

LEAs file $1b mandate test claim over assessment costs

January 29, 2015  ::  (Calif.) A coalition of school districts led by the California School Boards Association has filed an administrative challenge against the state, arguing schools are owed at least $1 billion more for costs tied to implementing new computer-based testing.

Following a legal process set out in the state Constitution, five school districts and CSBA’s Education Legal Alliance are seeking a ruling from the Commission on State Mandates to recover the full cost to schools for administrating assessments based on the Common Core State Standards that began last spring.

“When the state requires districts to take particular actions, then the Constitution says that the state has to pay for it,” said Josh Daniels, staff attorney at CSBA. “We are asking the state to follow its constitutional obligation.”

The administration is expected to argue that the requirement for all students to be tested annually is a centerpiece of the No Child Left Behind Act and that the state is simply carrying out federal law.

Key to the “test claim” filed by the school group in late December are requirements from a 2013 bill authorizing the new testing system – known as the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress. Specifically, the legislation called on schools to buy new computer systems, train teachers and administrators to carry out the program, and comply with a whole host of reporting orders.

“In order to comply with the CAASPP requirements, districts have had no choice but to invest significant funds to expand their internet infrastructure, increase their software and hardware purchases, offer professional development and hire more staff,” Jesús M. Holguín, CSBA president and Moreno Valley Unified School District trustee, said in a statement.

An obscure and often misunderstood corner of state government, the local mandate program derives from a Constitutional provision that prevents the Legislature from imposing requirements on cities, counties, school districts and other local jurisdictions without also providing the funds needed to cover the costs.

There is a long history of disputes between the state and K-12 schools over education mandates as lawmakers – nearly every session – craft bills aimed at solving some problem while also trying to avoid creating any new cost to the state treasury.

The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst estimated earlier this month that the state owes schools between $4 billion and $5 billion in unpaid mandate claims.

The assessment test claim can be traced to the 2010 decision by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to embrace Common Core – classroom standards for what a student should know that have been updated to reflect college and career readiness goals.

As the school system began to implement the new standards, new tests aligned to Common Core also had to be created. A consortium of states, in which California is a leader, completed that task as well as field testing last spring of the Smarter Balanced Summative Assessments – the foundation of the CAASPP system. With an eye to the future, the Smarter Balanced tests are designed to be taken on computers.

Although Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders have each of the past two years provided schools a large share of state revenue, money specifically earmarked for the cost of implementing Common Core has been limited.

The 2013-14 state budget provided $1.25 billion in one-time funding but there was just $427.2 million provided last year. Brown’s January spending plan for 2015-16 offers $1.1 billion for Common Core expenses, but schools have criticized that proposal because the governor is also using that money to pay down past mandate claims – in essence, double counting that funding.

The test claim filed with the Commission on Mandates specifically calls out a number of expenses which schools argue have not yet been addressed, including:

  • The cost to train and hire administrators, teachers and other personnel for test administration, reporting requirements and operation of the computer system.
  • The cost to evaluate a district’s technical needs and limitations; buying test materials and administering security protocol.
  • The cost of meeting new reporting requirements such as distributing test results to parents as well as state and federal officials and community stakeholders.
  • Finally, the cost of purchasing all the computers needed for each student to take the test, as well as peripheral devices and  necessary bandwidth improvements.

Combined, the test claim argues, the costs come out to be more than $1 billion statewide.

Dr. Rick Miller, superintendent of Santa Ana USD, said that his district’s combined costs last year and this year came close to $12 million.

“This new state assessment, which is part of CAASPP, requires a computer rather than a pencil,” Miller said in a statement. “As a result, we have had to spend millions of dollars in order to administer the test and we will need to continue to make additional expenditures in the future.”

The districts that have brought the test claim forward are Santa Ana, Plumas, Porterville and Vallejo as well as the Plumas County Office of Education.

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