Funding at issue as schools face new standards
BY SARAH WOMER
After teaching to the Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards, or AIMS, exam for nearly 20 years, state teachers are now shifting gears to the Common Core Standards, officially required to be implemented this fall in 46 states around the nation.
Crane Elementary School District Superintendent Bob Klee said that while he and other superintendents around the state believe that the shift toward the new rigorous standards are needed, it's the cost of implementing them that's the problem.
“Unfortunately with the economy, the state hasn't been able to provide the resources for us to effectively implement this,” he said.
Nevertheless, Klee said, the district is being proactive about preparing teachers to be proficient in the new standards.
Crane's recent adoption of the Beyond Textbooks program has been helpful to teachers, he said, as they move forward with the challenging and daunting task of learning new standards. Beyond Textbooks was created by the Vail School District, which services an area to the southeast of Tucson. The learning initiative is now used by 67 districts and charter schools in Arizona. The program offers teachers online resources including a collection of digital curriculum materials, support materials and other digital resources.
Additionally, instructional coaches on their campuses have received training at the state level to turn around and provide training for staff. They are also using outside consultants recommended by the state.
While they have conducted a good deal of training already, it will be an ongoing process, he said.
Duane Sheppard, Yuma Elementary School District associate superintendent of curriculum and instruction, said his district's principals and school effectiveness mentors began reading and unpacking standards in January of 2011.
During the past school year they spent time working on the math standards to make sure they aligned their current curriculum with the Common Core Standards.
“This year, formative assessments have been written for math standards that will be used district wide,” Sheppard said. “We spent the summer of 2012 training on the English Language Arts standards. We now have a pacing guide for them and will be writing formative assessments for them as well. Our teachers have rolled up their sleeves and have studied the standards and are doing a fine job transitioning to the new standards. I am proud of their efforts, work, and time.”
With District 1 currently in full implementation mode, he agreed with Klee that the training is an ongoing learning process.
“We are learning a lot about the standards and will continue to do so. We want all of our students to be successful and strive each and every day to provide an excellent education,” he said.
“I think parents will be relieved to know that what students are learning in North Carolina or Illinois or Washington they are learning the same material here in Yuma. Speaking of parents, we are going to need their help. We are in partnership with parents and the community. We will need their support and additional time at home with their child(ren) reinforcing and enriching each child's daily work. I also hope that parents will be willing to volunteer at schools.”
Sarah Womer can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6858. Find her on Facebook at Facebook.com/YSSarahWomer or on Twitter at @YSSarahWomer
Public school officials in Arizona have their eyes on Gov. Jan Brewer and the Legislature, hoping they provide money for districts to pay for implementing new education standards already approved by the state.
While districts in Yuma are moving forward implementing and training instructors on the Common Core Standards, they have been doing so with little financial help from the state.
Crane Elementary School District superintendent Bob Klee said that while they began providing professional development on the new standards when they were first adopted by the state in 2010 through federal grants, they have already expended roughly more than $400,000 to train teachers, bring in consultants and pay staff to come in on their days off.
In the future, Klee said that they estimate having to spend over $1.5 million to continue to train staff, purchase equipment and upgrade their computer networks. The district has to prepare for a new online exam called the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, that students are expected to begin taking in 2015 instead of the Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards, or AIMS, exam taken with pencil and paper.
Duane Sheppard, Yuma Elementary School District associate superintendent of curriculum and instruction, explained that his district was also aggressive with the implementation of the standards using professional development funds to provide much of the training. Over the next three years, they will use Race to the Top funds to help pay for the implementation of the Common Core, of which District 1 will receive $72,000
Klee added that the Crane District received about $60,000 in Race to the Top funds for the next three years as well.
The Arizona Republic reported that a state Department of Education document estimates the total cost of implementing the Common Core Standards at $131 million over two years for training teachers, acquiring curriculum material and establishing regional support centers.
The department is trying to pin down additional costs for technology and infrastructure, the newspaper reported.
Brewer is expected to include money for Common Core Standards in her Jan. 18 budget proposal, but a Brewer aide said it's unlikely the governor will seek the full amount from the Legislature.
“There are many other competing demands on the state's limited resources, principally Medicaid, which is eating up more and more of the state budget,” said Rebecca Gau, director of the Governor's Office of Education Innovation.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal says he expects legislators to provide at least some of the money needed.
“It is education's time. People have said that they will make education a commitment in this legislative session,” said Huppenthal, a former legislator.
House Appropriations Chairman John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said funding the full amount in addition to other needs would be fiscally dangerous.
“We need to take care of a lot more people than K-12. I can't picture swallowing up all the discretionary money we have on just one program. We will have to ration,” Kavanagh said.
Brewer's January 2012 budget proposal for the current fiscal year asked lawmakers to restore $200 million in so-called “soft-capital” funding for items from textbooks to school buses.
About half of the money could have been used to address the technology and curriculum needs associated with Common Core, Gau said. However, the proposal failed to make the final budget approved by Brewer and the Legislature.
State lawmakers expect to have a $676 million surplus at the start of the 2014 fiscal-year budget, along with $450 million already set aside in a “rainy-day fund.”
However, a temporary three-year sales tax ends in May, and state official estimate the extra money now in the treasury will be needed to plug budget holes in the future.
State funding for education has steadily dropped in recent years.
Arizona's funding for public schools fell from $4.6 billion in fiscal 2008 to an estimated $3.9 billion in fiscal 2013, according to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee.
Yuma Sun reporter Sarah Wormer contributed to this report.