With uncommon speed, school districts and charter schools this fall will receive substantial money they didn’t foresee coming their way a few months ago to prepare for the Common Core standards. The catch: They first have to tell the public how they plan to use it.
The state budget that Gov. Jerry Brown is poised to sign includes $1.25 billion – about $200 per student, based on 2012-13 enrollment – for schools to transition to a new set of English language arts and math standards that students will be tested on in spring 2015. Pressed by districts needing all the help they can get, Brown added $1 billion in his revised budget in May for the new standards, and legislative leaders negotiated an additional 25 percent – $250 million – in the budget awaiting Brown’s signature this week.
“This is a strong indicator that the governor and Legislature will help districts be successful in the shift to Common Core,” said Assemblymember Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, who, as chair of the education subcommittee of the Assembly Budget Committee, fought for additional Common Core money. Districts also have other sources of money they can direct to Common Core: federal Title I money for low-income children, as well as Title II, targeted for principal and teacher training, and extra money they’ll be getting this fall under the new Local Control Funding Formula.
The trailer bill, spelling out details in the budget, gives districts latitude to spend the $1.25 billion on teacher training, textbooks and materials and technology. The latter is needed for districts to offer the online, standardized Common Core tests and to begin the shift to digital learning.
“We wanted to keep flexibility, because there are all levels of readiness in the state. Some are ahead of the curve,” said Bonilla.
Districts will be able obtain the money in two installments, in September and then November. But first they must create a plan for it and hold two hearings: the first to present the proposal to the public, the second to vote on it. This will be sort of a trial run for the accountability plan that districts will have to write, starting in 2014, under the new Local Control Funding Formula, giving districts more flexibility to spend state education money.
The state Department of Education must have districts’ plans for the Common Core spending in hand but will not vet them, said Erin Gabel, director of Government Affairs for State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson. For guidance, she suggested that districts refer to the 60-page Common Core implementation plan, with seven key objectives, that the State Department of Education completed in April.
The state was more prescriptive in the late 1990s, when it adopted the California standards in math and English language arts. The state determined which textbooks districts could buy and funded curriculum training for teachers. Now, the options are wide open, and districts are free to hunt the internet for guidance from other states, like New York, that are further ahead and from organizations – like America Achieves, funded by the Gates Foundation, and Bloomberg Philanthropies – that are clearinghouses of information and lesson plans.
Nonetheless, the risk is there that districts will blow the money on textbooks with overstated claims that they are Common Core aligned, or on overpriced technology.
Districts will have two years to spend the money, but will receive it all this fall. The Department will report back to the Legislature next year on what districts did with the money.