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Schools prepare to implement Common Core without new funding

Funding Common Core was one of the few budget priorities Gov. Jan Brewer didn’t achieve last session, leaving school districts to carry out the new standards while still using old textbooks and materials.

School officials say that having to reach higher expectations with no accompanying funding has become the norm in recent years, and schools have long been preparing for the coming school year, the first in which the new standards will be used in all grades.

“There haven’t been dollars for textbooks that met the old standards, and there aren’t dollars for textbooks that meet the new standards,” said Tracey Benson, a spokeswoman for the Arizona School Boards Association.

Brewer asked the Legislature to budget $61 million for the standards that the Arizona School Boards Association and Arizona Association of School Business Officials estimated would cost $156.6 million to implement in the 2013-14 school year.

The costs were for training, curriculum materials and textbooks, as well as for redesigning district-level assessment tests.

Those education groups also estimate that it will cost an additional $230.2 million in increased Internet capacity and to purchase computer software for the new standardized test associated with the standards, known as the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC.

“Personally, I think that’s low,” said Tim Ham, superintendent of Madison Elementary School District and president of the Arizona Superintendents Association.

A key part of Common Core will be getting testing data in real time, which will require students testing on computers.

Ham said he already has some insight into the major undertaking of increasing Internet capacity.

Despite Madison’s large bandwidth, the district’s computer network runs into problems when students take the Measurement of Academic Progress, an exam that provides the school district with real-time data.

“We would definitely have to have a lot more technology infrastructure to be able to do (PARCC) in a timely fashion, to get information back that is worthwhile to use for instruction,” Ham said. “That’s probably the biggest piece in the room people aren’t talking about.”

Sen. Chester Crandell, R-Heber, who opposes the use of PARCC, said the Legislature gave schools $82 million to cover inflation — the result of a lawsuit after a court ruled lawmakers unconstitutionally ended inflation funding several years ago — which he said can be used for Common Core needs.

“They can put it wherever they want,” Crandell said.

Ham said teachers and administrators are simply going to have to work harder without the funding.

He said the Madison district has used federal funds for training, but that won’t be enough because it requires 40 to 50 hours per employee for each of three years.

“I don’t think people realize how much training it really does take to really change the direction from where people were,” Ham said. “When you start doing the math for something like that, it’s significant. It’s a lot of money.”

In 2010, the State Board of Education adopted the standards, which cover English-language arts and math, and school districts have progressively been installing them by grade levels. The 2013-14 school year will be the first one in which they are installed at all grade levels.

But political opposition to the new standards, coming mostly from members of the Tea Party, arose in the Legislature.

Supporters of Common Core —including large corporations, Brewer and the education establishment — pitched the new standards as focusing on critical thinking and being designed to better prepare students for higher learning and work. Opponents see Common Core as a national takeover of curriculum.

Republican opponents of Common Core were able to kill one bill that would have eliminated the AIMS test and effectively replaced it with PARCC, even though the bill didn’t mandate PARCC would be used. A bare-bones version of the bill later passed.

An attempt to nullify the standards died in the Senate in April.

Crandell said he expects the opposition to continue in the 2014 session.

He said his constituents want the Legislature to repeal the standards, an idea he doesn’t agree with because he doesn’t think the Legislature should be intruding on the State Board of Education’s authority.

But Crandell said the Legislature can use the power of the purse strings as leverage when it comes to Common Core.

“We can say, ‘You can do whatever you want to, but you’re not getting any money for it,’” he said.

Crandell said he is going to lead the charge against implementing PARCC because testing is going to be compared nationally, and he thinks the consortium that is developing it will have too much control over the variables, which will ultimately lead to a national curriculum.

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