California Restores Money For School Bonuses Tied to Tests

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In a pleasant surprise for California educators, the legislature has managed to salvage this year's cash awards for schools that perform well on state assessments.

Secretary of Education Kerry Mazzoni announced recently that the 3,428 schools eligible for the bonuses for student scores posted in the 2000-01 school year would receive the awards, most of which will range from $10,000 to $30,000.

The money can be used to buy just about any kind of education-related supplies or services.

Many school administrators had just about given up on the bonuses.

The awards had been in limbo since last spring, when the projected state budget deficit of $23 billion, out of a total budget of $78 billion, forced Ms. Mazzoni to send letters to schools advising them not to count on receiving the money. ("As Deficit Mounts, Davis Tries to Spare Schools," May 22, 2002.)

Then in July, lawmakers made a deal to shift $1.7 billion to the fiscal 2003 education budget, giving the state department of education $67.3 million for the bonuses.

"Students, teachers, and administrators all over California have been focusing as never before on academic achievement," Ms. Mazzoni said in announcing the awards.

However, the awards are only about half what was originally promised to the schools— $36.88 for each student who took the state assessment.

Mazzoni Optimistic

Last year, the first time the awards were given, qualifying schools received about $64 per student. State lawmakers are considering a measure that would release an additional $77 million to pay the full amount this year as well.

Beyond this year, though, the future of the bonuses is uncertain. For now, the program has been put on hold, given the state's economic crisis.

To receive an award, a school must meet or exceed a 5 percent increase on the state assessments, or increase their assessment scores by 5 points, whichever is greater. All the subgroups of students, such as racial and ethnic minorities and those who are economically disadvantaged, must also meet or exceed 80 percent of the school's targeted goal, or increase their test scores by at least 4 points, whichever is greater.

An elementary or middle school must have at least 95 percent of its students participate in the testing, and a high school must have 90 percent participation.

A group of parents, teachers, and administrators at each school will decide how the awards will be spent. The groups can buy just about anything they see fit for their schools, from library books to athletic gear.

Ms. Mazzoni, an appointee of Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat, is optimistic that the program will survive, even if it doesn't get funding next year.

"The program has not gone away," she said in an interview last month. "We hope we will be able to [fully restore it] as the economy turns around."

Vol. 22, Issue 1, Page 24

Published in Print: September 4, 2002, as California Restores Money For School Bonuses Tied to Tests
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