School districts in California may get a new influx of money to reimburse as much as $600 million in estimated costs related to the administration of mandated tests, based on a state commission’s decision Friday.
The Commission on State Mandates found that required Internet access, training and technology necessary to administer new computer-based tests under the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress, or CAASPP, program, are reimbursable state mandates. This is because districts were required to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars beginning in 2013-14 on upgrading technology and related costs to comply with the state’s mandate to administer the tests.
“Today’s decision recognizes the constitutional obligation of the state to ensure that the state provides school districts and county offices of education with resources necessary to implement new state programs,” said Chris Ungar, president of the California School Boards Association and a San Luis Coastal Unified district trustee, in a prepared statement.
The decision comes just over a year after the association’s Education Legal Alliance and five local education agencies filed a claim requesting the reimbursement on behalf of districts and county offices of education throughout the state. The five agencies involved in the claim were Santa Ana Unified, Porterville Unified, Plumas Unified, Vallejo City Unified and the Plumas County Office of Education.
“We applaud the state for the implementation of a progressive 21st century assessment program,” said Rick Miller, superintendent of Santa Ana Unified, in a statement. “But if the state is going require the new test, then it needs to provide the resources for us to do so.”
The commission found that at least three of the claimants “have experienced increased costs mandated by the state…for the mandated technology costs, above and beyond available grant funding and the funding expected to be apportioned by the state for 2014-15.”
The Department of Finance had argued that the state had provided funding for implementing the new Common Core State Standards, which included money for testing. But the commission found that the money provided was not sufficient to cover all the required costs.
H.D. Palmer, spokesman for the Department of Finance, said the commission did not make a statewide cost estimate for the mandates as part of its determination and he speculated that the final cost could be significantly lower than $600 million.
“Any specific state funding will have to be offset or deducted from any claims,” Palmer said. “It is going to be up to a year before a statewide cost estimate is finalized.”
Before any claims for reimbursement can be filed, the commission must approve parameters and guidelines that establish reimbursement periods, a detailed list of reimbursable activities and revenue sources that must offset them. The state controller will then develop claiming instructions that districts can use to seek reimbursements.
It’s possible the state could increase its Education Mandates Block Grant to include the new CAASPP mandate, said Robert Miyashiro, vice president of School Services of California, Inc., a consulting company that advises school districts. Now, he said, about 95 percent of districts throughout the state opt to receive reimbursements for state mandates through this lump sum grant instead of through itemized claims, even though the grant doesn’t cover all of their expenses.
Still, Miyashiro said the commission made an “excellent decision.”
“This is just a huge win for school districts – a very, very significant decision from the commission to recognize this as a reimbursable mandate,” he said. “This is a significant cost, so we would expect the block grant to be adjusted in a significant way to reflect the cost of the mandate.”
The claimants came up with their estimated $600 million in costs after receiving information from 77 school districts about their CAASPP-related costs for 2013-14 and 2014-15, said Josh Daniels, staff attorney for the California School Boards Association.
“Based on their number of test-takers, we extrapolated it out statewide,” he said. “It’s a rough estimate.”
The Legislative Analyst’s Office had not yet had a chance to review the details of the decision Friday afternoon, said Edgar Cabral, a fiscal and policy analyst, in an email. But he said the governor’s proposed 2016-17 budget estimates a backlog of $2.3 billion in outstanding K-12 mandates.
“That estimate accounts for payments the state provided the last few years to reduce the outstanding backlog,” Cabral said.
A year ago, the LAO estimated that unpaid pending mandate claims totaled between $4 billion and $5 billion.