Education Funding

NCLB Waiver Rules Will Cost Calif. Billions, Schools Chief Warns

By Fermin Leal, The Orange County Register, Calif. (MCT) — September 27, 2011 2 min read

California will need billions in federal aid to overhaul teacher evaluations and adopt new learning standards before it can qualify for a waiver from No Child Left Behind student achievement rules, according to state Superintendent Tom Torlakson.

“I would hope that the administration is prepared to provide the funds necessary to implement these provisions, or provide greater flexibility to California,” Torlakson said.

Torlakson on Friday repeated a previous call he made for the federal government to grant states unconditional waivers while Congress and President Obama work to reauthorize the 2001 law.

Under No Child Left Behind, schools must meet steadily rising achievement benchmarks until 2014, when all students are to be proficient in English and math—a standard educators frequently criticize as impossible. Schools that receive federal funding for at-risk students face sanctions that include having to offer free tutoring, changing leadership, converting to charters or state takeover.

Obama’s waiver offer, made Friday, allows states to avoid sanctions if they fail to achieve passing scores starting in 2012. But, to qualify, states must tie teacher and principal evaluations to student test scores, enact standards to prepare students for college and careers, and adopt national common education standards.

Torlakson said the proposal “would appear to cost billions of dollars to fully implement, at a time when California and many other states remain in financial crisis.”

Bay Area education finance think-tank EdSource estimates the cost at $1.6 billion for California to adopt common core standards ($800 million for new curriculum and texts, $765 million for training teachers and $20 million for training principals, plus assorted minor costs.)

Additionally, the state would have to spend millions to implement new teacher evaluation systems, and programs to prepare students for college and careers.

In recent years, the state actually began moving toward common core standards, including setting money aside for districts to begin purchasing new textbooks and instruction materials.

But the movement stalled due to the ongoing state budget crisis, as education lost billions in funding. The state has since placed a hold on the purchase of new textbooks, allowing districts to use those funds to offset other budget cuts.

“There are enormous costs associated with California moving in this direction,” said Orange County Superintendent William Habermehl. “It’s not just a matter of updating some lesson plans. This will require fundamental changes to the way we teach, how we test our students, and how we measure achievement overall.”

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