OP-ED | Blindly Financing the Common Core
After a six month sabbatical from political writing, it’s depressing to realize that here in Corrupticut, “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” — or, as one of my favorite bands would put it, “The Song Remains The Same.”
Despite concerns from parents and educators — especially having witnessed the online testing fiasco this spring — our state Education Department is racing to implement the Common Core aligned Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium tests.
Let’s leave aside for a moment the question of whether the Common Core standards are developmentally appropriate or if Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s approach of “teaching to the test as long as it raises test scores” is really the best thing for our children and the long-term economic health of our nation.
Instead, let us put on our taxpayer hats and talk about money. Assuming that this is the right strategy — and that’s still up for debate — how much will it cost our state to implement the Common Core State Standards?
Last week the Washington Post highlighted a report the Maryland State Department of Education provided for state legislators that said it would require $100 million to bring the state up to technological snuff by 2015. This includes additional devices, bandwidth capacity, and IT staff to manage all of the above.
I had a vague remembrance of a joint press release from Malloy’s office and the Education Department, received while on sabbatical, to the effect that the state was going to issue bonds in order to provide technology grants amounting to around $24 million to towns and cities. According to the release: “Awards must be used for the purposes of purchasing new computing devices, inter-school bandwidth, or inter-district bandwidth and are determined in accordance with a town wealth measure based on a 20 percent-80 percent sliding scale.”
But seeing the Maryland report made me curious. Have our legislators received a comprehensive report about the total cost of implementing the Common Core? If so, it certainly hasn’t been made public. One would hope that they’d at least ascertained the quantum of the entire exercise prior to authorizing bonds to fund the purchase of technology that in all likelihood will be outdated long before we taxpayers have paid it off.
So I sent the following questions to Kelly Donnelly at the Education Department last Friday:
1) Has Connecticut produced a similar report, or is such a report in the works?
2) Do you have estimates on a statewide and school-system-by-school-system basis for CCSS implementation?
3) In terms of additional time spent on standardized testing in minutes, what is the comparison for the SBAC test vs. CMT, CAPT at the various age levels?
4) Where is the money coming from for the necessary technology upgrades, particularly in the communities that already struggle for resources? Is it from the borrowing/bond funding?
Although these days I’m better known for literary pursuits, in my sordid youth I spend in inordinate amount of time crunching numbers. So I whipped up a spreadsheet and started analyzing Education Department figures.
When I looked at the dollar grant per student on a district by district basis, some anomalies jumped out.
For example, the Interdistrict School for Arts and Communication charter in New London received $474 per pupil, whereas the New London School District received a mere $44 per pupil. I struggle to understand how this makes sense when New London is allegedly an Alliance District.
Similarly, the Park City Prep charter school in Bridgeport received $384 per pupil whereas Bridgeport District Schools received only $45 per pupil.
The Jumoke Academy Charter Schools network, which are operated by an organization called the Family Urban Schools of Excellence (FUSE), received a $260 per pupil grant whereas the districts in which its charters operate, Hartford and Bridgeport, received $30 and $45 respectively.
The Achievement First Charter Schools network in Connecticut received $82 per pupil compared to Hartford’s $30 and Bridgeport’s $45. New Haven, the other city in which Achievement First operates charter schools, did better at $130 per pupil.
Why did New Haven ($130 per pupil) receive almost three times the grant of Bridgeport ($45 per pupil) and more than four times that of Hartford ($30 per pupil)? All three are in District Reference Group I, representing the districts with the highest need in the state. Their Adjusted Equalized Net Grand List per Capita (AENGLC) Rank/Weighted ANGLC Ranks are 167, 166 and 169 respectively. Based on the Education Cost Sharing Town Wealth and Rank, New Haven ranks 165, Bridgeport ranks 164 and Hartford 169.
Donnelly explained that “project proposals were developed at the local level. Project proposals reflect their individual needs and local readiness as determined by the district or school. Every grant request submitted by an Local Education Authority (LEA) was honored in accordance with their respective town wealth measure.” What’s important to note here is that, as defined by federal law, school districts are an LEA, but public charter schools and interdistrict magnet schools are considered LEA’s unto themselves.
The Education Department emphasized that these were construction grants and the wealth of the town/sliding scale must be taken into account (which I have). The construction scale used by the Education Department to determine the grants is here. Bridgeport is 78.57 percent, Hartford is 80 percent, New Haven is 78.93 percent, and New London is 77.86 percent.
I’m still struggling to understand why a charter school in New London requires 10 times the grant on the basis of the number of students served than the district schools there. One wonders what guidance was received from the Education Department regarding these grants.
It turns out that the Education Department has not produced, and is not in the process of producing, a report on the full costs of implementing the Common Core in the state. According to the department, on top of the previously announced technology grant for which we are borrowing the money, “the state is investing approximately $8 million this year and $6 million next year to support implementation efforts.” I’m not sure if this includes the $1 million CCSS marketing campaign announced by State Education Commission Stefan Pryor last December, or if that’s a separate line item.
I’m also still struggling to understand why we’re using school construction bonds to finance the purchase of iPads and computers. That controversial practice hasn’t worked so well in Los Angeles.
Yesterday, Republican lawmakers pitched the idea of using $247 million of this year’s budget surplus for tax relief. Wouldn’t it make more sense instead to refrain from borrowing more to buy technology that we know is going to be obsolete within a few years? But of course, that would require us to first figure how much this joyless Common Core ride is going to cost us.
Sarah Darer Littman is an award-winning columnist and novelist of books for teens. A former securities analyst, she’s now an adjunct in the MFA program at WCSU, and enjoys helping young people discover the power of finding their voice as an instructor at the Writopia Lab.