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Ed. Dept.: Calif. Could Lose At Least $15 Million in Federal Funds Over Testing

By Alyson Klein — October 30, 2013 3 min read
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Ever since California approved a bill to suspend much of its accountability testing for one year, everyone has been wondering if the feds would punish the Golden State for straying far from the accountability requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act, which call for states to test students in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school and use the results to make key school improvement decisions.

And now, we have our answer. California could lose at least $15 million in federal Title I administrative fund in its clash with the U.S. Department of Education over what tests to give. That’s according to a letter sent Monday to Michael Kirst, the state board president, and Tom Torlakson, the superintendent of public instruction, from Deborah Delisle, the department’s assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education. The state could also lose additional Title I funds, equal to the amount it spent on state assessments last year. And it risks other federal funds for special populations and turnaround schools, that could add up to a whopping $3.5 billion, according to this story.

The department’s main beef with California: Under the state’s plan, not all students would take assessments in both reading and math. That means that schools would not have performance data for all students in the NCLB testing grades.

Serious sanctions: In addition to losing Title I funds, the state may also be slapped with a “high-risk grantee” label, making it tougher for California to snag any sort of federal competitive grant—or flexibility, including a waiver from the requirements of the NCLB law. (California is one of just eight states that hasn’t yet secured the flexibility, although 10 of its districts—through the California Office to Reform Education, or CORE—have been granted their own, specialized waiver.)

Potentially even worse: The state risks the loss of some big pots of money that rely on state assessments. That includes dollars aimed at low-performing schools (the School Improvement Grants or SIG), Title III dollars (aimed at educating English-language learners), and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (special education money).

Some quick background: Earlier this year, California decided to ditch most of its longtime testing program, called STAR, for Standardized Testing and Reporting, in the spring of 2014. Instead, the state has opted to go with field tests in math and English/language arts that are being developed by one of the two consortia writing tests to align with the Common Core State Standards (in this case, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium). But since those tests aren’t completely ready for use—the field test is actually a step in their development—the results would not be used for accountability. Much more in this great story by my colleague Catherine Gewertz.

So what do the CORE districts, which have already been working closely with the department on their one-of-a-kind waiver, think of the warning? They’re supportive, according to a statement from Mike Hanson, the president of the CORE board and superintendent of Fresno Unified School District. “We urge the state to provide the resources so all students can take both the English/language arts and mathematics tests this school year,” he wrote.

UPDATE: What do Kirst and Torlakson make of their letter? Here’s their joint statement: “California is moving forward now with modern standards and assessments because we want all children—no matter where they come from or where they live—to graduate ready for college and careers. To the extent there is disagreement with the federal government, there is a process for addressing it, and we’ll continue to work with officials in Washington. Federal officials have never before taken money out of classrooms, and we would hope and expect that they would not start now.”

The letter was first reported by EdSource. Read the story here.