State readies big down payment on common core

State fiscal officers are preparing to distribute $625 million to schools later this month to help bring the new national common standards into California classrooms.

The money comes on the heels of $2.1 billion in new state aid released last week targeting disadvantaged students - part of a bigger $26.7 billion, first-of-the-fiscal-year payment to K-12 districts.

The Common Core State Standards in math and English language arts were adopted in California three years ago, but it is only this year that the Legislature has been able to set aside some of the money needed to pay for transition costs, including new instructional materials, teacher training and updated technology.

The Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown allocated $1.25 billion for the transition process - money that will be shared by all school districts, county offices of education as well as charter schools.

Half of the money will go out in August; the second installment is scheduled to be released in October.

The authorizing legislation, AB 86, considers $1 billion of that money to be part of the 2012-13 fiscal year and the remaining $250 million earmarked as part of 2013-14.

Regardless of that accounting, the legislation also stipulates that local educational agencies can encumber the funds at any time during 2013-14 or 2014-15, according to new guidance from the California Department of Education.

While the state's education leaders are anxious to get schools engaged in the new standards, there remains some uncertainty about when students and teachers will be held accountable under the new system.

Pending in the Legislature is AB 484, which would suspend most student assessments this coming school year under the state's Standardized Testing and Reporting, or STAR, and set 2014-15 as the deadline for when the new common core assessments would begin.

There is an expectation that the bill has the support of a majority of the Legislature as well as the governor - but some uncertainty remains, especially around the official start date for new testing.

Meanwhile, the delivery of additional, one-time money to districts in support of common core standards is considered critical.

The authorizing legislation intentionally gave districts a lot of latitude in deciding how to use the common core money - although the guidance from CDE provides some sense of what uses are allowable:

- Professional development for teachers, administrators, and paraprofessional educators or other classified employees involved in the direct instruction of pupils that is aligned to the academic content standards adopted pursuant to California Education Code (EC) sections 60605.8, 60605.11, 60605.85, and 60811.3.

- Instructional materials aligned to the academic content standards adopted pursuant to EC sections 60605.8, 60605.85, 60605.11, and 60811.3 including, but not limited to, supplemental instructional materials as provided in sections 60605.86, 60605.87, and 60605.88.

- Integration of these academic content standards through technology-based instruction for purposes of improving the academic performance of pupils, including, but not necessarily limited to, expenditures necessary to support the administration of computer-based assessments and provide high-speed, high-bandwidth Internet connectivity for the purpose of administration of computer-based assessments.

Administrators are also reminded that as a condition of receiving the funds, LEAs are required to develop a plan delineating how the money will be used. The plan must be discussed and adopted at a public meeting of the district's governing board. Districts are not required to send the plan to the state for review.

LEAs are also required to prepare a detailed report that must be submitted to the CDE explaining how the money was used. That report needs to be completed and filed by July 1, 2015.

To read the CDE's newly posted FAQs visit:

http://www.cde.ca.gov/fg/aa/ca/commoncorefaq.asp