Legislation would authorize new textbooks for neediest schools

In what may be an important step to making some new instructional materials available during a purchasing freeze, a recently amended bill would allow districts to buy new textbooks for schools scoring in the lowest three deciles of the Academic Performance Index.

Currently, state law has suspended new textbook adoption through 2015-16 and has also provided districts flexibility with use of instructional materials funding through 2014-15.

SB 509 by Senator Curren Price, D-Los Angeles, would give districts authority to purchase on a site-by-site basis for qualifying schools the newest adopted textbooks - existing law requires any new textbook purchases to be made district-wide.

While it is unclear how many districts will want to redirect precious unrestricted funds to textbook purchases, supporters say the additional flexibility would give educators a new tool to fight to the achievement gap.

In a well-funded world, districts would update for all their students. Right now they're not afforded that luxury. And so I think they view this as an important step in the right direction," said John Sipe, a senior vice president at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, a major textbook publisher.

At issue is an element of the 2009 budget agreement that removed spending mandates on a long list of categorical programs including instructional materials. Two years have since passed and the fiscal outlook remains bleak as ever - thus more and more students are using textbooks increasingly out of date.

The problem is especially true with the English Language Arts adoption, explained Sipe. Now, with the adoption of the new common core standards there's even growing pressure on the Legislature to find revenues for new textbooks.

Enter Price's SB 509, which would allow districts that can't afford a full implementation of the latest instructional materials to provide a partial phase-in for their lowest achieving schools.

If the bill became law, districts could use it to raise academic quality for struggling students and also begin to prepare both pupils and teachers for common core, since core-aligned supplemental materials are available with newer textbooks.

"We have published a myriad of new resources such as additional expository texts to update for the common core," explained Sipe.

That said, districts typically implement new curriculum by training every teacher district-wide and it remains unclear whether districts would reach for a different option.

"Some districts may take advantage of it, and others may find it would be too incongruent with their goals, to have two different programs," said Sherry Griffith, an advocate with the Association of California School Administrators.

"That is a local decision, and if this bill provides that flexibility, we welcome additional choices," she said.

SB 509 is expected to be heard May 11 by the Senate Education Committee.

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