Arizona’s Common Core Adoption Hits Funding Snags

Arizona's drive to put tougher academic standards in place for its primary and secondary school system have hit a snag – money. Legislators are not providing additional funding to cover the cost to implement the new standards, but districts that are already struggling due to 15% education budget cuts imposed by the state don't have the resources to do that, either.

Arizona is one of the states that have made the commitment to adopt the new Common Core Standards, and schools are supposed to teach lesson plans that conform with the tougher metrics starting next fall. The schedule is in place to make sure that when the new CCS-compliant standardized exams are administered starting in 2015, students will be ready and can perform well.

However, teachers need more training and schools must update classroom materials and technology as students in 2015 are supposed to take online tests ushered in with Common Core.

The costs become more formidable in view of potential federal budget cuts and voters' rejection in November of numerous local funding requests as well as a statewide ballot request to keep a 1-cent-per-dollar sales tax intended largely to help fund schools.

Gov. Jan Brewer, who opposed making the sales tax permanent, is expected to include funding for Common Core in her budget proposal later this month.

A report compiled by the state sets the cost of full CCS implementation at roughly $131 million, but the chances of the full amount being made available by the Legislature are slim. Therefore, the cost will continue to be borne – at least in part – by the districts, which will continue to rely on other state-based funding sources as well as grants from the federal government.

However, lawmakers will have to pony up if they're serious about the new standards ushering in an era of improvement to Arizona's public school system, says Jaime Molera, the president of the State Board of Education.

When the Arizona State Board of Education approved the new standards in 2010, the state banked on getting a $250 million federal Race to the Top grant to help districts implement the standards. The state got one-tenth of that.

About half of the money went to state training efforts, with the other half divvied among the state's 243 districts and charter schools over four years.

The federal regulations required doling out the money based on the number of poor students in districts, which led to disparities.

Meanwhile, a lack of funding on top of the fact that at least 2/3rds of Arizona teachers will need at least 40 more hours of training in how to teach the new standards, means that districts have become rather creative about digging up additional money. Among others, districts have been using Title I money as well as a portion of the Race to the Top grants to set up training opportunities for faculty and staff.

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