By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON – The cost of implementing sweeping new educational standards could be costly for the Badger State’s school systems.
But a conservative education policy think tank that conducted an extensive analysis on the sticker price of rolling out the Common Core State Standards nationwide asserts the investment could save states money in the long run – on an educational product far superior to what is being offered today.
“Implementing these standards is not free. It’s going to cost some money,” said Michael Petrilli, executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that in 2012 published “Putting a Price Tag on the Common Core: How Much Will Smart Implementation Cost?”
The short answer to that question: It depends.
The analysis estimates the implementation cost for each of the 45 states and the District of Columbia that had adopted the standards as of last year depends on how the states approach the rollout.
Teacher development, educational materials, testing contracts won’t come cheap.
Badger State bill
Wisconsin school districts could be on the hook for more than $250 million combined, according to a recently released report by the state Legislative Fiscal Bureau. That report draws heavily on the Fordham Institute analysis, which lays out aggregate costs based on student and teacher counts.
The fiscal bureau projects another $23 million in state and federal spending on pupil assessments, including testing beyond the new standards, in 2014. Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction spent tens of millions of dollars, contracted, to develop and administer its current testing regime.
Fordham Institute’s estimates are based on three models of implementation – a “Bare Bones” rollout plan, a “Business as Usual” traditional plan (the priciest) and a hybrid or “Balanced Implementation” combining the most and least expensive elements.
Fordham estimates costs in Wisconsin could range from $62.3 million for the “bare bones” approach to $256.1 million for the most expensive, traditional model. The price tag for a hybrid plan, using at least some technology to facilitate the Common Core, is pegged at $106.5 million.
The Legislative Fiscal Bureau cautions that, “calculating such figures specifically for Wisconsin, given the decentralized system of school government and the lack of data” on planned expenditures, is “not possible.”
Patrick J. Murphy, politics professor at the University of San Francisco who co-authored the Fordham Institute report with Elliot Regenstein, who was with EducationCounsel LLC at the time of the study, agreed that estimating the expense of the Common Core is tricky because of the fluid nature of the numbers and needs.
But Murphy believes the costs to implement the Common Core, on average, will be on par with current curriculum and testing expenditures.
Petrilli asserts much of the money that will go into launching the Common Core Standards would have been targeted to the same educational elements, anyway.
“Any education system worth its salt should be doing these things regularly, anyway,” he said. “This doesn’t necessarily cost more money, and in some ways it may cost less.” Wisconsin and other states, Petrilli said, will be able to tap into shared resources in teacher development and online materials.
But much depends on a district’s size and available resources. The little school district of Gilman, in Wisconsin’s Taylor County, is taking small steps in its transition into the Common Core.
“We have been updating our textbooks a little bit at a time,” said Georgia Kraus, Gilman principal. “We make sure that the new textbooks align with Common Core.”
The district is updating its high school and middle school English textbooks, Kraus said. Beyond that project, textbooks will be added “by a need basis.”
With new textbooks running at $50, and the teacher editions up to $139, the costs for educational materials for any school district can be a challenge. But Kraus said she doesn’t believe the Common Core will be any more expensive to set up in a district that has long been prudent with its limited budget.
Eilene Depka, curriculum director for the district, estimates the cost to implement new curriculum at around $100 per student, but she asserts the Common Core will not cost the district “any more or any less.”
Elsewhere, states such as Arizona expect a pretty hefty bill. Statewide, costs for “essential elements” of Common Core implementation this school year are projected to be $156.6 million, according to a survey by the Arizona School Boards Association.
The Washington state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction last year estimated the new Common Core standards will cost taxpayers in the state more than $300 million. Those projections arrived as the state faced a multi-billion dollar budget deficit.
Murphy and Petrilli acknowledge that the Fordham Institute study does not factor in the potentially expensive technology needed to administer the testing, among other applications.
California taxpayers are looking at a $1.25 billion bill to prepare the way for the Common Core.
Murphy puts California in the Cadillac category of standards implementation. He said the Golden State has more money to spend. But that doesn’t necessarily make the plan better, the professor said.
“I hope it will be used prudently,” said Murphy, a California resident, of the line item. “I think there would have been different ways to approach it. If I tell you that you’ve got $20 a week for lunch, you are going to behave differently than if I give you $100 a week.”
Opponents see nothing prudent in nationalized standards that they believe are a waste of taxpayer money and a threat to local control.
Karen Schroeder, president of Advocates for Academic Freedom, earlier this summer testified before state Senate and Assembly committees on education, citing multiple examples of educational standards that she believes are much more rigorous than the Common Core.
“Citizens must commit time and energy to demand that federal dollars spent on education be reallocated to the state and that local control of schools be reinstated. States must reclaim their right to shape a curriculum that meets the academic needs of their students,” Schroeder, a retired school teacher and education consultant, wrote in a column for Wisconsin Reporter.
Petrilli said it was inevitable supporters of Common Core, such as the Fordham Institute, would see some resistance from an initiative led by the nation’s governors and wholly endorsed by the Obama administration, and bolstered with federal funding. The far Right, he said, is opposed to anything national, and the far Left balks at standardized testing.
“My hope is that conservatives will agree that having solid standards is better than what we have now,” Petrilli said. “Wisconsin has had some of the worst academic standards and the easiest tests in the country. Common Core is significantly better.”
Alyssa Hertig contributed to this story.
Contact M.D. Kittle at [email protected]